Hokkaido (北海道)

On The Trail of Japanese Red-Crowned Cranes

I don’t usually like winter but I braved the cold temperatures this year to go try to spot the Japanese Red-Crowned Cranes (Grus japonensis), also known as Tancho「丹頂」.

The Japanese crane is considered to be sacred and is also seen as a symbol of fidelity, love, good luck and longevity. It is also the second rarest crane species in the world. These tall, graceful birds are mainly white in colour with black lower wings. In male Japanese cranes, the cheeks, throat and neck are also black, whilst in females they are a pearly-grey. Adults have a bare patch of skin on the crown of the head, which is bright red in colour. The bill is an olive-green colour and the legs are black. Juvenile Japanese cranes are similar in appearance, although they lack the red crown and have black-tipped outer flight feathers.

Outside of Japan, approximately 1400 Japanese cranes live in the Amur River basin in Russia and north-eastern China. Within Japan, these cranes are usually found at the Kushiro Shitsugen in Hokkaido, but they will emerge from the forests during the winter to gather around feeding stations, so this is the best season to spot them! Of the various species of cranes, this is the only one that breeds in Japan! These cranes were designated as a special natural monument of Japan in 1952.

There are several places where you can go to view them in Hokkaido, but some are actually kept in aviaries, which in my opinion takes the fun out of wildlife spotting.

I’m listing some of the places which I’ve visited, so read on to find out which is my favourite of the lot! (click on the links below to read more about each of the locations)

Kushiro Shitsugen「釧路湿原」
In order to preserve the country’s largest wetland and marsh habitat which supports the only known population of the endangered Japanese Cranes in Japan, this marshland in Hokkaido was designated as a National Park in 1987. Do note that the cranes are best seen in winter when they gather at the winter feeding sites, otherwise they retreat deeper into the wetlands during the non-winter months. We did go through the marshlands by train and also by bus but both modes of transportation moved too fast for us to take any decent pictures, although we did see Sika Deer and Japanese Cranes along the way.

If your visit coincides with the time of the year when the seasonal sightseeing trains run, I would recommend that you try to book a seat on these trains as they move at a slower speed and will allow you a better chance of spotting the wildlife.

Tsurumidai is a feeding ground with no facilities, but there is a cafe/restaurant and gift shop located across the road.


Japanese Crane Reserve「釧路市丹頂鶴自然公園」
This is more of a breeding sanctuary for the cranes and visitors can observe the birds which are in fenced enclosures.


Akan International Crane Center「阿寒国際ツルセンター」
The Akan International Crane Center is a museum, breeding center, and sanctuary where cranes can be seen year round. It has a good exhibit about crane history and ecology with English explanations.


In my opinion, this is the best spot for viewing these beautiful birds!!

However, if viewing birds in their natural habitat is not your thing as nature is unpredictable so you may not spot any wildlife on some days and you’d prefer to see other animals too, the other places in Hokkaido where Japanese Cranes can be found are:

Kushiro Zoo「釧路市動物園」
Due to a packed tour itinerary, I didn’t have time to go check this place out, but they do have a Japanese Crane enclosure.

Asahiyama Zoo「旭山動物園」
I quite enjoyed this zoo as I got to see many animals that I had previously only seen on TV/internet/magazines/books. The pictures below are of the Japanese Crane enclosure:

Now that I’ve seen this endangered crane species both in the wild and in captivity, I can strike one more item off my bucket list! ^_^

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Akan International Crane Center「阿寒国際ツルセンター」

The Akan International Crane Center「阿寒国際ツルセンター」 is a museum, breeding centre and sanctuary where Japanese Red-Crowned Cranes (Grus japonensis) can be seen all year round.

In the main building, there is a gift shop, as well as an exhibit about crane history and ecology with English explanations.

Ink stamp collectors can find some stamps here to add to their collection.

When you get out of the building, there are paths leading to the left and to the right. Unfortunately the walking trails leading to the ponds were closed during my visit.

If you head left, this will take you to the Tancho Observation Center and this is my favourite spot out of all the Japanese Crane viewing sites that I’ve visited to-date!

Although it was a rainy day during my visit, I still managed to see quite a number of Japanese Cranes and to my surprise Whooper Swans as well!

Many avid photographers station here for hours with their tripods. There is a cafe here that is a good place to take shelter from the cold! The area isn’t very big and there were many people here, so I didn’t take pictures of the cafe area.

There was a small exhibit at one corner.

I went back to brave the cold and rainy weather to see the cranes doing a courtship dance! This was the highlight of my visit!!

The scene below cracked me up! Erm…was the swan trying to imitate the crane’s courtship dance??…

Here’s a look at what you can expect to see there:

Remember the other path I mentioned on the right of the main building? Well, this leads to a smaller field with fewer cranes…

…and also an aviary.

I guess in the non-winter months when the Japanese cranes retreat deeper into the marshlands, visitors can still visit the aviary to see the cranes.

If you are an avid birder, you simply have to visit this place at least once in your lifetime!!

Akan International Crane Center「阿寒国際ツルセンター」

23-40 Kamiakan, Akan, Kushiro, Hokkaido, Japan 0850245.


Telephone: (81)154-66-4011

Admission Fee:
Entrance fees to both Akan International Crane Center and Tancho Observation Center:

Categories Individual Group
(15 persons & above)
Annual Pass
(13 years and above)
¥470 ¥350 ¥3,550
Children(12 years and below) ¥240 ¥170 ¥1,770

Opening Hours:

Akan International Crane Center【GRUS】
Open 365 days.

Tancho Observation Center
Nov 1 to Mar 31

Nov 1 to Jan 31 8:30~16:00
Feb 1 to Mar 31 8:30~16:30

■ 20min from Kushiro Airport「釧路空港」 by car
■ 1 hour from JR Kushiro station「釧路駅」 by bus – alight at the “Tancho no sato”「丹頂の里」 bus stop
■ 40min from Lake Akan「阿寒湖畔」 by car

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Japanese Crane Reserve「釧路市丹頂鶴自然公園」

Japanese Crane Reserve 「釧路市丹頂鶴自然公園」 is a sanctuary for Japanese Red-Crowned Cranes (Grus japonensis) and visitors can come and observe the cranes here all year round. First opened in August 1958 with the aim of protecting and propagating this endangered species, five Japanese cranes were released in Kushiro’s Tsuruoka area at that time. Since then, a number of cranes have been successfully bred here.

Ink stamp collectors, please don’t forget to get a stamp from the building at the entrance!

It feels somewhat like a zoo with the fenced-up exhibits.

There are observation holes in the fences which you can use to photograph the cranes.

Adult cranes:

Juvenile cranes:

I’m more interested in seeing birds in the wild and thus I think I was more excited at seeing this White-tailed Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) which was perched on a tree nearby!

One last look at the cranes before leaving this place…

Japanese Crane Reserve「釧路市丹頂鶴自然公園」
〒084-0926 北海道釧路市鶴丘112
Tsuruoka 112, Kushiro, Hokkaido 084-0926, Japan.


Telephone: 0154-56-2219

Opening Hours:
April 10 〜 Health and Sports Day (second Monday in October) 9:00〜18:00
The day after Health and Sports Day 〜 April 9 9:00〜16:00

Closed: December 31 〜 January 3

Admission Fee:
Adults (High school students and older)   ¥470 (individuals), ¥376 (groups of 15 or more)
Elementary and Junior High school students ¥110 (individuals), ¥88 (groups of 15 or more)

By Bus: Akan Bus from Kushiro Station. About 1 hour, fare ¥910.

By Car: Take Route 240 in the direction of Kushiro Airport. About 50min.

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Tsurumidai「鶴見台」 is a feeding ground for Japanese Red-Crowned Cranes (Grus japonensis) and the feeding only takes place during the winter months from November to March. This is done twice daily – once in the morning and the second time in the afternoon at 2:30pm.

Japanese Cranes started gathering in this feeding field around 1963 and this was in the vicinity of an elementary school. As winter can be quite harsh in this part of the country, the teachers and their students started the practice of feeding the cranes during the cold, bitter months. When the school eventually closed down in 1974, Tome Watanabe, who lives nearby, took over the current crane feeding practice.

Note that there is no guarantee on the number of cranes you can see during your visit as it depends on how many birds decide to visit this site.

If you somehow don’t manage to see any cranes, you can take a picture with these crane motifs! ^_^

I also spotted a Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius) during my visit and I thought it looked rather comical!

There are no facilities at this feeding ground except for a parking lot which can accommodate a few tour buses. A restaurant and gift shop can be found across the street.

Shimosetsuri, Akangun, Tsuruimura, Hokkaido, Japan.


Telephone: 0154-64-2114

Observation Period: November to March

Feeding Times: Twice daily – once in the morning and next at 2:30pm.

By car: About a 55min drive from Kushiro Station, located directly beside Route 53.

By Bus: Akan Bus「阿寒バス」 鶴居Line or 幌呂Line from Kushiro Station and alight at Tsurumidai. The journey takes about 1 hour and the fare costs ¥1000.

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Sapporo Beer Brewery

Went for a tour of the Sapporo Beer Brewery in Sapporo. I’m not really a fan of beer and I prefer wines and cocktails over beer but this was part of itinerary on the package tour which I was on.

The tour wasn’t particularly interesting but beer lovers can look forward to 20 mins of free beer & other beverages at the end of the tour.

There were also some snacks and cheese (plain and onion flavours) which came with the drinks.

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Farm Tomita at Furano, Hokkaido

Almost all packaged tours to Hokkaido will include Farm Tomita on their tour itinerary. This is a must-see place in spring/summer when you can see the flowers in bloom.

Beautiful field of flowers:

In case you get lost whilst navigating the fields, there are directional signs to
help you (but in Japanese!)

A lovely field of lavender!!

Overwhelmed by the flowers!! LOL…

Absolutely beautiful!! What a wonderful sight to behold!

Irodori field
– Love the colours!!

Final stages of Lavender soap production.

Perfume distillary.

Recommended buys: Lavender products
Must Eat: Lavender ice-cream

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Black Watermelons found in Japan!

During my trip to Hokkaido at Sounkyo Onsen, I stumbled across some black watermelons in the gift shop at the hotel which I was staying at.

Couldn’t believe my eyes so I took another closer look! YES, they were indeed BLACK!!

I wanted to take a picture to show the folks back home but as these watermelons were being sold for quite a high price (i.e. treated like prized watermelons), I decided to ask for permission first (as some shop keepers may frown upon picture-taking and I didn’t want to get into trouble).

With my limited knowledge of Japanese, I soon found myself having a conversation, which left me somewhat amused and a little annoyed, with 2 Japanese men who were trying to be cheeky. However, you may find the conversation to be hilarious!

Here’s what happened…
Me: *pointing to the black watermelons* すみません,写真を撮りませんか? (Excuse me, can I take a picture?)
Japanese Shop Keeper: 私? (Of me?)
Me: いいえ…. *points again to watermelons* すいか!… (No, of the watermelons!..)
Japanese Shop Keeper: はい,どうぞ。(Please go ahead.)

…whilst I was trying to take a picture…
Japanese Sales Assistant to the Japanese Shop Keeper: (Why does she want to take a picture of the watermelons? Has she never seen watermelons before?)
Me to the Sales Assistant: 黒いすいかが初めてみます!(This is my first time seeing black watermelons!)

…and while I was still trying to get a nice shot of the fruit…
Japanese Sales Assistant to the Japanese Shop Keeper: (Maybe she thinks that the flesh of the watermelons is also black when it’s actually red! Hahaha!!)

Started to feel a little annoyed so I just ignored them and walked off! Guess the 2 guys found me amusing and were having a good laugh at me…

Anyway, here’s the picture of the black watermelons…

Do you think you will buy them?

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Exotic Canned Meat Curries in Hokkaido

I read an article about exotic meat curries in Hokkaido and was initially quite skeptical about it until I went to Otaru and found these canned curries being sold at one of the shops…

There were quite a number of varieties available:
Bear Curry, Minke Whale Curry, Stellar Sea Lion Curry, Seal Curry, Yezo Deer Curry, etc…

They weren’t cheap so I didn’t buy any to try.

When I returned home after my holiday, I kinda regretted not buying a can as it could have been turned into a conversational item! LOL.. but then again, the wildlife conservationists may come after me if I buy any of  these! ^_^”
Best advice is not to buy any!!

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