Tanchotsuru feeding at Tsurumidai sanctuary
[Voyage d'hiver dans l'est d'Hokkaido : les grues royales de Kushiro & les eaux bleues du lac Mashu]
Last March, at the core of the winter, we travelled to Eastern Hokkaido. I had wanted to go there for a long time, in wintertime, ever since I’d red an article about Hokkaido’s cranes in an old number of the National Geographic. We combined a trip to Kushiro national park with 2 days on the coast in Nemuro.
Tanchotsuru, the japanese crane
Kushiro marshes is the most famous place for watching the famous Japanese cranes.
The red-crowned crane (tanchotsuru) is one of the rarest cranes in the world and is considered as a national treasure in Japan.
The legend says they live a thousand years, so they are a symbol of longevity and good luck. As cranes keep the same partner until one dies, they are also associated with happy wedding.
They are a very common pattern in arts and crafts, from the traditional embroideries of the wedding kimonos to the logo of Japan Airlines.
Cranes by Hiroshige
While we were heading East, we sighted a couple of them flying from the window of the train between Obihiro and Kushiro. I was deeply impressed by their gracious and majestic presence.
The Kushiro Marshland was designated as a national park to protect the species, endangered by habitat destruction. Cranes are non-migratory in Hokkaido and can be seen all year long, but winter is definitely the best season to watch them, because the park organises winter feeding. We went to see them in Tsurumidai, a feeding ground located just next to the road.
It was more attractive for me to try to see them "in the real wild", but it was already late when we arrived in Kushiro and we were limited by the bus timetables and the early falling of the dark.
I wasn’t disappointed at all though. A few tens of red-crowned cranes and wild gooses were gathered in a field, separated from us by a mere wooden fence. More were to be seen in the sky and the nearby fields.
It is simply one of the most beautiful bird I have ever seen. They are extraordinary graceful and I was surprised by their giant size - about 150 to 160 cm when standing (possibly taller than me ;-)) and about 220–250 cm across the wingspan.
We were so absorbed by them that we missed the bus and had to wait for the next one, which left us no chance to see another place before the night.
Wishing you a thousand years' happiness...
Mashu-ko, the lake of the gods
On the following day, we went to Lake Mashu. Taking the train between Kushiro and Mashu was an experience in itself. It is a small old fashioned train with only one car, crossing woods and marshes all along. Plenty of wild deers can be seen along the way and the train has to stop frequently to avoid hitting them.
The Lake Mashu is a calderia lake situated in the Akan national Park. The Ainu, who worshipped every natural element, named it Kamuito, the lake of the gods. It is not hard to believe.
The sudden discovery of the lake from the crater walls is unforgottable - pure, transparent, its deep-blue contrasting with the white of the snow, its smooth surface with the twisted shapes of the naked trees. I recomend snowshoeing in winter, it is a fairy to walk around the crater.