Kushiro, Japanese Crane and Norokko train 釧路
Day 25, October 2016,
Fox and Japanese Crane
The damp of the previous evening lingers in a foggy morning with the sun trying valiantly to break through. I step outside but fail to locate one of my Crocs. This is indispensable footwear for this kind of trip where you are constantly stepping in and out of your vehicle.
Thief in the night
I had been warned, by various signs in the campsite, not to leave things outside as a couple of young foxes in the area were liable to make off with any item that took their fancy. Habits die hard however and, of course, I left my crocs outside as unusual, handy for my nocturnal excursions. So, feeling very silly, I confess to D. that one of my shoes is missing. She is enjoying my humiliation but, to my relief, I find my wandering shoe about 20 meters away.
Just as we finish breakfast, we hear the voice of the crane and are “filled with awe” as four tsuru (Japanese crane) fly low over our heads and out over the still, misty lake.
I had, until this point, only seen Japanese cranes in rather privileged enclosures in zoos. I admit, I felt somewhat ho hum about cranes but, the sight of them flying, line astern, over my head, changed my attitude towards them completely.
Our plan is to take a local train Norokko through the wetlands. We set off for a very small station, Kushiro Shitsugen Station, to catch the train on that part of its journey where it becomes interesting. As we have, about 45 minutes, to wait for the train so we park and walk a bit to a viewing point. For some reason the Jehovah’s Witnesses are out in force standing with placards in the track which is all I remember of the view so clearly the JW made more of an impression.
We wander down to the station, where a couple of other people are waiting for the train. The station itself is a small log cabin and a platform with no one in attendance. A hoot announces the arrival of a train packed with Chinese tourist.
Most of these people seem uninterested in the wetlands, some are asleep others chatter loudly the length of the carriage or engage with electronic devices. To be fair, it is a little difficult to see much of the landscape as the train is too crowded to allow relaxed observation.
After we arrive at the destination, the bus tour groups alight to return to their respective buses. D. and I stay on the train for the return trip. The train is now almost empty and we no longer have to stand but can sit by the window and enjoy the view in comfort. The train slows at one scenic spot to aid photography.
I feel that the whole exercise is not worth the effort as the view of the wetlands, though very fine, is no different from the views we have gained at various other places without the hassle of catching this, can I say gimmicky, train? In fairness, though, if you don’t have a car this is probably your best bet.
We get back to Kushiro Shitsugen station well after lunchtime, break out our emergency cup ramen, set up our table in the car park and boil water. This is my first experience of this famed Japanese delicacy and I can’t wait to avoid the second.
Japanese Crane at Tsuruimura
After lunch, we press on to visit an area and village known as Tsuruimura. Tsuruimura is unusual for its population of cranes all year round. Most places famous for cranes are blessed with winter visitors only. Tsuruimura, on the other hand, is, perhaps, cursed as the population is growing so large as to be a problem.
As we approach the area, we can see, at some distance, large numbers of tsuru (crane) spread out across the fields. We stop at a bridge where a few tsuru can be spotted bobbing in and out of the bamboo but far downstream. Suddenly, we hear the voice of the crane again and, again, four tsuru appear overhead, line astern. A truly magnificent sight.
Back to earth, we drive once more to Kushiro for food shopping and a necessary bath. The onsen proves to be very utilitarian, busy and lacking in soap. Soaked but not scrubbed we get back to Lake Takkobu campsite after dark. It is Sunday so very few campers remain.
The author is a long term resident of Japan who has and continues to travel the country extensively. Avoiding highways where possible, the author has driven from Kagoshima in Kyushu to Wakanai in Hokkaido covering 20,000 plus kilometres and counting.