Amazing Adventures in Hokkaido

The abundance of the natural environment, the lifestyles and culture of the people who live there – Hokkaido has many incredible stories that are as yet unknown.
In this column, we learn about the appeal of Hokkaido’s four seasons from the people who guide adventure tours there. We hope such stories enrich the time spent in Hokkaido, the next time you visit.

Special feature

Column: 100 things that Hokkaido kids should experience: Red-crowned cranes and diamond dust

Kazu Arai @Daisetsuzan National Park, Higashikawa, July 2020

Written by Kazu Arai. Was born and educated in Hokkaido. He is a nature guide and founder of Daisetsuzan Nature School providing environmental education and ecotours. He is also the president of Hokkaido Adventure Travel Association and GSTC trainer for working on sustainable tourism in Hokkaido.

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At the Daisetsuzan Nature School, we provide environmental education for local children. We are putting together a list of 100 things that all kids in Hokkaido should experience. These experiences are not just fun outdoor activities, but also those we adults think would help develop an understanding of our environment. Understanding the environment and how our actions affect it, is key for us to live sustainably for generations to come.

The natural environment in Hokkaido can often be silent. There are, however, gentle moments when it reveals its beauty. These moments are often fleeting, so some preparation is essential in order to experience Hokkaido’s natural charm. Understanding why a natural phenomenon occurs, or when a particular animal is likely to show up helps increase your chances of seeing them.

In this article, I’d like to explain two natural experiences that draw people to eastern Hokkaido during winter; watching red-crowned cranes and seeing diamond dust.
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Check out the cranes’ various behaviours. Tsurui, January 2022.
From Otowa bridge. It’s more thrilling if you have a telescope or binoculars. Tsurui, January 2020

Watching red-crowned cranes fly over the Kushiro Wetland

The red-crowned crane was once found throughout Japan. However, the population plummeted in the early twentieth century due to hunting and habitat loss. Less than 30 birds survived, all of them in the Kushiro Wetland.

The population has now recovered to almost 2,000, thanks to legislation, habitat protection and winter feeding programmes. Red-crowned cranes are a living example of the light and dark sides of nature conservation in Hokkaido.

Tsurui Village in the Kushiro Wetland has convenient bird-watching spots. Even in winter children can see the wild birds with little stress. The nature centre at the Tsurui Ito Tancho Sanctuary has up-to-date information and is a good place to escape from the cold.

The cranes usually fly from their roost to the sanctuary in the morning, giving you a chance to see these birds in flight, as well as feeding and dancing. If you are up for an earlier start, head to Otowa Bridge where you can see tancho sleeping along the river. They stand on one leg and bury their long necks in their back feathers to stave off the cold. Like us humans, the cranes are slow to rise on cold mornings. If you know their behaviour, you won’t have to wait around on a cold morning.

The cranes gather along the river at night. Tsurui, January 2022

Diamond dust in Kawayu, Teshikaga Town.

Kawayu is in the Akan–Mashu National Park, a one-hour drive from Tsurui. The area has sulphurous fumaroles, strong acetic hot springs (ph1.8) and a hot-water beach where the hot springs gush up when you dig in the sand.

However, a natural phenomenon unique to winter is “diamond dust”. Head out on a cold morning and you can see the air shimmering with what seem like tiny diamond particles. But what causes this?

Diamond dust, a beautiful natural phenomenon. Teshikaga, January 2021

The “diamond dust” is ice crystals in the air reflecting the sunlight. These ice crystals form when the air temperature drops below -10℃ and the moisture in the air quickly freezes. Diamond dust can be seen throughout Hokkaido, but the air at Kawayu is relatively humid thanks to the many onsens and steaming vents. More moisture in the air makes for more crystals, increasing your chances of seeing diamond dust.

So, take your kids to Kushiro Shitsugen National Park and Akan–Mashu National Park and help them discover Hokkaido’s natural wonders with their own eyes. January to mid-March is the best time to go. Just remember to pack some pocket warmers and a Thermos with their favourite hot drink to keep the cold at bay; Nature doesn’t appear on demand.

Location

Tsurui Ito Tancho Sanctuary

Kawayu Onsen

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