Thursday, October 30, 2008

Kushiro Shitsugen National Park
basic information

Kushiro Shitsugen National Park in Hokkaido was established in 1987 and is Japan's most recently designated National Park. It was created in order to preserve the country's largest wetland and marsh habitat which supports the only known population of endangered Japanese Cranes in Japan.

The park is located between Kushiro City and Akan National Park and is easily visited when traveling between the two. The park does not receive much snowfall, even in winter, and offers bird watching, nature viewing, and walking trails. Japanese Cranes can be viewed there year round and attract hundreds of photographers.

Dancing Cranes
Photographers at the Tancho Observation Center

Japanese Cranes, also known as Tancho (lit. red head), were thought to be extinct in Japan due to overhunting and habitat destruction. However, in 1926 a group of about 20 birds was discovered in the marshes around Kushiro. With conservation efforts they have since made a dramatic recovery and now number more than 1000 birds.

The cranes are most spectacular to watch as they dance, often in pairs, with seemingly choreographed dips and jumps. The cranes are best seen in the winter as they gather at winter feeding sites. These sites are best accessed by car, but they can also be reached by public transportation.


Akan International Crane Center
Hours: daily 9:00 to 17:00
Closed: Mondays (April to October)
Admission: 400 yen (includes Tancho Observation Center)
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.
Kushiro City Marsh Observatory
Hours: 8:30 to 18:00 (9:00 to 17:00 November to April)
Closed: New Years Holidays
Admission: 400 yen
The Marsh Observatory is connected to the Kushiro Shitsugen Viewpoint by a number of boardwalk paths that offer nice, easy walks. The Observatory houses exhibits about the surrounding marshlands.

Feeding Stations:

These are open from November to March to offset food shortages of the colder winter months. Visitors can watch the feedings which are once or twice a day depending on the station. Feeding times are the best times to see groups of cranes together.

Tancho Observation Center
Hours: 8:30 to 16:00 (8:30 to 16:00 February to March)
Closed: April 1 to October 31
Admission: 400 yen (includes Akan International Crane Center)
The Tancho Observation Center is a winter feeding ground adjacent to the Akan International Crane Center. The facilities include an observation room, toilets, and a small restaurant.
Tsurui Ito Tancho Sanctuary
The Tsurui Ito Tancho Sanctuary feeding ground is on the same grounds as the Japan Wild Bird Association Nature Center. Although there are no facilities at the feeding ground itself, the Nature Center across the street has an observation room and a research center.
Tsurumidai is a feeding ground located directly beside Route 53. There are no facilities at the feeding ground except for a parking lot large enough to accommodate a few tour buses. There is also a restaurant across the street.

Winter Roosting grounds:

Otowa Bridge
In winter the cranes come here at night to roost in the relative safety and warmth that the river provides. They are best observed in the mornings as they are usually out feeding during the day. The bridge is only accessible by car.


The landscape of Kushiro Shitsugen National Park can be viewed from various viewpoints around the park.

Kushiro Shitsugen Viewpoint
Kushiro Shitsugen Viewpoint
This viewpoint can be reached in about 15 to 20 minutes by a (wheelchair accessible) boardwalk path from the Kushiro City Marsh Observatory. There are numerous paths in the area, some of which lead down to the edge of the marsh.
Hokuto Viewpoint
Hokuto Viewpoint
This viewpoint is located right beside Route 53 and offers unobstructed views of the park. It is accessible by car or bus.
Hosooka Viewpoint
Hosooka Viewpoint
Located on the eastern edge of the park, this viewpoint is especially beautiful at sunset. It can be accessed by car or by a diesel train from Kushiro Station.

Dewa Sanzan Travel Guide

Dewa Sanzan Travel Guide
basic information
View of Gas-san from the hiking trail

Dewa Sanzan ("three mountains of Dewa") are three sacred mountains in Yamagata Prefecture, each with a shrine on or near its peak. The mountains are named Haguro-san, Gas-san and Yudono-san and remain centers of mountain worship. Representing birth (Haguro-san), death (Gas-san) and rebirth (Yudono-san), the mountains are usually visited in that order.

Dewa Sanzan is a center of Shugendo, a folk religion based on mountain worship, blending Buddhist and Shinto traditions. Shugendo practitioners, called yamabushi, perform feats of endurance as a means of transcending the physical world. Training includes such tasks as long pilgrimages and endurance of the elements.

Evidence of Shugendo's most extreme test of physical endurance and religious devotion lies in the nearby Churenji and Dainichibo Temples. Here, two monks succeeded in preserving their own bodies as mummies through extreme diet modification and meditation. Although the practice is now banned, these self-mummified monks are considered living Buddhas for their achievement.

Part of Dewa Sanzan's appeal is its remoteness. Yamagata's heavy snowfall makes travel in the mountains difficult during the winter months when only Haguro-san remains open. The best time to visit is between July and mid September when all three shrines are open to pilgrims and tourists.

Friday, October 17, 2008


basic information
Nagoya Castle

With over two million inhabitants, Nagoya is Japan's fourth most populated city. It is the capital of Aichi Prefecture and the principal city of the Nobi plain, one of Honshu's three large plains and industrial centers.

Nagoya developed as the castle town of the Owari, one of the three branches of the ruling Tokugawa family during the Edo Period. Much of the city, including most of its historic buildings, were destroyed in the air raids of 1945.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


basic information

Hikone is a small city at the shores of Lake Biwa, Japan's largest lake. The city is most famous for its castle, one of only four castles in Japan designated as national treasures. Hikone makes an easy and pleasant 3-5 hour stop-over (or more) on a trip between Tokyo and Kyoto.

Gujo Hachiman Travel Guide

Gujo Hachiman Travel Guide
basic information

Gujo Hachiman is a small, riverside town in Gifu Prefecture, known for its pristine waterways and its distinctive summer dance festival. The town was founded in the 16th century following the construction of Hachiman Castle.

Gujo's waterways function in much the same capacity as they did in the 1600s. Walking through town provides visitors with a look at the many canals, fountains and waterways that are still used for washing rice, vegetables and laundry. Townspeople cooperate to keep the canals clean and the water fresh; as a result of their efforts, Gujo's drinking water is a source of local pride.

Gujo Odori is the name of the large summer dance festival held in Gujo Hachiman. The festival started over 400 years ago and continues today for a period of thirty-one festival nights between July and September. During the four days of Obon in mid August, dances continue all through the night.

Gujo is also a leading producer of food replicas in Japan. Many of the food replicas, used by restaurants to decorate their windows and inform patrons of their dishes, are produced here. Visitors can try their hand at creating wax shrimp tempura in some of the workshops.