The Kushiro Marshland (ő˙śHÄ╝î┤, Kushiro Shitsugen) in Hokkaido was designated as a national park in 1987 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 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.
Japanese Cranes (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.
A couple of the other ways to enjoy the marshland from the inside are to go on a walk along the walking trails or join a canoe or kayak tour that goes down the distributaries of the Kushiro River in the marshland. These activities are typically available around the year and offer a different perspective of the national park.
Akan International Crane Center
Hours: daily 9:00 to 17:00 Closed: No closing days Admission: 480 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 Year Holidays Admission: 480 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.
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 (until 16:30 from February to March) Closed: April 1 to October 31 Admission: 480 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
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 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 This viewpoint is located right beside Route 53 and offers unobstructed views of the park. It is accessible by car or bus.
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.
Getting there and around
A rental car is the easiest way to get around the park as public transportation is limited and infrequent. Rental outlets are available at Kushiro Airport and in the city center. It is possible to reach most of Kushiro's sites by public transportation, although a few, such as the Otowa Bridge roosting area, can only be reached by car.
To the Tancho Observation Center
There are 4-5 buses per day that run from Kushiro Station to Kushiro Airport (40 minutes, 950 yen), the Tancho Observation Center/Akan International Crane Center (65 minutes, 1480 yen) and continue on to Lake Akan (2 hours, 2750 yen).
To Tsurumidai and the Tsurui Ito Tancho Sanctuary
There are 4-7 buses per day from Kushiro Station to the Kushiro Shitsugen Viewpoint (35 minutes, 690 yen), Tsurumidai (50 minutes, 1020 yen) and Tsurui Village (1 hour, 1280 yen). The Tsurui Ito Tancho Sanctuary is located in Tsurui Village and is a 15 minute walk from the bus stop.
To Hosooka Viewpoint
The JR Senmo line runs from Kushiro Station to Kushiro Shitsugen Station (20 minutes, 440 yen) and continues on to Akan National Park and Abashiri. The Hosooka Viewpoint is a five to ten minute walk from the station up the hill past the parking lot.