Our Plan for the day
Our plan was to drive southward to Kushiro City which was 130km away. We intended to make 5 stops to see:
- salmon migration at Sakura Falls
- clearest caldera lake at Lake Mashu
- red crown crane at a Kushiro santuary
- Onnenai trail at Kushiro wetland
- Kushiro Wetland at Marsh City Observation deck
We would end the day at Kushiro City where we had reserved a room in one of its hotels.
Sakura Falls (Sakura No Taki)
After eating a nice breakfast a tour hotel we checked out. We drove for about 15km to Sakura Falls and it did not take more than 20 minutes. My mapcode brought us directly into a carpark.
At one corner of the carpark we saw several signboards written mainly in Japanese which we did not understand. There was one signboards that said “beware of bear” in Chinese characters, that I could read. Bear likes salmons so we may chance upon a bear catching salmon at the fall that why we needed to be careful. Basically we concluded that we were at the right place. Immediately behind the boards was a path going down a small slope.
We walked down and we found the falls just up front. There were already several people standing on the bank of the falls, staring intently at the the cascading water as it went over the short waterfall. The place was not very large but it was shady. Unfortunately there were a lot of insects and mosquitoes too and we were bitten all over. Luckily I had my insect repellant lotion in my backpack and quickly we applied the lotion all over our arms, hands and ears.
The fall was very white and bright, (lighted by the sunlight), the current was very strong and the roar of the water was very loud. At the start I did not know where to look for the salmons, I scanned the entire width of the fall but did not see any fish.
When I heard the people around me gave out at collective soft exclamation, I realised that they had seen something that I missed. I held my breath and focused my attention on the cascading water and I finally saw it. A salmon jumped up of the water, it hit the falling water and fell back. Compared to the fall height the salmons were rather small and easy to miss.
The fall looked about 8 to 10 feet high. Most of the salmons could only manage to jump about half the height of the fall. Some of them jumped too close and were knocked down by the falling water and some other salmons jumped too far from the fall and fell flat onto the water surface. Occasionally I could see a salmon’s head sticking out of the water, it looked as though it was doing a survey of the situation before jumping.
After a long while of witnessing hundreds of failure, I couldn’t help but wondered the eventual percentage of salmon that made it upstream. I had seen salmon migration from documentary show but this was the first time I saw the migration in real life. July was just one the three months (June, July and August) when we could see these cherry salmons attempting to jump up the Sakura Falls to return to their birthplace.
Our second destination for the day was Lake Mashu, a caldera lake in Akan National Park. It vies for the position of “clearest lake in the world”, and is considered by many to be Japan’s most beautiful lake.
From Sakura falls we needed to drive about 35 km to reach the lake. Up till now the sky still looked bright and cloudless, it was definitely the ‘right’ sky for the viewing of Lake Mashu.
I had read on the internet that most of the time especially in July, the lake was frequently blanketed in heavy fog. So Yat Thong and I had already prepared for the worst.
When we reached the carpark of Observation Deck 3 it was about noon. The sun was hot and high up in the sky. We walked up a flight of steps to the deck. The view of the lake from Observation Deck 3 was very beautiful. The water was unbelievably blue. Though it was supposed to be clearest lake, I could not see below the surface of the blue water. The depth of the lake was probably very deep, it was after all a caldera lake, that was probably the reason why light could not be reflected from the base of the lake.
From the deck we could see another viewpoint on the left unfortunately on the walkway to the second viewpoint the path was barricaded. It was barricaded because some of the wooden railing along the edge of the path had fallen off. I overheard a locals explaining to his friends that in winter the snow layer on the walkway was very thick and it had caused the wooden rails to fall off. We waited till there was no other people around before we crossed over the barricade and walked to the second view point to see the lake from anther angle.
I was so glad that the weather was on our sides. If the scenery of the lake was floggy when viewed from Deck 3, our backup plan would be to drive down to Observatory Deck 1 (which is 3 km south of Deck 3). Deck 1 is located at a lower height and there is a chance that the scenery would not be as floggy.
In search of the Red Crowned Crane
The two main places in Kushiro-shitsugen National Park to see Red Crowned Cranes are Tsurui-Ito Tancho Sanctuary and Crane Viewing Point.
We drove to Tsurui-Ito Tancho Sanctuary and found just a patch of green land, we drove another 8 km south to Crane View Point and similarly there was no crane in sight.
We left both places only a tiny little bit disappointed as we knew that July was not a good time to see red crowned crane. The appropriate season would be winter.
Kushiro-shitsugen National Park
Kushiro Marsh stretches out to the north of Kushiro City in eastern Hokkaido. This is a huge marsh with an overall area of 183 square kilometers, and was the first Japanese marshland registered under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. Two thousand varieties of animals and plants live there, including Hokkaido deer and the white-tailed sea eagle. In summer, all sorts of wild flowers bloom, while in winter it is home to Japanese cranes, a designated special natural monument.
Kushiro City Marsh Observatory
By the time we reached Kushiro City Marsh Observatory it was about 2 pm. The sky was cloudless and the weather was very bright and hot. We walked a short distance from the car park to the entrance of the observatory and could already feel the sunlight biting into our skin. In was a relieve to walk into the dimly lit observatory.
On the ground level of the observatory was a souvenir shop and on the next level was a viewing platform. I was surprised that it would cost Yen 500 per person to go up to the viewing platform. So far in our trip, we had not pay any charge for going up an observation deck.
After conversing with the staff we felt that the scenery that we would see from the observation deck was not very spectacular for this time of the year. Besides there were other places where we could have a good view of the marshland for free. So that settled the matter, we were not going up to the observation deck.
I remembered passing a carpark just before arriving at the Kushiro City Marsh Observatory. The car park seemed to be overlooking the marshland and I also recalled seeing a few tourists taking photo there. I believed that could be another view point of the marshland so we drove back to that carpark. From the carpark we could see the marshland stretching out into the far distance. This indeed was another viewing point, unfortunately area was not well maintained. There were many tall trees growing just next to the viewing area and they blocked the magnificent view.
Onnenai Visitor Centre
Earlier on in the day, at about 1.30pm we had drove past Onnenai Visitor Center. At that time the weather was very hot so we decided not to go on the Onnenai walking trail till the weather turned cooler. It was at about 3 pm when we drove into Onnenai Visitor carpark again. Before we left the car, hubby and I started sticking insect repellent stickers all over our clothes and sprayed insect repellent lotion all over our exposed hands and arms. We came well prepared as we felt that insects and marshland were “synonyms”.
At the car park we saw a signboard that led us down a flight of wooden steps. After a short distance we saw a white structure that looked more like a storage building than an information centre. Anyway that was the information center.
There was a male staff at the centre and he briefly told us that the wooden boardwalk (called the Onnenai trail) was 2 km and it extended into the marshland. He pointed to a wall full of photos of birds, cranes, chipmunks and insects and pointed out the the positions on the trail where these animals were sighted. We were so excited about the resident red crowned cranes but was told that the possibility of sighting the cranes were practically nil. July was cranes breeding season and the cranes went into hiding.
The information centre closed at 5 pm, as for the Onnenai Trail there was no closing time. With that information we knew we could take a slow walk and did not have to rush back by 5 pm. We took about 2 hours to complete the walk (a loop), we walked slowly and as quietly as possible because we hoped to catch sights of animals and birds. Well, besides some birds all other animals were in hiding, no cranes in sight at all. The only thing that was left to enjoy was the vastness of the wild and beautiful marsh land.
From Onnenai to Kushiro City was about half a hour drive (20km). We drove straight to our hotel and we dropped our luggage and backpacks. I took out my mobile and surfed around to look for a good ramen store near to my hotel. I found Ramenkoubouuocchi which was just a couple of streets away. We walked there but just could not find it. But based on the map we were at the right location, we just could not see a ramen shop, we saw a big shop that looked like a seafood market so we did not go in. On hindsight we should have gone in because the ramen shop could be right inside the seafood market.
Since we could not find the ramen shop, we walked over to Kushiro (train) station which was just opposite our hotel. It had a huge signboard that said “Diner” so there should be many restaurants there.
At the Kushiro Station we only found one restaurant, we stood outside to look at the food display and to take snapshots of the food we would like to eat. A middle age lady came out and spoke to us in Japanese unfortunately our knowledge of Japanese was practically nil so we could only smile at her. I later figured out that she was telling me that last order was 7pm, because shortly after we sat down she took in the menu stand that was placed outside the shop door.
Accommodation for the Night
I had booked a twin room at Comfort Hotel Kushiro. The cost of the room for a night was ¥6000 ( about $67 sgd) and it came with ensuite bathroom and breakfast the next morning. At the time of booking the room, I found Comfort Hotel (chain hotel) comparatively cheaper than other chain hotels. From the online description and pictures, they seemed quite presentable. But I would not know till I stay in one.
I was definitely not disappointed when I reached Comfort Hotel. Externally and internally the hotel looked good and new. Our room was small but definitely not too tight for two of us and our luggages and backpacks. Wifi was available in the room. Coffee from a coffee making machine was available for free till 12 midnight.