Adventures in Eastern Hokkaido: Kushiro Shitsugen
July 2, 2011 by sevenbrane
Not far from the Akan National Park, there is yet another national park in Eastern Hokkaido: the Kushiro Shitsugen (釧路湿原), the largest wetlands in Japan. It is most famous for the red-crowned cranes (丹頂, tancho), which spend the winter there, which are also the emblem of the whole Kushiro region. While it is apparently possible to see cranes also in other seasons, we could not spot any.
Boardwalk in the hills
The Kushiro Observatory
, served by a bus from Kushiro City, sits on top of a small ridge which runs along the wetland below and offers a good view of its expanse. A board-walk has been built for visitors to enjoy the nature. While you can content yourself with a small loop which returns to the observatory and remains on top of the hills, it is much nicer to actually go on to the Onnenai Visitor Center
, a couple kilometers on (served by the same bus line). This walk is very varied: while the first part is up in the hills, the next part descends down to the border of the wetland, which is essentially grassy, and then joins up to another loop which leads to the visitor center, going really into the wetlands. The first part leads through pleasantly green woods with low bamboo undergrowth which is filled with cuckoo-calls in this season.
Through the bog
The best part is the part leading through the marsh itself, though. Here, the boardwalk comes in truly handy, since it leads through the water. We kept hearing the splashes of escaping water creatures when we approached, but could never figure out who originated them. Was it frogs? Or the famous Siberian Salamander
? Who knows.
Signboards along the way teach you about the flora and fauna of this remarkable ecosystem. I learned for example that the only tree that can tolerate the poor soil of the bog is the black alder
, thanks to a symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing bacteria.
Plants of the bog
I also learned that the layer of peat that accumulates per year is only 1mm thick. There were calla lilies blooming, I had no idea they were bog plants. Towards the end of the walk, we even came upon stands of irises. We walked about 8km that day, but you can vary the length depending on which way you go around the loops. The walk is very easy and pleasant and a great way to experience the wetlands. A bit of timing is necessary, since the bus doesn’t do many runs per day. It is also to be kept in mind that while the Kushiro Observatory has some limited lunch options, there are none at the visitor center.