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Kushiro Shitsugen National Park

Japan’s largest wetlands are the breeding grounds of the red-crested crane

Kushiro Shitsugen National Park spans Kushiro City, Kushiro Town, Shibecha Town, and Tsurui Village. Of its some 29,000 hectares, about 7,900 hectares have been designated under the Ramsar Convention as Wetlands of International Importance in 1980. Seven years later, the region was designated as Japan’s 28th national park. The wetlands are home to endangered species on the Ministry of the Environment Red List, such as the red-crested crane and the Siberian salamander. It took tens of thousands of years for nature to create this precious environment. The unforgettable sights will leave a lasting impression on your appreciation of nature.

It’s thought that the Kushiro Wetlands were still solid ground during the last ice age, some 20,000 years ago. Later, as temperatures rose, it became sea. About 4,000 to 6,000 years ago, peat begun to form on the seabed, marking the origin of the wetlands. As ocean waters receded over around the last 3,000 years, the wetlands gradually formed as we know them today. The lagoons (inland sea-lakes) of Lake Toro, Lake Shirarutoro, and Lake Takkobu are the habitat for various wildlife including waterfowl and fish. While they are all summarized as “wetlands”, there are three varieties. First are low-moor wetlands, which are depressed from their surroundings, drawing the flow of water and supporting the growth of reed and sedge. 80% of the Kushiro Wetlands fall into this category. Next are high-moor wetlands, which are elevated from their surroundings, and receive water by rainfall or snowmelt. Last are intermediate-moor wetlands, which are in a state of transition between low-moor and high-moor. The Kushiro River snakes through the Kushiro Wetlands, fed by Lake Kussharo and flowing into the Pacific Ocean. With a length of 154 kilometers, this is Hokkaido’s fourth longest river.The Kushiro Wetlands are best known as a habitat of the red-crowned (tancho) crane, one of Japan’s Special Natural Monuments. However, the wetlands are also the only natural habitat of the Siberian salamander. Regrettably, this remarkable salamander, thought to be a “survivor of the ice age”, has greatly decreased in numbers. Preserving their natural habitat is of utmost importance. The Kushiro Shitsugen Wildlife Center carries our research and field work in order to protect the region’s wildlife and conserve their wetland environment. The center includes displays for general audiences, with informative panels about wildlife and wetland conservation. The Lake Toro Eco Museum Center is located on the south coast of Lake Toro, which lies on the eastern border of Kushiro Shitsugen National Park. This facility also offers chances to learn about the great variety of nature, plants, and animals found in the Kushiro Wetlands. Understanding the structure of the wetlands and its underwater environment will broaden your perspective of this beautiful region. There are three ways to enjoy the Kushiro Wetlands. How about a ride on the Norokko-go sightseeing train, which parallels the Kushiro River? Enjoy beautiful views from the train windows, and then get off mid-way to take a walk through the wetlands. The best way to fully appreciate the wetlands is on foot. The Kushiro City Wetlands Observation Deck, located alongside Prefectural Route 53, serves as a base point for the walking route. The 2.5 kilometer route takes about one hour. Satellite observation decks overlook the majesty of the wetlands from different angles. And let’s not forget about the option of canoeing down the Kushiro River. The slow-flowing river offers tranquil passage through the wetlands.

Within the Kushiro Wetlands, there are curious depressions known as “Yachi Manako”, or “Eyes of the Swamp”. While quite small, some are as deep as four meters, becoming dangerous pitfalls from which escape may be difficult or impossible. Hikers must exercise great caution. You might also spot “Yachi Bozu”, or “Monks of the Swamp”, bushels of overgrown sedge so named for their resemblance to the reed hoods worn by Japanese Buddhist monks. It’s said that this peculiar growth is due to the cycle of winter freeze and spring melt cutting off their roots. If you spot them, their charming presence is sure to bring a smile to your face.

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