Hokkaido - Japan's vast, northernmost prefecture - has many tourist destinations, such as Sapporo, Muroran, Niseko, Kushiro, and Shiretoko. It also has wonderful food and is a nature-rich area with different scenery each season. This article introduces Kushiro-shitsugen, a marshland in Hokkaido that's full of beautiful, untouched nature.
What is Kushiro-shitsugen?
Kushiro-shitsugen is Japan's largest marshland, with untouched nature spanning approximately 17km east-to-west and 36km north-to-south. Nearly 700,000 acres of this marshland is designated as a national park and serves as a habitat for many wild creatures, such as red-crowned cranes, which are recognized as a National Natural Monument, as well as white-tailed eagles and Siberian salamanders. There are many observatories from which to see scenery that reaches the horizon, as well as many walking paths where you can appreciate various plants and birds. It is in the List of Wetlands of International Importance, as defined by the Ramsar Convention, which is an international treaty on the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands. It is also a tourist destination that welcomes approximately 460,000 visitors annually.
Highlights of Kushiro-shitsugen
The greatest appeal of Kushiro-shitsugen is its spectacular nature. There are five observatories, each with their own beautiful views, including the Hosooka Observatory that has a fantastic panoramic view of the entire marshland and the Kottaro Wetland Observatory, where one can see the nesting grounds of red-crowned cranes. An area that cannot be seen from any of the observatories is Cape Kirakotan, which is the innermost part of the marshland. It has a trekking course (round-trip is roughly 3km) where you can walk among incredible scenery that's been left the same for 3,000 years.
*Cape Kirakotan is designated as a National Natural Monument, so prior permission is required to enter. It is best to hire a guide who has this permission.
Fun Activities to Try in Kushiro-shitsugen
There are many ways to enjoy Kushiro-shitsugen's grand nature, including treks and visits to the observatories.
One activity that many visitors like to try is the canoe tour down Kushiro River, which flows through the marshland. It is a popular way to enjoy the area's grand nature, and there are many canoe tours on offer.
The Kushiro Shitsugen Norokko Train (Kushiro to Toro on the Senmo Main Line) and SL Fuyu no Shitsugen-go (Kushiro to Shibecha on the Senmo Main Line) are great ways to enjoy views of the marshland from classic trains.
*Note that both run for limited times during the year.
Take a pleasant ride on a horse through forests and fields! You'll be able to ride Dosanko horses - indigenous to Hokkaido - that have been trained so that beginners can ride them comfortably.
When to Go
Kushiro-shitsugen gets the most tourists between June and mid-August, which is when the entire marshland turns green with budding trees and plants. The area is at a comfortable temperature during this season, so you can explore the area in short sleeves. Autumn comes quickly in September, and from December to March, temperatures can drop as low as -20°C, even though it is not an area with heavy snowfall. The cold season is the time to enjoy diamond dust (a ground-level cloud composed of tiny ice crystals) and red-crowned cranes. Kushiro-shitsugen has wonderful scenery to see throughout the year, however, so you could say that it's in season all year long!
How to Get There
Kushiro-shitsugen can be reached via Tancho Kushiro Airport or JR Kushiroshitsugen Station using highway buses and other forms of public transportation from major cities in Hokkaido. While more and more people are renting cars to get there, Hokkaido gets a lot of snow and the roads often freeze in the winter, so although Kushiro itself isn't a snow-heavy area, people unfamiliar with such driving conditions should avoid driving there. Traveling by land will take half a day regardless of the time of year. Trains and buses to Kushiro do not run frequently, so travel can take more time than you might think. Be sure to take travel times into consideration when deciding whether to take a plane, bus, or train from within Hokkaido!
Throwing away garbage, grabbing plants or animals, feeding animals, and smoking while walking are all prohibited in the park to protect nature. Be sure to follow the rules while you enjoy all that the area has to offer!
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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