If you’ve been to Japan, chances are you’ve seen a crane … but it’s most likely to have been of the origami persuasion. Winter may be cosidered an off-season for the non-skiing tourist to Japan, but head to Izumi city on the island of Kyushu and you just might have the opportunity to catch sight of Japan’s most iconic birds.
The Arasaki plains outside of Izumi, a coastal city in northern Kagoshima prefecture, are the winter home of the white-naped and several other species of crane. Each October, the birds make their way down from the wilds of Siberia to feed on the grains dropped in Izumi’s fields and rice paddies. The number of cranes peaks by the New Year and, come late February or early March, the birds are once more winging their way back to their breeding grounds.
The city’s Crane Observation Center offers one of the most impressive, close-up views of this graceful birds. Since conservation volunteers sprinkle the grounds around the center with feed for the birds, this is where you’ll find the largest concentration of cranes. They peck and preen and sound very much like a large avian cocktail party. It’s a stunning sight to see the elegant birds soaring in and out of the feeding grounds, casting shadows against the blue sky.
One of the best parts about Izumi is its accessibility. The city is one of the stops on the new Sakura shinkansen line that links Fukuoka with Kagoshima, a true cross-Kyushu rail line. Once in Izumi, tourist buses conveniently meet most trains – a ¥1000 ticket gets you all day, hop on and hop off access to sites such as the Crane Park Museum, the Crane Observation Center and the historic samurai quarter (which is worth a visit in its own right).
Whether you’re a birder or not, witnessing the massing of cranes in Izumi’s fields is a sight you’ll not soon forget.
Are these the cranes called “tsuru” and on the hanafuda cards?
Yes, they are. To get technical, the white-naped cranes (the ones with the red around the eyes) are called manazuru and the hooded crane (popular in Izumi but no red on its body) is called the nabezuru. And thank you for reminding me to add hanafuda to the list of Crash Course topics. 🙂
hi , i understand that it opens at 9am but read online that most cranes came in the morning just after daybreak for feeding or evening when it come back to rest , may i know is it possible to view b4 9am ?
The shuttle won’t be running from the JR train station until the center opens up you can either drive or take a taxi to the center and view the cranes from the road. There is a fence that you can’t really see over well (if you’re short like me) and you won’t have the second floor views from the center itself but you’ll still see the cranes in the surrounding fields.
Hi thanks , we be driving so maybe will try our luck at sunrise 🙂
Oh, lucky you, Ced. Having a car on Kyushu will allow you to see so much more! There is also a lovely samurai neighborhood in town you can see after you visit the cranes.
Hi UJ- I will not be able to get to this place until 1st couple of days in March. Is it likely that the cranes will all have deserted by then?
Harry, it’s hard to say. This winter is warmer than usual, meaning it might cause them to head home to Siberia earlier than predicted. But you should still be able to see some I imagine, just perhaps not the masses of them that are usually there in midwinter. If you can, have a Japanese friend or Japanese speaker ring the Izumi Crane Center for you to check the status before you make the trip out there.
Thanks for the reply and good advice.