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.