Masters dissertation week 4: Teshikaga & Kushiro (Akan & Kushiro national parks)

My friend complained that my posts were too long… funny I always think I don’t give enough information to really reveal what it’s like here.

Wednesday 13th June: took advantage of my last free chance to ride the boat. Got luckier this time – saw a minke whale. Shame that minkes never really surface, you only see the back, but was still grateful nonetheless. In the afternoon the goal was Teshikaga, not quite a direct route from Rausu. But 15 minutes upon lifting my thumb, someone stops to give me a lift – lo and behold it’s someone I’ve met twice before, in Utoro! Lovely conversation, she drives me part way to my destination. A further 2 lifts (1 from a lady with her daughter and her mother, and 1 from a young couple) see me to Teshikaga in good time. A nice place to sleep at my couchsurfing host Tim’s place is very welcome – along with a visit to the local onsen!

junko, my friend i keep meeting!

Thursday 14th June: hitch-hiked to Kussharo lake (no convenient bus) – 2 lifts get me there. The second couple to pick me up not only drive me to the lake but also give me a present (a hand-made keychain)! Took a couple of photos after managing to get some motivation (even though the sky turned beautiful) and found my way back to Teshikaga for a quiet evening.

Friday 15th June: lucked out with the weather – beautiful day, and some puffy clouds too! Ace for a visit to Masshu lake – one of the clearest lakes in the world. I wanted to find this place called kaminoko ike, which was supposedly not far from the 3rd viewpoint. Actually, it turns out it’s not far from the 2nd viewpoint which is miles away by car, not feasible on foot or by public transportation. I was talking to someone who was also interested in going there so we made the trip together (he was a little disappointed) and after having lunch together I went back to Teshikaga. The evening came with a party at Tim’s friend’s house – a birthday party for their twins and Tim. A really good night with a bonfire outside and lots of excellent food. Socially, this trip rocks.

(kats is on the right)

Saturday 16th June: cloudy day so I decided to take a day off. I had time, after all, and we stayed over at the people’s house who hosted the party so it was quite a slow day anyway. The man who had the party (kats) has this really cool shop in Teshikaga I would highly recommend – full of cool little trinkets, music and a great restaurant with soup curry and lots of delicious coffee! I spent the afternoon there doing some brainstorming, trying to save my project and design a magazine.

Sunday 17th June: typhoon weather really hit, lots of rain and wind. Lovely. I could and would have taken another day off had I time to spare, but I wanted to press on and do SOMEthing. So I hitch-hiked my way to Akan lake (there is NO public transportation between Teshikaga and Akan lake) with someone who happened to be Tim’s friend, and a photographer too! Brilliant! He told me about a place called Riderhouse, a very old little place where you can stay overnight for 500 yen. Cheaper than the campsite, and much drier, I decided to go for it. It’s run by this old man who doesn’t seem to hear much and always shouts ‘dame’ (don’t) to his old dog. He also gave me food, included in the price, though when I said I didn’t need dinner he mumbled something and I felt really bad. Trying to fight the rain, I found some marimo (these algae balls that the place exploits majorly for tourism – in fact, they have this play on words where they have a man with an algae ball head, and he has a boner, called ‘marimokkori’, mokkori meaning the bulge an erection makes) in the eco centre – therefore not needing to pay about £20 for a boat to the marimo centre in the middle of the lake. I also tried to do some outdoor photography but had to shelter from the rain for a little while. Some night time photography as well, so as not to completely lose my time there by the rain, and off to bed.

mokkori marimo


Monday 18th June: got up to try and find a sunrise, only to get nothing. Back to bed for a bit and then out again to try and get at least 1 shot of the lake. My original plan, ruined by the rain, was to hike a mountain called “meakan-dake” from which you get great views over this crystal blue lake called onetto, and where there are supposedly black woodpeckers, but they no longer had a bus service running there, and I figured with this rain, not many people would be heading that way. Around midday I got a lift with some people back to Teshikaga where I picked up my stuff and took a train to a place for some sunset photography – Hosooka viewpoint looking over the Kushiro wetland. A vast place, it really does give the impression of the African savannah at times. Though it took me longer to get there than I’d anticipated because some woman at the information centre lied to me and told me Hosooka train station was the closed to the viewpoint, whereas it’s actually Kushiro shitsugen train station. Gah.
Nighttime stay at a business hotel, what a luxury!

Tuesday 19th June: Off to Ochiishi to take a boat out to see the tufted puffin – there’s only about 20 breeding pairs of these birds left in Hokkaido, the rest are all in Alaska. The boat tour is actually led by this cool guy who used to be an ANA captain and took early retirement. He’s massively into birdwatching, and is in the process of making an English book about the birds in Japan with Mark Brazil – big name in Japan for English nature information. The boat tour was a bust, second typhoon on the way (very rare to have 2 in a row, just my luck) made the water around the little islands (yuyuri and moyuyuri) too choppy and foggy to see anything. A rather expensive fail, but it was slightly compensated for by one of the other guides giving me a lift the whole of the afternoon to try and help me find some wild cranes. We saw about 13, though it took us 5 hours of driving, and only in the last 10 minutes did we find some that were close enough to photograph. What an emotional day! Apparently Kushiro usually gets a lot of fog at this time of year.

foggy day

Wednesday 20th June: what do you know, the rain is starting to come on again, and completely overcast sky. I was going to camp but decided against it. I went out to the Wildlife Centre to get some photographs of rescued steller’s sea eagles, white-tailed sea eagles and blakiston’s fish owls – the vet there was super accommodating and took lots of time to show me around. Happy to finally get some photography in I walked on up to the Kushiro marsh observatory – not much to observe when the clouds are low and the rain is blown onto your lens. Trying to get something I hiked from there to onnenai visitor centre, which meant I was sloshing in wet socks and hiking boots for the next few days. I got a lift back to Kushiro with a nice elementary school teacher, and stayed dry in my hotel for another night.

at the wildlife centre

fog over the wetland

Thursday 21st June: (still drizzling at this point) Wanting to get some more shots of cranes, I went to the japan crane centre by Kushiro airport – one of the few places you’re guaranteed to see them all year round as these are injured individuals etc. (they can freely fly out if they wish). I was lucky to see a pair do a courting dance, and also saw hawks steal their food. Just before leaving I also spotted a tanuki – a Japanese raccoon dog. Whoo! Back to Kushiro to check out of my hotel and onto the norokko train, this slow steam train that goes slower than a normal train through the wetland. I went to the end, went to the viewpoints not too far away and then wanted to go to kottaro viewpoint, about 7km further along. I was running out of time (I wanted to get back to the train to take this nighttime shot which I though would be cool), but I thought I’d try to get as far as possible. Trying to hitch a ride, a man in a van with a woman in the passenger’s seat stopped to let me in. This turned out to be a big Nikon and Swarovski-sponsored photographer/nature guide who can identify a bird by its song in like 2 secs. Crazy! He brings me to his b&b and his wife invites me over for dinner. Not being able to say no, I ditched my photography plans, and got to go to an onsen and had a massive dinner with post-dinner entertainment (guitar & flute performance!). This is the kind of adventure that hitch-hiking is well worth doing for.

a hawk stealing the crane’s food

4 days of photography left before I take the boat down to Tokyo.

I have a lot of frustrations so far about being a wildlife photographer, that aren’t really down to weather conditions:
(1) you need money – for good equipment, good accommodation and good guides who know all the spots
(2) you need time – 1 shot will take you days. And many attempts.
(3) you need a car – no matter how well-connected a country is, the animals are where the people are not.
(4) you need luck – animals are animals and will do as they please.
If you have none of the above, like me, you may be able to get there but it takes a lot of energy.

Video log: