My team and I know that Hokkaido’s natural beauty is an episode all of its own. Nature – shizen in Japanese – is the main character, with scenic landscapes, wild fauna and a rough climate.
We had the pleasure of discovering Hokkaido in winter and spring.
In the eastern part of the island, in a natural protected area amid the splendid scenery of the Kushiro marshlands, the graceful Japanese red-crowned cranes perform their elegant dance like a symbol of welcome to Japan for the viewers.
We had the great honor to meet Miyuki Kawase, 39. Born and raised in the area, Kawase works as the center’s supervisor. She’s passionate about the cranes she grew up admiring, and today she tries to make the numerous visitors aware of how precarious these incredible birds’ situation is.
A little further north, on the Pacific coast at the bottom of the Nemuro peninsula, lies the eerie landscape of the frozen Lake Fuuren. There, in the small village of Yarimukashi, we meet Mitsuji Oshita and his wife, a pair of fishers who have been living by the lake their whole life and make a living from it.
From Lake Fuuren, we continue our journey further west, along the extraordinary Shiretoko peninsula, which protrudes into the Sea of Okhotsk that bathes the northern shores of Hokkaido. At sea, seals and sea lions drift amongst the waves, and many species of fish flourish. In the sky, white-tailed sea eagles fly together with Steller’s sea eagles. Masanori Seki, an underwater photographer, has been diving from the shores of Rausu Town into the sea almost every day for the past 28 years. Meeting him was an extraordinary encounter.
Like other areas of Japan, Hokkaido specializes in on animal: it is known as the land of horses.
We were surprised by the reverence for the horse by Japan’s general focus on horse racing, as this sport has not captured much interest elsewhere in the world for decades. In Urakawa, we met a big-hearted woman, Mrs. Kuroiwa, who started an NPO to save retired and injured racehorses after she taking pity on a horse called Pin and saved the horse from death.
We go on discovering Hokkaido’s specificities. From the air, it reveals its deep, ever-evolving volcanic nature with dozens of volcanoes. Some are quiet with craters that eventually turned into emerald green lakes, while others are very active, mostly in the central and southern parts of the island. Here, people learned over time to coexist with this powerful nature, suffering from the wrath of eruptions but also taking advantage of the many hot springs they leave behind –the famous onsen.
We also met Ainu singers in Asahikawa, cheese makers in Nemuro, and teachers at the Sapporo School of Agriculture.
Shooting in this incredible region of Japan was an intense and enriching experience.
Akan International Crane Center [GRUS]
This center researches red-crowned cranes and shares its findings. See red-crowned cranes being raised in conditions similar to nature. Hundreds of cranes visit the sanctuary to feed each day between November and March, with more than 300 cranes on some days.
From Kushiro JR train station, ride the Akan Bus bound for Akanko Onsen (Bus Center) for 60 minutes. Get off at Tancho-no-sato bus stop.