Red-crowned Crane

(Grus japonensis)


Tsurumidai, Kushiro, Akan-gun, Hokkaido, Japan

February 23, 2018

We are very grateful to Mr Tetsuji Hidaka of Poroto Guide Lodge for picking us up from Kushiro Airport and taking us on a guided tour to see Tancho. Tetsuji-san is very patient and kind and genki and taught us many things about the area and its birdlife. I hope one day to stay at his lodge in the warmer months and see many wonderful things. Website: Poroto Guide Lodge

First, we went to Tsurumidai and witnessed many Tancho feeding and displaying. The end of February is the best time and we were thrilled to see them dancing in the the white landscape.

Then we visited the famous Otowa Bridge. It was already late morning and all the cranes had gone out for the day, but we saw some nice ducks and swans and Tetsuji-san set up his scope for us to peer at a Steller’s Sea-eagle sitting in a tree far off. The landscape is truly stunning.

Our final venture took us to Tsurui-Ito Tancho Sanctuary. We witnessed more Tancho grazing in serene settings and we were humbled, yet enthralled by a presentation about Tancho by Harada-san of the Wild Bird Society of Japan.  We are very grateful and impressed by the effort by all to help us in English. The story of Tancho teaches us about the power of an inspired community. Overall, the tour was a special introduction to Japan for my friends, and together, we were thrilled by this special way to arrive in eastern Hokkaido.

My blog is already 9 years old and it seems absurd to have had a nature blog claiming to present natural wonders of Japan and not have any posts about Red-crowned Cranes. Designs of Red-crowned Cranes are still pretty typical images in Japan.  For centuries they were hunted as trophies to be presented to Shogun. They were perilously close to extinction in the last century but a desperate effort to save them has stabilised them and it is hoped they will spread farther afield. Mr Harada said to me that I may see them in Niigata in the next 30 years. I hope so. I think the law declaring them as National Living Treasures has given them a greater profile of national importance than a simple law protecting an endangered species. If you seek out Tancho, you are not simply “bird-watching”, you are learning about the heart of the nation. I wish Australians would designate the Koala as a National Living Treasure before their numbers are too small. 

Young Tancho

On the night I first arrived at Narita, Larry showed me how to buy a train ticket to get into Tokyo. It is still in my mind. I took out a freshly exchanged one thousand yen note and fed it into the ticket machine. It was a beautifully unique piece of money, with the design of two dark-green, Red-crowned Cranes dancing with each other on its back. I was to feed many of these notes into the train machines around Tokyo in the months to come. The note has since faded into history but is still in my mind.

If you search on the internet you can find many descriptions of how “Tancho”, the Red-crowned Crane, along with turtles are symbols of longevity. I’m sure you’ve heard of the story of “Sadako”. ;(Click link to Wikipedia)

Below are some pictures of paper cranes displayed as decorations. 

Below: 1000 paper cranes made by school students in Niigata for their homeroom teacher who was ill and admitted to hospital.