This leg of the cruise we are working our way around Hokkaido, the northernmost of the main Japanese islands. As we have sailed steadily north, the temperature has fallen over twenty degrees and the fog horn sounded almost continuously. However, when we arrived in Kushiro, the sun shone and the sky was bright blue. A few miles inland from the sea, the temperature rebounded comfortably. Although Hokkaido only has 4% of Japan’s population, it has 17% of its arable land. Unlike the rest of the country where rice fields predominate, wheat is grown here. Cattle graze on the unproductive marshland and cheese and butter are exported to the rest of the country.
This was the first time a Princess cruise ship docked here and a local TV crew showed up to film the action - us disembarking. Because there is little tourism here, the English speaking guides took a four hour bus ride here from Sapporo, previewed the tour, and stayed overnight in hotels awaiting our arrival. They were enthusiastic tourists.
Our tour began at the Crane Natural Park, begun in 1958 when the Red Crested Crane population was down to less than twenty, having pretty much disappeared from the rest of Japan. After ten years of failed attempts, successful artificial hatching brought an increase to the population, which numbers about 1200 on Hokkaido. We felt so lucky to be here during egg hatching season and two youngsters set everyone’s cameras to clicking. Crane live in pairs and mate for life, so they are a symbol of love and devotion here. We really enjoyed watching the birds interact and listening to our poor guide trying repeatedly to say Led Lested Lanes - the “r” sound is a huge challenge for Japanese speakers.
Then we went to the local zoo, primarily to see the indigenous animals housed there, although the usual giraffe, zebra, lion, tiger combo were there as well. The Japanese Brown Bear was an impressive beast. It’s size rivaled our grizzly and it had the same fat hump on its shoulders. The guide said that every so often someone is killed by the bears that still live in the wild. After seeing them, this was easy to believe. The swans hung out in a nice pond that they had to share with huge carp. When people threw food, the fish generally won. The American beaver was the biggest beaver I have ever seen; life in Kushiro obviously agreed with him. An extensive collection of owls were wide awake and peered down at us from their preferred perches high above. Although we enjoyed seeing the animals, this zoo was somewhat depressing in that the space allotted most of the animals was quite small and not very naturalized. PETA has never visited Kushiro.
The final stop was at a fish market since fishing is a major source of income in this port city. We were there at lunch time and many locals had stopped by to purchase a bowl of rice and add this and that delicacy as they strolled the aisles. The market also sold fresh vegetables; the local asparagus looked especially yummy. We bought a bouquet of flowers to bring a touch of Kushiro inside our cabin.