Last day in the outdoors and using our boots, you will be missed. Since we had a break day the day before, it took my brain some time to process my surrounding and actually sink in the fact that I have actually move today. But I think today’s activity was the one I had most fun with. The moment the bus arrived at the lake, I wonder how deep are we going into the lake today since last time we didn’t get to explore much of the wetland. Since the boat was small, we had to take turns going to the sea grass bed site. While the first team went ahead, the others and I get to actually get into the lake. That was the fun part in my opinion. We went to the part reaching our waist and it actually was a great feeling being the water. Also, using this bucket thing we get to see the underwater ecosystem. We even caught glimpse of crabs. One more thing, who knew it would be that difficult. It was quite an amusing sight, all of us basically turned into tunas being fished out of the sea. Only after we got to the site did I realized how much of the area was covered by the sea grass. So we collected some of the sea grass and went back to the shore. To my surprise, there was actually a variety of life forms revolving around the sea grass. At first glance, there does not seem to be much. We even captured a number of fishes.
Since today is another free day, we had a pretty late start for the day. By just 30 minutes actually because everyone was tired from the consecutive activity days and preparations for the Wanda Grinda project. So after breakfast, the work continues. Each group had to present their progress and receive comments from the professors. I think some of the comments we received was the fact that our choice of topic was kind of too broad. The idea of presenting the wetland flow using the Olstrom framework was not bad but we should have a chosen a particular area to focus on; for example, asdfghjkl. In the end, we changed the whole draft again. Moving on, it was time for barbecue ! I was really looking forward to it since I guess it was my first real barbecue. I mean I always see it on television but I never actually get to experience. I think I had one in Malaysia before but I’m sure the way of doing it was different. I also made a self discovery on this day. I never knew I actually liked guarana drinks. I have drank guarana coffee before so I was expecting a bitter taste but rather it tasted sort of berry-like. Eventually, I ended up drinking 5 cans since the others didn’t really like it and gave theirs to me lol. Besides that, since Bibi and I were the only ones eating meat at our table we had everything all to ourselves. We didn’t even eat half of the amount and already felt full. There weren’t only beef and lamb but also salmon, squid, onigiri and some other stuff. When the other tables we were still eating, our table already moved on to the marshmallows. I actually left early because I felt kind of sick after drinking too much guarana. I drank calpis and milk tea after too so I think my stomach couldn’t handle processing too much variety of food. I ate so much I think that was probably a day’s worth of meal.
First part of the day was a hike near Lake Takkobu. Before that we had a small lecture on the activities being done in preserving the lake by the rangers. I was actually surprised to see the abundance of water chestnuts there. It was not really visible at first but once you noticed it actually covers about 90 percent of the lake. Example of invading species I would say. They are indeed trying to reduce the population and explained the actions being carried out twice a year. After that, we were shown the reforestation project site. It takes about a few years before the trees can be transferred on site. The next part was the interesting part for me. Hiking up the steep hill to the observatory on top. Along the way, we had an activity involving catching bugs and then identifying them. This is because bugs determine the condition of the forest. We also got to see the Karamatsus ! (There is a reason for this excitedness)
Moving on, to the session after lunch at Shibecha High School. I find the school to be very unique and I think its good that they’re assimilating the education system to the town’s trait industries. Walking in their miniature wetland was fun too after all the wetland areas we went, I’m starting to get used to it. Talking to the students there sort of gave me a new perspective on life. First of all, the way we think was very far apart. For example, they really like being in their town despite being far from facilities and modernity. As said, they like the peace and quiet in the countryside. I guess they’re really comfortable with how life is now to the point that they don’t really want to leave Hokkaido (to my surprise). I could say that I have been pretty much brainwashed by the city life. I mean being surrounded by nature is good too but I don’t think it would be my choice of living environment. Perhaps once in a while for a change of pace. One more thing worth mentioning is the bread which was really good, I pretty much ate everything since I could not eat the sausages.
Let me begin by saying this: I don’t know how I survived this day. I really don’t. Especially not after yesterday’s schedule. I was quite sure that I’d faint or worse today but somehow, I made it though the morning and afternoon sessions without getting anything worse than a stinging itch from a plant. In the morning, I woke up late so I had to rush breakfast to make it in time for the bus to the Megumi Park where we met up with around a dozen other people who would accompany us to the river walk along the Iwabokki Sluice and the (old) Kushiro river. Our guide for the morning was the Kushiro Salmon Society’s chairperson, Kosugi-san, with other members such as Shimizu-san. There was even a cameraman from NHK. The bus was unusually filled up with people as we rode to the sluice first. I’d imagined the sluice as old and unsteady but when we went around to the front, where its heavy, rusted gates held the water of the Kushiro river steady, I had to admit that the gate was still functioning (for better or for worse) even well after half a century of being built. The Iwabokki sluice is at the center of a heated, decades-long debate about whether it should be opened or not, to allow the Kushiro river to flow again and consequently, allow marine life such as salmon to come upstream. The main opposition is the fear of the accumulated sediment flowing into the Kushiro wetland and further causing the wetland area to decrease. To the Kushiro Salmon Society, however, it would be better to open the sluice to stop the stagnation of the river. We clearly saw the state of the Kushiro river as we walked along its banks for about two and a half hours. The path we walked on was a new path, where no one had ever gone before— fairly dangerous, I think. I almost slipped on the makeshift bridge at the beginning and actually slipped as we crossed the drainage area. In addition to that, we also had to fend off mosquitoes, horseflies and other species we disturbed in the area. As we walked, I observed that the water was only disturbed on the surface by insects— it was clear that the river’s depths remained fairly still, as it had been ever since the sluice was built. Of course, during heavy rainfall, such as the 3/11 storm, it would be disturbed but after that, it would return to its stagnancy. The riverbank was overgrown with ferns and some areas were cleared of plants. Kosugi-san (or was it Shimizu-san, I can’t remember very well) suggested that the plants were eaten by deer in the area. I was just glad he didn’t say bears. There were also some thorny plants on the other side of the river as we walked back to the bus.
After a late lunch, we went to the Kayanuma River Restoration Site, where we met Sugawara-san and his staff from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Tourism. He was to guide us to two river restoration sites: one in Kayanuma and the other in Hororo. I wasn’t able to get close to the Kayanuma river because I was dizzy from the noontime heat but I did see that the river seemed to flow quite energetically due to the restoration. The water was also considerably clearer and cleaner than the water from the Kushiro river. In Hororo, however, I was able to get into the wetland since it was later in the afternoon and the heat wasn’t as bad as it was earlier. Sugawara-san explained that to get to the peat, the soft, wetland soil, they had to clear away about forty centimeters of topsoil. When I asked where the topsoil went, he simply answered that it was taken to places where they needed it. I had to wonder: Is that why they needed to plant trees along the riverbank? To hold the topsoil in place? And if the soil was only taken elsewhere, that meant that in due time, it would return to the wetland, making this “restoration” a temporary solution to the problem of the shrinking wetland. Anyway, I was hoping we’d go into the deeper part of the wetland but due to lack of time, we were only able to go to the fairly shallow area— my boots only sunk about five or six inches into the mud at most. That’s not to say it wasn’t difficult to walk in the peat. If I stood still too long, I’d sink right into the ground.
I think today was the day that I have ever been so close to nature. Pretty sure I got slapped by the leaves and branches in the face a few times. Today was also the day I saved Sophie’s life. She was sinking in the mud, good thing I was nearby. Interacting with the locals was a good opportunity to understand more about the wetland as well. But overall, it was a great experience for me to get to do something different than being in the city all the time.
Before we started our fifth day, I had the chance to see one of the main points of this trip in the surrounding area of the lodge– the Tancho crane. For some reason, there were two in the outer field near the lodge. It was a great start to the day (and some coffee au lait helped too.) Starting with a trip to the Kushiro Port to learn more about the Fishery Department and the Fishery Cooperative Associations in Kushiro , we met Shimada-san and Saka-san to hear a lecture about it. In addition to learning about the fishing industry and its fishing methods (one of which used lights to lure fish into nets), we also learned about the types of seafood that they harvested. We paid particular attention to the シシャモ, a fish endemic to Japanese waters. An issue which came up during the lecture is the establishment of the 200 nautical mile EEZ (exclusive economic zone) of the United States, Russia and Canada, which restricted the range of Japanese fishing grounds. It seems Japan used to negotiate with Russia every year for the right to fish in Russian waters at a particular limit of catch but as of this year, negotiations broke down and now, fishermen in Hokkaido now have to adjust by focusing on aquaculture on top of maintaining a sustainable kind of fishing industry. Then we went for lunch at the Kushiro Wetland Observatory and for dessert– Tancho ice cream. It wasn’t made of real Tancho, as that would be illegal, but it was in the shape of a tancho, with two wafer wings and a slice of strawberry on top of delicious vanilla milk ice cream.
This was followed by heading to the Tsurui Ito Tancho Sanctuary, where we met Harada-san and Suzuki-san. Harada-san gave us a lecture on the Tancho crane and Suzuki-san presented the life-size model stuffed toy and poster of the Tancho crane. I really wanted to have the baby Tancho stuffed toy but we were so pressed for time that I couldn’t buy one. Suzuki-san then accompanied us to three sites wherein he gave us more information regarding the cranes and their surrounding environment. The first site was the area of the Kushiro wetland where trees were being cut down to make way for development. There were quite a few bugs in that area so we couldn’t stay for very long. The next site was the Fujiwara Ranch, where we met Fujiwara-san, an industrial dairy farmer who has been dealing with the Tancho “invasion” of his farm ever since the crane population began to grow. It has been a common occurrence in Kushiro for the cranes to eat the bent corn seeds that were freshly sown into the ground. Also, accidents involving the cranes being hit by cars, hitting electricity lines and other incidents also happen in the area. Unlike other industrial farmers, Fujiwara-san is quite lenient towards the cranes, even joking that during the winter season, he doesn’t know which species he has more— his cows or the Tancho, who enter the barns and eat the cow’s feed in flocks, with 50 at most. Just this afternoon, there was a crane on top of one of his trucks. Also, I managed to lure out a sweet, young Wagyu calf from his little plastic hut and petted him on the head. (I had to wash my hands with alcohol after because according to Fujiyama-san, there are likely germs that I’m not exposed to in the city so touch the cows at your own risk.)
The last stop of the day was the Kottaro Observatory. To get there, we had to climb three flights of rocky, uneven stairs and a steep, curving upward slope. I am not blessed with a lot of stamina, even though I’ve been walking to and from the station everyday for the past four months. I was hoping that I’d level up my stamina that way but I don’t think it helped much. Anyway, the observatory overlooks the Kushiro wetland and I have to say— it is really beautiful. It was well worth the harrowing climb and certainly well worth all the effort and passion all the people we’ve met so far who want to protect it.