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Kushiro Shitsugen National Park: Complete Guide to Japan's Stunning Wetlands

Kushiro Shitsugen National Park: Complete Guide to Japan's Stunning Wetlands

Date published: 7 April 2020
Last updated: 25 January 2021

Kushiro Shitsugen National Park (Kushiro Marshland) is the largest spanning area of wetlands in Japan.

What kind of natural scenery and fauna can be found? What experiences can you have? In this article, we'll take you inside Kushiro Shitsugen National Park so you have everything you need to know about the area!

1. How large is Kushiro Shitsugen National Park?

1. How large is Kushiro Shitsugen National Park?
Kushiro Shitsugen National Park wetlands

The wetlands of Kushiro Shitsugen National Park extend from the Pacific Ocean to inland Hokkaido, spanning the four municipalities of Kushiro City, Shibecha, Tsurui, and Kushiro Town.

The designated area of Kushiro Shitsugen National Park is approximately 28,000 hectares (around 100 square miles), equivalent in size to the 23 wards of Tokyo.

2. Nature and Wildlife in the Kushiro Wetlands

2. Nature and Wildlife in the Kushiro Wetlands
Wildlife in the Kushiro Wetlands

About 700 species of plants and 1,300 species of wildlife inhabit the Kushiro marsh area. This precious nature was designated as Kushiro Shitsugen National Park and was the first wetland registered under Japan's Ramsar Convention in 1980.

The Kushiro wetlands are home to the tancho, or red-crowned crane, Japan’s iconic protected species. Once endangered, the red-crowned crane has now recovered to the thousands thanks to the preservation activities of the park.

Though they don’t make a common appearance as they live deep in the Kushiro marshlands, these cranes are more likely to be seen in the wintertime gathered at the feeding station on the west side of the Kushiro marsh.

Other species found in the Kushiro Shitsugen National Park include large birds of prey such as white-tailed eagle, mammals such as the deer and the Ezo red fox, and amphibians like the rare Siberian salamander.

3. What Makes Up the Kushiro Marshland?

3. What Makes Up the Kushiro Marshland?
Kushiro Marshland

The land that makes up the Kushiro Marshland today was actually once completely under the ocean.

From about 4000-6000 years ago until now, the water has gradually drained leaving mud and sand to accumulate into what has now become the wetlands.

On the east side of the Kushiro marsh sits Lake Toroko, Lake Shirarutoro, and Lake Takkobu, three remnant lakes from the many that existed long ago. Lake Toroko is a freshwater lake located in Shibecha, a town in Eastern Hokkaido, and is a part of the Kushiro National Park.

4. Inside the Kushiro Wetlands

4. Inside the Kushiro Wetlands
Kushiro Wetlands

The majority of the Kushiro wetlands is made up of low-rise marshes, spread over with plants such as phragmites (common reeds) and sedges. There are also high-rise wetlands, slightly more elevated areas of land, which include forests of Japanese alder trees, through which the water only flows when rising. The Kushiro River meanders through the marsh, supplying rich water to the plant life.

5. Best Time to Visit Kushiro Shitsugen National Park

5. Best Time to Visit Kushiro Shitsugen National Park

The most popular season to visit the Kushiro wetlands for tourists is from late April to September, but the best season for viewing the lush landscape of plants and flowers is from June to July. During this season, the marsh is painted by various plant life and flowers such as irises, Jacob's ladders, daylilies, and Japanese meadowsweets.

In the wintertime, from November to March, it is common for temperatures to drop below freezing, resulting in snow accumulation which makes it difficult to walk.

However, you can see the growth of cranberries near the feeding stations from January to March. Should you decide to visit around this time, please take proper measures against the cold weather.

6. How Many Days are Recommended for Sightseeing?

Located at the base of Kushiro City, there is no accommodation in the Kushiro Wetlands itself. If you wish to view the wetlands via observation deck, then one day should suffice.

If you prefer to walk around and visit the multiple observation decks scattered throughout from east to west, however, you may find two days to be best. Activities such as canoeing require reservations from half a day to a full day in advance.

7. Getting to the Kushiro Wetlands

From the Tancho Kushiro Airport, it is 30 minutes by car or 45 minutes via Akan Bus. Please note that there is no bus or train service from the airport to the observatory, so a car is recommended. The Kushiro Marsh Observation Deck on the west side is approximately 15 km or 30 minutes by car. To Hosooka Observatory on the east side, it is approximately 44 km, or 1 hour 30 minutes by car.

From JR Kushiro-Shitsugen Station, Hosooka Observatory is about 10 minutes on foot. JR Kushiro-Shitsugen Station is about 25 minutes from JR Kushiro Station. In the summertime, you can also ride the scenic railway, the Kushiro Shitsugen Norokko Train.

8. Fun Activities in Kushiro Marsh

There are many observation decks in the marsh from which you can take in the magnificent view of the wetlands. There is also a promenade where you can enjoy a scenic stroll. Other activities include canoeing, the scenic railway, and more.

1) Visiting the Kushiro Marsh Observation Deck

Kushiro Marsh Observatory
On the west side of the marsh, you will find facilities such as museums and restaurants. You can also enjoy a panoramic view of the wetlands from the observatory on the 3rd floor and the rooftop. Located at the base of the observatory promenade, you can stop by both before and after your walk. Please note that access to these facilities is only available during business hours.

・Admission: 470 yen
・Hours: 8:30AM to 6:00PM(April–November: 9:00AM to 5:00PM)
・Closed: Open daily

Hosooka Observatory
This is the representative observation deck that overlooks the Kushiro Marsh, with two viewing spots accessible as you go up through the forest from the Hosooka Visitor Center. From the highest point, you can watch the Kushiro River as it meanders throughout the marshlands. It is also a famous spot to catch the sunset.

・Admission: Free
・Hours: Hosooka Visitor Center 9:00AM to 6:00PM (April–May: 9:00AM to 5:00PM, October–November: 9:00AM–4:00PM, December–March: 10:00AM to 4:00PM)
・Closed: Open daily

2) Walking Along the Kushiro Marsh Observatory Promenade

Kushiro Marsh Observatory Promenade
At the base of Kushiro City Observation Deck sits the promenade, a scenic walking trail approximately 2.5 km and 1 hour in length. There are several observation decks along the way, including the Satellite Observatory from which you can see a beautiful panoramic view of the marsh.

Kushiro Marsh Observatory Promenade
  • Kushiro Marsh Observatory Promenade
    • Address 〒084-0922 北海道釧路市北斗6-11/6-11, Hokuto, Kushiro-shi, Hokkaido 084-0922
    • Phone Number 0154-56-2424
    • ・Admission: Walkway - Free
      ・Closed: Open daily

Onnenai Wooden Path
About 3 km from the Onnenai Visitor Center is a 1-hour walking trail that goes straight through the reeds and sedge of the wetlands, so you can appreciate the lovely flowers and expansive view of the marsh.

Onnenai Wooden Path
  • Onnenai Wooden Path
    • Address 〒085-1145 北海道阿寒郡鶴居村温根内/Onnenai, Tsurui-mura Akan-gun, Hokkaido 085-1145
    • ・Admission: Free
      ・Hours: 9:00AM to 5:00PM (November–March: 9:00AM to 4:00PM)
      ・Closed: Tuesdays

3) Canoeing

You can enjoy canoeing down from Lake Toroko to Hosooka along a gently flowing part of the Kushiro River. The course is about 9 km and takes about two hours total to complete. Reservations can be made in advance via their website (available in Japanese language only) and by phone.

  • Motomura House Pal - Lakeside Toro
    • Address 〒088-2300 北海道川上郡標茶町塘路原野北8線73番地/No.73, Toro-Genya-Kita8,Sibecha-cho, Kamikawa-gun, Hokkaido
    • ・Fee: From 7000 yen
      ・Hours: 9:00AM to 5:00PM(Winter hours: 9:00AM to 4:00PM)
      ・Closed: Open daily

4) Riding the Scenic Kushiro Shitsugen Norokko Train

The part of the Senmō Main Line that connects Kushiro Station and Abashiri Station runs through the wetlands along the Kushiro River. You can see the marshes through the windows of the local trains.

In the summertime, you can enjoy riding the scenic Kushiro Shitsugen Norokko Railway between JR Kushiro Station and Toro Station.

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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