Tag Archive: tsurui



In the tiny village of Tsurui, we took a break from our everyday sashimi, sushi, sukiyaki, yakitori meals and settled for some home cooked non-Japanese midday meal. Nestled on a small hill, the tiny cottage was big enough to accommodate us 20 pax, but likely not more. The atmosphere was more Provençal than Oriental, def more sophisticated than your normal bar chow. We liked the place even before we even began to savour those starters.

How about a pet goat as your welcome mascot? Very friendly, very fine, smooth fur. Almost like that of a Labrador, except that he tried to eat my scarf 😂 The salad plate came with a quiche, some yam, mashed squash, homemade cheese, radish and the sweetest carrots! We ate every morsel. We tried nearly everything we found atop our table. Every dip, sauce, oils, dressing, every condiment. You’d feel cheated not to try. The bread was served freshly-baked. The pizza just off the oven. I was full even before the main pork dish was served.

Walked out of the cottage for fresh, nippy air and some banter before heading back inside. It was all snow outside the cottage where a small kiosk stands behind a tree where hangs a birdhouse. Little details that set the mood. It must be pretty in spring here. Back inside, we settled for the last chapter of our lunch. The cheese and honey were a dream. And I couldn’t ask for a cup of better coffee to pair with a slice of the finest cheesecake. Using only ingredients sourced locally like the shiawase milk from Hishinuma Farm and the Tsurui natural cheese, that cheesecake is truly unforgettable. Well, if I must break away from Hokkaido’s fine seafood meals, this meal makes it a perfect break.

Trivia: Shiawase means happy! 😊

Our Travel Planner here in Hokkaido certainly knows her craft. Near that point where the finest seafood meals may seem repetitive and a tad cloying, she introduces this surprise break. Home cooked and elegant without seeming formal and stiff. It’s like we were welcomed to a local’s home. A local whose French parent made sure she can whip up French dishes with a slight Japanese touch. And that extends to the home decor.


It could have been declared the national bird of China but for its literal translation (from its Latin scientific name Grus Japonensis) of “Japanese Crane”. That red patch on its crown gave it its more popular, and shall we say non-controversial and more acceptable name — the red-crowned cranes. Among the rarest and heaviest species of cranes, many migratory cranes breed in spring and summer in Siberia and northeastern China before migrating in flocks to Korea and East-Central China to spend winter there. BUT Eastern Hokkaido — the Kushiro wetlands, in particular — is home to non-migratory red-crowned cranes. If at all, they move less than a hundred miles to their wintering grounds within Kushiro such as in Akan and in the village of Tsurui. Interestingly, Eastern Hokkaido is home to more than half of the world’s red-crowned cranes. Graceful big birds weighing as much as 20 pounds and as tall as 5 feet. We visited the Tsurui-ito Tancho Sanctuary in Kushiro to see these magnificent birds. The sanctuary was named after Yoshitaka Ito, a local farmer, who started feeding these cranes for many years. Such is Japanese farm life here.

The Courtship

So why do these species of elegant birds call Kushiro their home? Within Kushiro is Tsurui-ito where a sanctuary houses as many as 1,800 red-crowned cranes. Come feeding time, you’d see some 300 of them, eager for nourishment. In the sanctuaries, the cranes live as long as 40 years. In the wilds, they live only up to 20 years average. The wetlands in Kushiro are breeding grounds to these elegant, charming birds. Volunteers in the area help maintain their breeding grounds and even feed them dent corns. The Japanese have a strong bond with these cranes which they consider to bring good luck. They also think these lovely birds bring peace and happiness. Volunteers here even attend work camps to learn and join conservation activities like creating natural feeding grounds. No wonder these cranes are non-migratory. They are so loved by the people here.

Major establishments have used the crane as their corporate logo. Japan Air Lines and Kuok Group, to name a couple. It also appeared on the old 1,000 yen bills. This is because cranes symbolise strength, long life, fidelity, purity and peace. Cranes mate for life and it is quite a spectacle to see pairs honking together, in unison, as a prelude to their “dance”. They flap their wings and perform ballet-like, graceful moves, turning, twirling, fluttering their wings as they suspend in air for a few secs, all that time crowing. And all that crowing and honking comprise Kushiro’s soundscape. The same birds have likewise become iconic images of happy relationships because crane “couples” develop strong, loyal partnerships and mate for life. Now, humans can learn from that, right? So next time we find a Japanese origami of a crane, we can now appreciate this special bond between these birds and the Japanese people. 💕

check this video:

https://youtu.be/CIhx6UaetNQ


We came here with a few ideas in mind. From our hotel’s lake view room window, we found a frozen lake. Early morning, we watched some activities: people on snow mobiles circling the frozen Lake Akan along designated paths, a lone snow mobile dragging a banana boat filled with screaming people, and snow buggies! From a distance, it really looked like fun. I can hardly contain my childish excitement over breakfast as a mantle of snow fully covered the Lake near this Ainu Village. For good measure, I had to ask our guide Nobu-san if the ice is thick enough considering such a flurry of snow activities.

Riding through the snow 🕸🎼🎹

Ice Land Akan is one winter attraction not to be missed here in Kushiro. The lake surface gets thoroughly iced and both kids and adults can enjoy many snow rides and activities plus fireworks and an Ainu Festival Performance at night. The colourful banners and tents, the ice slide along with some snow sculptures of the much revered owls and bears dot the frozen surface that now serve as playground. The rides include a snow mobile-pulled banana ride, snow buggies and the snow mobiles. I think I also saw some paddle boards and small groups intent to do ice fishing. What to fish? I hear it’s lake smelt called wakasagi by locals. Yum.

The snow mobiles follow paths hemmed in by colourful banners depending on how long you’re riding. It’s a breeze sneaking into a tent to choose and fit a helmet , then choosing your ride. On a banana boat, I thought I tried taking a video — good for a few secs, then you hear only the screaming as the boat twisted and turned. And the snow buggies? The old boys got a high riding and racing them! Just like me getting a high on the snow mobile. ⛄️🥶🌨

What a high!

With Megumi and Nobu-san. 👏👏👏

The evening program included a bonfire and some performance numbers by the Ainu tribe. Fire 🔥 is a significant element to this people as it provides warmth and light. The improvised stage was lighted in varying colours and the revered owl was the centerpiece. A bonfire was set at the end of the evening program. On this night, you don’t mind being squished by the crowd as temps hit the floor. You bet the fireworks capped the night!