When you think of cranes in Japan your mind likely turns to Hokkaido and its iconic red-crowned cranes. But the place in Japan with the largest gathering of cranes is actually located in the most southern mainland prefecture in Japan, Kagoshima. The cranes in Hokkaido have elegance and rarity but what the Izumi cranes bring to the table is the scale and spectacle of sight, sound, and yes, even smell.
Every year 10,000 cranes migrate to the city of Izumi from Siberia from November until March. They first arrived in the 1700s after a land reclamation project and increased in numbers over the years as other migratory grounds disappeared.
By far the common crane is the Hooded Crane (Nabe Zuru), followed by the White Napped Crane(Manazaru) which you can easily spot because they are taller. Sandhill Cranes(kanadajiru) and Common Cranes(kurozuru) also migrate here but in much smaller numbers.
The Hooded Crane
The Hooded Crane is one of the smallest species of cranes. It has a grey body and a white neck and head with red skin near its eye. The Hooded Crane lives in East Asia, breeding in Siberia and Mongolia and wintering in Japan, Korea, and China. 80% of the population migrates to Izumi, Japan for winter.
The city of Izumi
Izumi`s main tourist attraction is its cranes, a fact that becomes quite apparent when you arrive at the station. Izumi can be easily accessed since the creation of the Izumi Shinkansen stop.
There are three crane attractions in Izumi, The Crane Observation Center, The Crane Museum, and the Hakozaki Hachiman Shrine famous for having the largest bell in Japan and its crane statues. Unfortunately because of Corona and a recent case of Bird Flu, the Izumi Crane sightseeing bus was suspended so I was only able to see the Crane Observation Center. I will include information on the other two sites but my apologies for not having more pictures. In addition to cranes, Izumi is also famous for its Samurai district with houses from the Edo period.The city also markets farm stays in its tourism campaigns, where you can get a place to stay and the unique experience of seeing daily life on a Japanese farm.
Izumi Crane Observation Center
The Izumi Crane Observation Center is the best place to see cranes. The center overlooks the migratory grounds of the 1000s of cranes that come every winter. The cranes’ presence will be evident as soon as you arrive because of their boisterous symphony of calls amplified by the vast number of these birds The cranes feed on grain and insects in rice paddies but are also fed by volunteers. The 1st floor of the center has a souvenir shop and a restaurant. The 2nd floor has crane-related exhibits and windows to observe the cranes. You can also go on the roof for a higher vantage point.
In the observation Center, there are some exhibits on the life cycles of the cranes as well the history of Izumi as a wintering area.
From the observation center, you will be stunned by the sheer scale of the cranes. I had never seen anything like it before. It reminded me of a scene from a nature documentary and not something that I could ever see in real life. I felt I could sit and watch for hours.
I would recommend bringing binoculars to get a close view of the birds. There is a fence to separate the birds from people but you still can see them very well. For those with cameras, I would bring a powerful lens for close-up pictures. Or you can use the guyver technique of a smartphone and binoculars.
Izumi Municipal Crane Museum
The Izumi Municipal Crane Museum also called Crane Park is the only Crane Museum in Japan. My taxi driver told me as we passed the museum that it was built to resemble a crane keeping an egg warm with its wings.
The museum has a variety of exhibits on the species of cranes that visit Izumi, their life cycle, and their migratory journey to Izumi. The information is mostly in Japanese but the exhibits are visual and interactive.
Admission is 330 yen for adults and 220 yen for students. It is open every day from 9 am to 5 pm.
Hakozaki Hachiman Shrine
Hakozaki Hachiman Shrine’s claim to fame is it has the largest bell in Japan which alone makes it a shrine worth visiting.
Here is a silver replica of the bell adorned with cranes to fit the theme of the city.
The statues and imagery of the famous cranes that flock to Izumi are scattered throughout the grounds of the shrine which to my knowledge can not be seen in any other shrine in Japan strengthens its appeal.
Izumi station can be reached by shinkansen. Once in Izumi, the best way to get around would be the Crane Sightseeing Bus. Unfortunately because of Covid and an outbreak of bird flu, the bus was suspended and I am not sure when the service will resume. When the service starts back up again, you can buy a day pass for 1000 yen and it stops at all the crane sites listed above and goes to the Samurai. But until then, you can get around by car or the Crane Taxi.
The Crane Taxi can be used to get to the Izumi Crane Observation Center for a 2,000 yen round trip. While a bit pricey, if you are a group, the cost is more reasonable and it is cheaper than a normal taxi. Plus the drivers are very kind and will give you a guided tour, pointing out cranes to you and telling you fun facts about them. They will give you about two hours before they come back but you can ask for more time if needed. The taxi must be booked in advance by calling and the drivers will likely not be able to speak much English.
Hours: 9 am- 5pm , November 1st to March 2nd
Admission: Adults-220 yen Junior high and elementary students-100 yen
*Note there are disinfection measuring being taken to prevent Bird Flu in the area. Cars will have to stop to be disinfected to avoid spreading the disease to the cranes or other birds/