CRANES IN JAPANESE CULTURE
As well as being a symbol of peace, cranes – particularly the Red-crowned Crane, known locally as tancho – have a huge cultural profile in Japan. This has energised conservation efforts for the group. On Hokkaido, this all started with a single farmer. In the harsh winter of 1952, he began feeding tanchos on his land. Public interest was sparked, and feeding has continued ever since. Tancho tourism has become a mainstay of the Hokkaido economy, the thousand or so cranes benefiting the island economy to the tune of $50 million per year.
Bluetail flaunted its beauty. A mixed flock contained several regional endemics: Japanese White-eye, Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker, Japanese Tit, and the delectable Ryukyu Minivet. We continued downhill to a lakeside ‘campsite’ comprising scattered holiday huts. In summer, this area would swarm with tourists; in winter, there was merely a handful of Japanese birdphotographers and ourselves, all focused on a feeding station. A Forest Wagtail teetered along a log, sashaying its entire length from side to side: a ‘swishtail’ perhaps, rather than a wagtail. A White-backed Woodpecker swept in, urgency on pied wings. Grey Buntings demurely munched on seeds, flanked by crisply elegant Yellow-throated Buntings, replete with bandit mask and punky hairdo. And thus, via another night in that anonymous Tokyo hotel, to eastern Hokkaido. This boreal island with a purview over Siberian Russia differed markedly from its southern cousin. Where Kyushu oozed warmth and bamboo,