Hokkaido island in northern Japan

February 2015

Where is the snowiest place of the world? With record snowfalls, Hokkaido in northern Japan offers to visitors enchanting winter landscapes with meters of snow and exciting wildlife that includes very rare birds.

The trip in Hokkaido starts from Kushiro airport, traveling on roads showing the typical side markers normally found in very snowy places.

 

Cranes Japanese crane
Photos of red crown cranes (Manchurian Crane). The island of Hokkaido is known to host a rare species of crane that is characterized by having a red crown, made of dense plumage. It is estimated that in nature exists only 2,700 individuals, so the species is classified by IUCN as "endangered."

 

Red-crowned crane
Photo showing in detail the head of the Manchurian crane (Grus japonensis), known as Japanese Red-crowned crane.

 

Dancing cranes Dance of the cranes
Photos of Red-crowned Crane. Manchurian cranes perform a kind of dance with complex and graceful movements. The reason for this behavior is still mysterious, but it is believed that such dance is used to communicate or to find a mate.

 

Manchurian Crane Gru della Manciuria
Grus japonensis Japan crane
More images of the Red-crowned crane engaged in singing and dancing. A tour to Hokkaido, in northern Japan, is particularly interesting for bird enthusiasts, not only for the presence of these cranes, but also for owls, eagles and other rare species.

 

Forest in Japan
The sun sets in snowy forests of the island of Hokkaido.

 

Wildlife photographers
Dancing cranes The next early morning, at fifteen degrees Centigrade below zero, a group of nature photographers gather on an observation deck to take photos of more Red-crowned cranes, who sing and dance.

 

The trip in Hokkaido continues walking through the snowy woods, looking for a very special owl.





 

Soon, carefully observing a cavity in the trunk of a tree, the surprise comes...

 

Owl Owls
...as a beautiful pair of owls.

 

The Hokkaido landscape is dominated by meadows and forests. From the roofs of the buildings instead, long sharp icicles comes down.

 

Japan in winter Hokkaido snow
Winter in Hokkaido Hokkaido
Where are the snowiest places in the world? In northern Japan, precisely on the island of Hokkaido, takes place a particular phenomenon: although the latitude is not much greater than that of Rome (Italy) or Boston (USA), this island receives, even at sea level altitudes, intense snowfall that may produce an accumulation of snow up to six meters high. This is due to the presence of cold currents coming directly from the heart of Siberia, which meet with the humid air produced by Pacific ocean.

 

Snow in Giappone Northern Japan
During winter, the landscape of Hokkaido island, in northern Japan, is completely transformed. The large amount of snow is removed from sidewalks, which are transformed into a kind of maze, with walls that can be as high as a pedestrian.



 

Hokkaido snow
The snow on the island of Hokkaido in Japan.

 

Removing snow Hokkaido roads in winter
The snow covering the roads is always efficiently removed, but the wind may quickly "erase" the road again, accumulating large amounts of sleet.

 

Notsukefurendoritsu Natural Park Notsukefurendoritsu
The northern end of Hokkaido island is home to Notsukefurendoritsu national park, interesting for a frozen landscape which is home to interesting wildlife.

 

Reindeer Steller sea eagle
In fact, soon see a reindeer and a rare Steller's sea eagle.

 

The sunset on a cold, clear mid-winter day of Hokkaido in northern Japan.

 

Snow in Japan Snow
Pile of snow Lot of snow
The trip to Hokkaido continues the next morning among snowy villages.

 

Snowiest place in the world World's snowiest place
Cleaning road from snow The snow fallen just the night before, is efficiently removed and transported elsewhere.

 

A person engaged in snow removal.

 

Frozen lake Kusharo lake
The northern end of the island of Hokkaido is home to Kusharo lake, which freezes during the winter almost completely. The lake is home to wild Siberian swans, which will be spotted very soon...

 

Whooper swan Siberian whooper swan
...and in fact, at a section of the lake where there is less ice thanks to hot springs, we find these lovely birds who are here to escape the even more harsh Siberian winter.

 

Fox
Suddenly, in the distance, a fox crosses the lake walking on the icy surface.

 

Abashiri prision museum Games on the snow
Once in Abashiri, one of the northernmost cities in Japan, I visit the Museum of Abashiri prison. These structures were used until quite recently to house prisoners, and then transformed into a large open-air museum.




 

Abashiri prision
Abashiri jail Photos of Abashiri Prison Museum, showing the houses of the guards (top left picture) and main building where detainees were locked up (pictured above and below left).

 

Pack ice in Japan Abashiri
Frozen sea in Japan Ochotsk sea
Ice breaker In Abashiri there is another special phenomenon typical of northern Hokkaido: the ice that forms far away in Siberia and Kamchatka, is pushed by the wind to the northern coast of Hokkaido, where it accumulates in large quantities as pack ice. A short cruise on an icebreaker (actually a ship with a reinforced hull, but "advertised" as icebreaker) allows visitors to better appreciate this unique landscape that is created in the winter.

 

Snow sculpture Ice sculpture
Abashiri festival The first days of February also Abashiri, like other towns on the island of Hokkaido, hosts some kind of festival where the main theme is snow and ice sculptures.

 

 

Japanese style hotel
The island of Hokkaido is not reached by mass tourism and most hotels are in Japanese style. The chairs are without legs and the bed is made-up just in the evening, putting the mattress directly on the floor.




 

Train to Sapporo Regional train in Japan
The trip across the island of Hokkaido in northern Japan, continues from Abashiri to Sapporo on board a local train.

 

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