THE crane is a symbol of Japan, especially wild Japan. I got the train across Hokkaido, and I have to say it is pretty amazing scenery (with some real wilderness). I haven't been to Russia before, but this island has a Russian/Siberian feel to it in my imagination at least. Birch trees with white trunks glistening in the sun, cute little towns with houses out of a Scandinavian toy factory, and peaks covered in snow. Walking out in the wetlands looking for cranes, I was attacked by pesky marsh insects. For the first time since my last trip to Iceland in 2006, I feel like I am back in the sub-Arctic!
Those wetlands were in fact the Kushiro Shitsugen, and how we ended up there was an exercise in stupidity (my parents'). We were on the hunt for the elusive tanchou, but nobody told us they were not in season (havingt flown off somewhere cooler). It was a nice train ride, a one-man densha via Kitahama (North Harbor) to Abashiri. This was the closest I had come to real wilderness in Japan.