Kushiroshitsugen National Park is a wetland expanse in eastern Hokkaido. Its environment was formed when seawater retreated thousands of years ago, leaving peaty marshes, clusters of lakes and the placid Kushiro River running through it. This watery habitat attracts a variety of wildlife, including Japan’s most iconic bird, the graceful red-crowned crane.

Don't Miss

  • Seeing red-crowned cranes—these rare birds live here year-round
  • Hosooka Observatory—a lookout where you can see the entirety of the wetland
  • Taking the Kushiroshitsugen Norokko train—a scenic 45-minute journey through the marshlands
  • Going on a Kushiro River canoe tour to get close to nature and local wildlife

Park Overview

Kushiroshitsugen National Park’s sweeping wetlands are a dramatic contrast to the rest of Hokkaido’s mountainous terrain. The area is a haven for wildlife, and vegetation covers 80 percent of these marshlands. It is also Japan’s first Ramsar Site, and most famous for being the home of the red-crowned crane, a Special Natural Monument of Japan. These birds were considered extinct in Japan until 1924, when a small flock was discovered here. Intensive conservation efforts in Kushiroshitsugen have boosted their numbers significantly—there are now around 1,700. The birds are so well protected that they no longer migrate, wintering here as well. The west side of the park is wetland, while the east has a cluster of lakes, hilly terrain and the scenic Kushiro River, which runs all the way to the sea. To the south is the port city of Kushiro, which boasts Japan’s largest annual catch of seafood.

The Wetlands

A large expanse of the wetlands that dominate Kushiroshitsugen spreads out across its western side. Onnenai Visitor Center, one of the park’s five observatories, is the place to start your marsh explorations. Its wooden walkways are the only path through these wetlands, allowing you to see the flowers and birds up close without damaging the ecosystem. Watch for the iconic red-crowned cranes (Grus japonensis), which thrive here. Hokkaido is famously snowy and cold in winter, but February is a peak time to visit to see these birds perform their elaborate courtship dances. The cranes are most commonly seen in the park’s northeastern section, so Kottaro Wetland Observatory is another good place to look for them. 
Hosooka Observatory, in the southeast corner of the park, looks out across the marshes and the Kushiro River cutting through them. Beyond, you can see the towering peaks of the Akan mountain range on the horizon. 
The wetlands are also home to rare white-tailed eagles, Japan’s largest raptors, as well as Japanese deer and red foxes. The best way to spot wildlife is with binoculars at the observatories. You’ll also find more than 700 species of plants, including marsh tussock, a distinctive-looking grass, and cuckoo flowers (Cardamine pratensis), which date back to the Ice Age. 
You can go horse trekking in the northwest corner of the park. Even beginners will enjoy this gentle ride along the wetlands, where the marshes meet the hills.

Onnenai Wooden Walkway

Kushiro River and Lakes Shirarutoro, Toro and Takkobu

The Kushiro River and the lakes of Kushiroshitsugen are in the park’s eastern end. You can get an idea of the park’s environs and scale from Sarubo Observatory. Close by is Lake Toro Eco-museum Center, where the serene 600-meter shoreline trail of Lake Toro begins. You have a choice of campgrounds around the lakes, with all of them offering the chance to sleep under the stars. 
Nearby, the Kushiro River meanders from north to south through the park. The best way to explore this waterway is by canoe. There are several guided tours to choose from, and all give you plenty of time to appreciate the park’s unspoiled wilds. If you're looking for another memorable ride, the Kushiroshitsugen Norokko train runs alongside the river, providing scenic views. 
Snow blankets the park during winter, but there are still opportunities to explore. Ice-fishing for smelt on Lake Toro is one of the most popular activities in colder months.

Lake Takkobu


About 20,000 years ago, at the end of the last Ice Age, this area was part of the land. Seawater submerged the area and later retreated, leaving peaty wetlands and lakes. Stone arrowheads and other artifacts dating back to the Paleolithic Age have been found at around 400 sites across the hills in Kushiroshitsugen, providing solid evidence that there were humans living here at that time. From the mid-17th century, the Matsumae clan began trading and warring with the native Ainu, who already traded with China and others. The Kushiro area later became a major fishing, timber and mining base and port. You can learn more at the Kushiro City Museum.