Wednesday, January 30, 2013
When I came down to Kyushu 2 years ago, following the big earthquake and meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear reactors, I stayed in Izumi, a small farming town on the west side of the island, for 1 week. It's 30 minutes from Kagoshima by bullet train. It's also the location of a protected wetlands area that's the winter nesting site for about 13,000 hooded and white-naped cranes. At the time, it was April, and the cranes had already long returned to China and Siberia. They start arriving in Izumi in October and start flying back at the beginning of February. It's the only tourist attraction Izumi has, so this year I kind of wanted to go back up to see the cranes before the season ended.
Live webcam link.
The bullet train is 6,200 yen round-trip ($70 USD), but the station is about 10 miles from the main viewing area. From researching the web, I found that there's a tour bus that leaves from the west side of the station once an hour, stopping at the Crane Park Izumi Museum, then at the view site, followed by a trip to the old homes of the Edo-era samurai that used to control the area, before finally coming back to the station. 1,000 yen gets you a day pass, so you can get on and off the bus as you like, plus free entry to the museum and crane viewing observation deck. I jumped on the bullet train at 9 AM Sunday, Jan. 27, and got to Isumi at 9:25. I ran to the bus circle, but I didn't really need to; I still had 10 minutes before it would depart. I paid my money to the driver, and he gave me a badge on a lanyard.
A quick 10-minute ride got me to the museum. There were only 5 passengers, and I was the only one to get out here. In fact, I was the only visitor inside the museum while I was there. Outside, about 20 people were playing golf on the course nearby, but inside, it was just me and the building staff. Which did play in my favor, because they spent a lot of extra time making sure I had English copies of all the brochures, that I knew I could use the rubber stamps to put pictures of the cranes on a bookmark, and that I'd be able to catch the next bus an hour later.
It's a very nice building, with lots of information on a wide variety of cranes, plus audio-visual displays showing animations of the cranes, and a retelling of the old crane-woman folktale. Unfortunately, the big theater was closed, though. Part of the exhibit includes examples of cranes in traditional artwork, such as on illustrated mirrors and kimono, plus the obligatory origami.
The amazing this about this specific origami, though, is that it's based on Hiden Senbazuru Origata (the secret folding of 1000 cranes), which was published in 1797. Each design is made from a single sheet of paper that has been pre-cut in a way to allow each of the cranes to look like they're kissing, wing-tip to wig-tip, or stacked on each other's backs. This is a lot more complicated than anything else I've ever seen using origami cranes.
(Photos showing variations of the single-sheet techniques.)
(View of the surrounding landscape. This part of Kyushu is very hilly. The weather wasn't very cooperative, either.)
At 10:42, the next bus arrived and I continued on towards the western coast, and the crane viewing site.