Thursday, January 31, 2013

Tsuru Viewing

From the museum, it's a 20 bus minute ride to the Crane Center view site. For the most part, it's along city streets. At one point, though, the bus makes a sharp turn into a narrow one-lane path, rubs shoulders against the shops on either side, then comes out in the middle of a bunch of rice paddies before skirting the coastline and heading back inland a couple of blocks and stopping next to some souvenir stands. A hundred feet away is the main viewing building, and the sound of the cranes calling can be heard nearly a block away. There were some cranes hanging out in a few rice fields in the area leading up to the parking lot, and a couple took off or landed as we drove by, but the main bulk of the nesting population were standing around behind the viewing building. From a distance, they sound like, and kind of look like, geese. The strong smell of bird poop was also geese-like.

The weather had gotten cold that morning, at least around freezing, which made handling the camera a bit difficult. The main spot for watching the birds is along the left side of the building, where a barrier had been set up to prevent people from getting closer to them. My camera tried to do a good job at that distance, which may have been 50 yards, but it was out of its league. Most of the shots came out grainy. It didn't help that the sky was overcast, and at one point a light rain blew through the region (it was gone a few minutes later). If you listen to the youtube video, you can hear how windy it was (as well as how noisy the people were that insisted on walking up next to me and then shouting at each other).

The birds fly pretty fast. I had a lot trouble keeping them in the viewfinder, and the camera couldn't focus fast enough to get any real good shots. Along with the hooded and white-naped cranes, there were some black crows, a bunch of sparrows, at least one duck, and a couple of pure-white herons.

At one point I figured I might as well get a snack. The stalls at the parking lot were selling large cups of sliced, sugared, deep-fried sweet potato (Satsuma sato-imo is a local product and is used in a variety of things, like soft-serve ice cream) for 210 yen. The owner decided to treat me to the place of honor next to the gas stove, so I sat around for 15 minutes chatting with him and his two female co-workers, eating molten fried sweet potato and drinking hot tea.

I returned to the main building and explored it for a while, including the souvenir shop (picked up some sweetened freeze-dried fruit and 3 small bottles of shochu) and the 2nd-floor observation deck (210 yen entry fee, waived because I had the bus pass). And since I was there, I felt I had to make the most of the trip by eating lunch in the first-floor cafeteria. I got a big bowl of champon for 650 yen. It's kind of like ramen, except with a heavier broth, and thicker udon noodles. That was particularly satisfying given how long I'd been outside in the cold. The time flowed by pretty quick. At 1:15, I jumped on the return bus, watched the samurai residences slip past (I'd visited a couple of them 2 years before) and got back to the Izumi train station with 40 minutes to kill before the next bullet train would arrive at 2:20 PM. From there, it was another 25-minute ride back to Kagoshima, and a 15-minute walk to the apartment. Door to door, the day trip had taken almost 6.5 hours. It was worth it.

(Souvenir stands, including the one where I bought the fried sweet potato sticks.)

Youtube video

I think that next time, I'll make sure to bring a more high-end camera with me.

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