For nature enthusiasts and photographers alike, the migration of birds is a seasonal treat which promises amazing photos and videos. Every year in Miyagi prefecture, in Northern Japan, birders are rewarded with the sight of thousands of white fronted geese noisily making their way home. Miyagi’s rice fields and wetlands are also home to other species such as bean geese and stately Bewick’s swans. To warm up after a long day’s birding, you can also try out some of Miyagi’s myriad hot springs, and relax at a ski chalet in the mountains.
The tranquil beauty of rural JapanIf you have travelled from Tokyo, you’ll immediately be struck by the contrast between the two places. Miyagi is definitely rural; in some areas you’ll only be able to see rice fields, bamboo forests and mountains for miles around. The two interconnecting lakes Izunuma and Uchinuma in Kurihara city were declared a “Natural Monument” by the government due to their importance as a habitat for wildlife. Miyagi is also home to several ski resorts, and Naruko which is well known for its proliferation of hot springs. If you travel around the “hot spring villages” around Naruko, you’ll come across shops selling traditional traditional Japanese “kokeshi” dolls, which are popular souvenirs. These curious wooden dolls are a symbol of the Tohoku region, and even have a local museum dedicated to them!
A haven for wildlifeMiyagi is a great place to spot some of Japan’s most diverse wildlife, including sika deer, raccoon dogs, red foxes and even bears. The many wetlands and rice paddies are also the perfect “airport” for migrating geese. Every year in late autumn and winter, around 110,000 geese return to Miyagi to overwinter and can be seen gathering noisily and flying in their distinctive v-shaped flocks. White-fronted geese are by far the most numerous, but if you’re lucky you’ll also be able to see snow geese and bean geese too. The geese are quite shy, so you won’t be able to get very close unless you’re in a car and driving very slowly. However, the Bewick’s swans and various types of ducks don’t seem to mind people.
Lake Izunuma is recommended for goose-watching, as besides the large numbers of geese and swans, you’ll also be able to enjoy the view of the sunset over the lake. Lotus flowers and rushes also grow wild there, so you’ll be able to take some interesting photos of the dried seed pods.
Cozy alpine chaletsSince Miyagi is a popular destination for skiers, you’ll notice plenty of European style ski-chalets in the mountains. The Onikobe ski resort in Osaki city is a great place to stay even if you’re not a winter sports enthusiast. For the reasonable price of 8,200 JPY (approximately 69 USD) per adult per night, you will get a comfortable room with a TV, with breakfast and dinner included. The pension is warm and has a quiet and relaxed atmosphere, and you will definitely appreciate the hot spring bath and heated floors in the rooms after a day of birding or hiking. Remember to bring your own towels though, as they are not provided.
Delicious local foodIf you eat at the Pension on the rock, breakfast and dinner are included and served at 7.30-8.00 in the morning and from 6.30 onwards in the evening. The dishes are prepared using locally sourced ingredients according to seasonal availability, and are both delicious and colorful. The original recipe roast chicken is recommended!
For lunch, you can travel to Osaki or Tome city to sample some local delicacies. As a farming region, which is also close to the coast, Miyagi is a top producer of rice and delicious seafood. You’ll also be able to enjoy locally produced beer, oysters and even creamy Jersey milk and ice cream! “Gyutan”, or beef tongue, is also a popular dish from Miyagi and is usually served sliced with rice and pickles or dipping sauce.
Getting out and aboutIt’s a good idea to rent a car to get around the Naruko Onsen and Kurihara city area, as public transport is relatively infrequent and hard to find. You might also be lucky enough to spot some interesting wildlife in the rice fields while you’re driving along some of the quieter roads. To get to the Pension on the rock, you will need to take route 108 from Naruko Onsen, and then route 63, which should take about 20 minutes. If you are taking public transport, it will take you just over an hour to get to Furukawa station by Shinkansen from Sendai airport. The Rikuto line will get you to Naruko station, and from there you can take a bus bound for Pension Mura. It will take about 5 minutes to walk from there to Pension on the rock. Lake Izunuma is in Tome city and accessible from route 398 and will take about an hour and a half to get to by car, but if you are taking the train, you can walk there from Nitta station. Since you will be going in late November-December to see the geese and swans, you will need warm clothes and waterproof boots, as it sometimes snows at this time of year.
A relaxing late autumn vacation
If you are looking for a unique, wild way to experience Japan in late autumn, head to Miyagi to see the geese and sample some local culture. You’ll find the fresh air, lovely scenery and steamy onsen are a great way to recharge your batteries!
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