Tsuruga Group


Forests where the Cold North Meets the Temperate South

Hokkaido, located at the boundary of a cool-temperate zone and subarctic zone, features northern plant species to the north and temperate plant species to the south. Mixed forests containing needle-leaf trees and broad-leaf trees are most characteristic of the region's unique climate. Hokkaido's forests are simply fascinating places that feature a wide variety of trees which support a rich plethora of life.



Wetlands Characteristic of Primordial Japan

Hokkaido is home to vast stretches of wetlands that are rarely found in Japan. The wetlands were formed from the deposition of plants under Hokkaido's cold climate. As these areas posed a challenge for human development in the past, the wetlands have been preserved in their original form since primordial times. Today, the wetlands also house a large number of special natural monuments, as well as rare animal and plant species.


Lakes & Rivers

Water Environments Steeped in Natural Change

The rivers and lakes of Hokkaido, whose waters originate from the heart of the region's bountiful forests, at times display mesmerizing sights that are capable of rejuvenating our mind and body. The wild landscapes and crystal clear waters together nurture a diverse array of life including fish, aquatic animals, and wild birds, as well as connect the region with its surrounding mountains and oceans.



Surrounded by Three Oceans

Hokkaido is also a location where the northern and southern oceans meet, including the Okhotsk Sea known as the southern limit for sea ice, the Sea of Japan whose warm Tsushima Current brings heavy snowfall and the Pacific Ocean where the Kuroshio Current from the south meets with the Oyashio Current from the north. Each of these major oceans acts as a conduit transporting a rich bounty of marine resources directly to the island of Hokkaido.

Hokkaido s DynamicNature

Hokkaido is known as Japan's most naturally abundant region.
The Hokkaido landscape features expanses of old growth forests, vast wetlands,
beautiful lakes and rivers as well as three magnificent oceans.
The entire region is a treasure trove steeped in biodiversity.The Nature's Playground that is Hokkaido calls Home to Six National ParksIf one were to describe Hokkaido's natural environment using a single word, “diversity” would be that word. Its 83,500 square kilometers of land area is characterized by the diverse natural environments and assorted biota found within. From the World Natural Heritage Site of Shiretoko to the six national parks, and 12 wetlands registered under the Ramsar Convention (as of 2010), each of these natural wonders sets a stellar example of Hokkaido's rich natural surroundings.

Hokkaido's Natural Environment | Island of Exquisite BirdsThe Largest Wild Bird Observatory in Japan

Here visitors are greeted by the Japanese red-crowned crane at the wetlands, Blakiston's fish owl or black woodpecker in the forest, whooper swan or white-fronted goose by the river, a Siberian rubythroat or yellow-breasted bunting on the prairie, or a Steller's sea eagle at the sea. The vast number of wild birds found in Hokkaido has caught the attention of birdwatchers from around the world. Sightings of around 430 species, or approximately 80% of all of Japan's bird species, have been recorded in Hokkaido. In addition, of these, about 250 species can be easily observed in Hokkaido. The ability for people to view this many different birds in Hokkaido is not only due to the rich biodiversity preserved in the region, but also because of its common geological history shared with the Eurasian continent. During the glacial period, Hokkaido was directly linked with the Eurasian continent for a long time. In other words, many bird species indigenous to Japan as well as those from the Eurasian continent can be seen in Hokkaido. As such, it would be no exaggeration to state that the entire prefecture of Hokkaido is suited for wild bird observation. For birdwatchers traveling all the way to the Far East, Hokkaido is a must-see destination.

Listening to the Silence with a Professional Guide

It is about one hour by car from Kushiro Airport. On the way, a red-crowned crane pecking on its prey is easily sighted as if the scene is nothing out of the ordinary. The place is known as Tsurui Village, literally a village where cranes (tsuru) live. Mr. Makoto Ando, an outdoor guide certified by the prefecture of Hokkaido owns a lodge in this very village under the quaint name Hickory Wind.

“This village is located exactly in the middle of the triangle that connects Shiretoko, Akan, and the Kushiro Wetlands. It is very convenient for me to get around,” Ando laughs. While professional outdoor guides tend to have a reputation for their loftiness, Ando, on the other hand, seen on an ordinary day is a rather down-to-earth, chatty type. He is fluent in English and fits the description of a great communicator. His business enjoys repeat clients from Hokkaido, other parts of Japan, as well as foreign countries owing largely to his people skills and the fun activities he plans.
“I think of myself as an interpreter. My goal is to share as much as possible about fascinating natural phenomena. For example, I think a true professional guide should be someone who can be flexible and lead tours in a hundred different ways.”
Just as he contends, Ando does not offer guided tours following a single defined menu. In order to provide customers with unique experiences found nowhere else, tours are organized based upon a discussion with the customer to unearth their interests. This means, tours can feature anything from a canoe river tour under the moonlight or trekking on secluded roads off the beaten track. These are made possible because Ando is one of the few in Japan to have been recognized as an international certified guide by Swarovski Optik, a leading maker of optics.

“Closeness between people and nature; this is probably as close as it gets anywhere in the world.”

Although Hokkaido is located at the top of a Japan map, when looking at a world map, it is located at around the same latitude as southern France. Nonetheless, the excellent opportunities it offers to observe wild birds, including Steller's sea eagles, white-tailed eagles, and Blakiston's fish owls, at a close distance is considered a rare gift to the world. As such, the region is a haven where bird watchers from Europe and North America long to visit.
“In other word, the region offers a suitable environment for wild birds to live. The forests contain giant Japanese oaks that are over 1000 years old. In the fall, schools of salmon and trout make their run up the rivers. It is evident that generations of life thrive here.”
Ando has released a book on his photos and essay collection titled “Ordinary Miracle,” which refers to the magnificent occurrences found in everyday life. When standing in front of nature, Ando turns quiet. He is clearing his mind and seeking out the sound of silence. Soon enough, the noise travels to the ears from deep within the forest; it's the Blakiston's fish owl! Just like this, people and nature encounter one another, just as it is intended.

Makoto Ando
Hokkaido Certified Outdoor Guide

Makoto Ando

Born in Sapporo in 1964, Ando taught at college preparatory schools as a lecturer of social studies for 12 years after graduating university. Later he established Hickory Wind while working as an apprentice carpenter in 1999.

  • ● Owner and guide of Wilderness Lodge Hickory Wind
  • ● Hokkaido's designated monitor of Japanese cranes as commissioned by the Ministry of the Environment of Japan
  • ● Swarovski Optik Support Professional Guide
  • ● Shiretoko Volunteer Guide Ranger
  • ● Certified under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry sponsored Local Industry Revitalization Program
Wild Bird Watching Seasons

Hokkaido's Natural Environment | Sea and Land AnimalsMagnificent Vitality of Life Seen in Pristine Nature

There are about 85 mammal species living in Hokkaido, of which 30 are sea mammals. Of all the sea mammals that can be seen in Japan, most can be seen in the open waters off Hokkaido, including whales, seals, and sea lions. Some of the sea animals found in Hokkaido waters arrive from the north during winter time, while others visit only during the summer. In addition, there are still others that lives near Hokkaido year round and breed here, such as harbor seals. It is very rare to find the breeding grounds of sea animals so close to human civilization in a developed country anywhere in the world. Hokkaido has a well developed infrastructure allowing for the observation of marine animals that offers visitors the chance to experience wild animals up close through whale or dolphin watching tours. On the other hand, when exploring on land, visitors can also encounter a wide range of animals from small squirrels and medium-sized animals such as Yezo red fox to large animals such as brown bears and Yezo Sika deer. In addition, important animals for academic studies such as mouse hares have been living in Hokkaido since the glacial age.

Hokkaido's Natural Environment | Beautiful Array of PlantsFlowers Blossomthroughout the Land, From Mountain to Sea

Located on the transitional zone between temperate and subarctic zones, Hokkaido is home to a wide variety of plant life. After the snow has melted, new flowers such as Japanese dogtooth violets and Nirinsou (Anemone flaccid, wind flower), whose crisp image has earned the nickname of “spring's fairies,” begin to blossom one by one. In early summer, the vast prairies along the ocean are decorated in beautiful shades by the gorgeous colors of daylily, Asiatic lily, and Japanese rose. The weed-strewn wetlands show off dazzling spring colors with Asian skunk cabbage and marsh marigold, while the peaks of tall mountains are dressed with blossoms from many alpine plants such as Aleutian avens and cassiope. Treetops also showcase different looks according to the season, with flowers of Magnolia kobus and Sargent's cherry in the spring time, and Japanese rowan, Panicled hydrangea as well as the adorable fruits of Sargent's cherry in summer. From spring to summer, spanning from the tall mountains to nearby sea, the entire landscape of Hokkaido is covered in multiple shades of floral colors. Among this, the coastal prairie on the eastern side of Hokkaido, where wild flowers grow in abundance, is known for its nearly 30 natural wild flower gardens, and is a famous tourist destination highlighting the natural beauty that is unique to Hokkaido. In addition, Hokkaido's beauty also comes in different flavors as the seasons change, including the verdant new greens in springtime, rich autumn foliage, and winter wonderland accented by the snow capped trees of Yezo spruce and Sakhalin fir. Moreover, the perfectly spherical shaped green algae known as Marimo, spherical moss, is also one of Hokkaido's more unique plant species known to the world.

Flower Blooming Seasons

Hokkaido's Natural Environment | Freshwater FishA Wide Range of Fish Populate the Region's Rivers, From Mountain Streams to Mouth

Hokkaido features a number of top-ranked rivers in Japan in terms of water quality and proudly calls home to some of the world's most renowned lakes for clarity including Lake Mashu and Lake Shikotsu. The pristine fresh water system is one of Hokkaido's most well known features. The region's excellent water quality is reflected by the number of fresh water fish that live here, which, including foreign species, total about 70 different species. Another distinctive feature is that both fish originating from the south and from the north can be seen in Hokkaido. Since Hokkaido is geographically positioned where north meets south, this has increased the variety of fish species that can be found here. What is also special about the fish species in Hokkaido is there is wide variety of fish closely connected to the sea, as is the case with salmon which are born in the river and later migrate out to the sea. Living in the upper river stream are white-spotted char and masu salmon, which are popular targets in the sport of mountain stream fishing, as well as fish native to Hokkaido such as Dolly Varden trout and rosyface dace, while Japanese dace and stone loach can be easily sighted mid stream. Living in the downstream area and lakes are cherry salmon, kokanee, and Japanese smelt. Japanese huchen, known as the largest fresh water fish in Japan, live in primitive and unspoiled rivers and lakes. It is also worth to note that Hokkaido also happens to be the northern most limit for Ayu (Japanese trout). Together with fascinating avid fishermen, Hokkaido is also a biologically diverse region known for its large number of unique fish species.

With its variety of fish species and ease in getting to fishing spots, Hokkaido is truly a fishers' paradise.

Born in Kitami City, Hokkaido in 1976, Hikichi graduated from the School of Fisheries Sciences at Kitasato University with a major in marine pathology. He did his graduation thesis on the Common Japanese conger. After working several years at an advertising agency followed by a martial arts training pilgrimage to Alaska, Hikichi started his own business (TAMARISK) as an independent fishing guide in October 2000. Having 30 years of experience in fishing, he leads fishing tours about 100 days out of the year. Hikichi's business provides a wide range of activities for clients to choose from, from fly and lure fishing, to still fishing and trolling; there is nothing he will turn down. He stands by the motto that one must be proficient in everything they do to deliver the best tour experience.

Shunsuke Hikichi
Shunsuke Hikichi, Fishing Guide