Sakkaku and Close Encounters: Furen-ko

Lake Furen-ko is about a 15 minutes’ drive from Nemuro City, which is the last stop on the JR Hanasaki Line and situated at the eastern tip of Hokkaido. 錯覚 (Sakkaku) is one of my favorite Japanese words. It means that you get an incorrect perception of something. I constantly had that feeling while riding over Lake Furen-ko in Mr. Komukai’s fishing boat. I kept asking him ‘Are we in the sea?’, only to be told rather exasperatedly, ‘No. This is Lake Furen-ko!’. In my defense, Furen-ko is a lagoon that was once part of the sea.

Furen-ko is a large lake, extending 20 km from east to west. We were lucky enough to see small herds of earless seals (azarashi in Japanese and tokkari in the Ainu language) that inquisitively popped up at safe distances around our boat. During our ride, pilot Komukai asked me if I would like to step out of the boat! Furen-ko is shallow enough that some areas can be walked in if you have an expert guide. I can safely say that it was the first time I ever waked in the middle of a lake! 😊

Shunkuni-tai refers to the 3 sand dunes that separate Furen-ko from the Okhotsk Sea. They were formed by sand carried in from the sea. Shunkuni-tai hosts a wide variety of wildlife, and we were hoping to see deer. I wasn’t disappointed when I walked along the boardwalk. First, I saw a few deer in the distance, and then I heard a rumbling sound as a small herd of about 6 deer ran directly under me. They stopped a few meters away, gazed up at me, figured I was harmless and started munching grass. It was my first close encounter with wetlands wildlife! 😊

James McGill

Welcome to the Japanese Ramsar site,
Furen-ko and Shunkuni-tai


Slide shows

JR Hanasaki-line
Chanai, Hamanaka to Nemuro
Shunkuni-tai Wetland
Taking a boat ride on Lake Furen-ko
Local Information