The Otowa Bridge

The Otawa Bridge is mentioned in the Unconquered: Kushiro-shitsugen article as a famous Hokkaido birdwatching spot: If you want to safely view the Red-crowned Cranes closer to their natural habitat, you can take your chances with the photographers on the Otowa Bridge (Warning: the view is beautiful but you might not be able to find any Red-crowned Cranes! 😊).

The YouTube video also contains a short scene filmed at the bridge. However, the visit to the Otowa Bridge was almost cancelled. The night before it began to snow heavily, with a forecasted accumulation of over 30 centimeters. That would make it impossible for the roads to be cleared fast enough for us to see the cranes take off in the morning. While I was disappointed that the schedule might have to be changed, I will admit to also secretly breathing a sigh of relief, thinking, “Well, at least I won’t have to wake up at 5 am and venture out into a blizzard! 😊).

However, I was awakened by the sound of rapid footsteps at 4:30 am. Yuki, our scheduling manager, knocked on my lodge room door and said, “The hired van can come. We will leave at 5am!”. Apparently, there was a little less snow than forecasted and the snow clearers had been able to go into operation early. Our driver confidently navigated the nearly empty, snow covered roads. Snow was still swirling around us when we arrived in the parking lot and I was surprised to see several groups of photographers already on the bridge

The largest group was the half dozen Thai tourists who were part of a tour led by ‘J’, a tall Thai guide who lived in LA! The tour group members cheerfully braved the minus 3-degree weather as they stared out over the beautiful, mist-covered Setsuri River, hoping to catch a glance of the elusive Red-crowned Cranes. Akio, our photography director, set up his tripod next to a veteran local photographer. The snowfall had thinned a little, but everyone was still covered with snow.

We couldn’t see any cranes, although the local veteran photographer said there were probably some roosting just beyond the bend in the river. I was prepared for the cold, wearing multiple layers, ski gloves, a baseball cap over a knit cap, windbreaker, down vest, special winter shoes and thick wool socks. I saw that the rest of the team members were getting pretty cold though, as many of them stamped their feet to try to keep warm. After nearly 40 minutes we gave up, waved goodbye to J and the Thai tour group and retreated to the warmth of our waiting van. It was fun, but I would like to make my next visit in summertime! 😊

James McGill