A Theater Company with 3 Players: Higashiyoka-higata
The Main Actor
The main actor is Higashiyoka-higata (218ha), situated on the northern shore of the Ariake sea. Located near the downtown area of Saga City, the capital of Saga Prefecture, Higashiyoka-higata is the most easily accessible of the 3 Ariake Sea tidal flats. The Higatayoka Park is a large amusement area built along the tidal flat. The park features a large visitor center called the Higashiyoka-higata Visitor Center (HIGASASU), an Open Space Lawn for children to play and a small area for riding bicycles and practicing grass skiing.
The tidal flat can be viewed from the Observation Deck that runs along the top of the embankment and forms a walking path. The strip between the Observation Deck and the tidal flat is a large plot of bright red plants, Suaeda Japonica. We happened to visit the park just as a festival was going on. Food stalls were set up at the entrance near the Visitor Center and the visiting guests: mainly families, were treated to a performance by a local band. Overall, Higashiyoka-higata is the most festive wetland I have visited so far!
The rich sediment brought from the Chikugo-gawa River into the Ariake Sea provides a home for a variety of benthic animals, perhaps the best known being the Blue-spotted Mudskipper (Mutsugoro in Japanese), a type of fish, and the Fiddler Crab. It is also an important stopover and wintering point for many species of migrating waterbirds such as the Black-faced Spoonbill, Saunders’ Gull, and Grey Plover. Somewhere between 7,000 and 10,000 waterbirds visit Higashiyoka-higata every year.
The difference between the high and low tide of the Ariake Sea is the largest in Japan at a maximum of 6m. This gives rise to a dramatic morning scene where the waterbirds roosting on the vast tidal flat take flight in the morning as the tide rolls in from the sea. One of the special activities available to visitors is gliding across the tidal flat on mud skis (Gata Ski in Japanese) that resemble surfing body boards. Actually, you can only really ‘glide’ if you use the mud skis correctly! A local NGO member told me that the secret is to use your back leg to lightly skim across the water. If you dig in like I did you just get really tired and covered with mud! 😊