It was only about 45km to Tsukigata from our place near Shin-Sapporo Station in the south of Sapporo City, so we left late on the Saturday morning, at around 11am. As is usually the case, it was a lot of stop-start cycling through the urban sprawl of Ebetsu City, until we finally made it to the mighty Ishikari River, Hokkaido’s longest (and the third-longest in Japan, at 268km).
There’s more and more sections of paved road on top of the stop banks of the Ishikari River, which is of course closed to vehicular traffic. On a windy day, such as today, it can be tough going high up on the banks, but there’s no traffic to think about, and the views are great.
We stayed on the stopbanks until Shinshinotsu, where we stopped at the michi-no-eki for a coffee. They don’t have a particularly great cafe, but their restaurant has a ‘drink bar’ for 300yen, allowing unlimited drinks of soft drinks, including coffee. We would have been tempted by the attached onsen, but we still had 15km to ride into a head wind. We wanted to be at the Tsukigata campground by around 4pm to get set up, and then head over to Miyajima-numa pond. We’d only ever seen the geese in the morning, and Haidee was keen to see what goes on at dusk.
Along the way, we saw a few farmhouses flying koinobori, carp-shaped windsocks representing the structure of each nuclear family. In this home below, there’s a father (black carp), mother (red), and one child (the smallest at the bottom) – all in perfect hierarchy. These are flown around the time of Childrens’ Day (5th May).
We arrived in Tsukigata and got the tent set up, moving on directly from there to the pond. We’d only cycled to the pond in the murky darkness of early morning before, so it was a nice change to be able to see the pond clearly from the large bridge over the Ishikari River. The shadows were already long, and the landscape turning a burnt orange in the early sunset. At the pond, we cycled past all the rows of cars – there were at least 100 people milling about the pond – and sat down beside a gravel road just east of the pond. Haidee had some hot water in her thermos, so made us some warm cocoa to drink as we waited. There was hardly any wind, but it was cold enough to have us both in our thick winter down jackets.
Whereas the morning flight of the geese is a blink-of-the-eye affair, the geese were coming in in flocks of about 20 or more in the evening. They’d punch through the sky in their v-formation, gliding overhead with beautiful mottled under-bellies. We didn’t stay around for too long, as we wanted to leave before the throngs of cars. We wanted to be back at the onsen before everyone else, as we hadn’t brought any food to cook on this trip – we were well and truly glamping. Back at the onsen we had a quick dinner – sashimi set menu for me, and tenpura soba for Haidee – had our onsen soak, and were in our sleeping bags in the campground by 9pm.
We awoke at 3:20am to the same sound as we’d gone to sleep with – the neurotic hoots of the 300 or so Whooper (or perhaps Tundra) swans on the lake in front of the campground. Had it not been for the -5 degree C frost and frigid start, it would have been quite idyllic. Of course, this is Japan, so we were able to drop by a convenience store at just before 4am to pick up some hot coffee before pushing on back to Miyajima Pond for the great take-off.
By the time we’d arrived by just after 4am, there were perhaps 150 people spread out around the lake, standing expectantly at designated viewing spots.
As if on cue, the 65,000 geese roosting on the pond vacated said pond in three waves. One smaller wave to start with, and then two larger waves that cleared the pond out completely. It was all over in less than five minutes.
Miyajima Pond Geese Flight Video
It was great to bump into some friends at the pond too. We’d mentioned on Facebook that we’d be there at the pond, and Saoka with her parents, as well as Amanda and her partner Yujiro made the early morning drive out to the pond. While it was Amanda and Yujiro’s first time to see the geese at Miyajima-numa, Saoka’s parents live relatively nearby, so they’d been many times. “We’ve been here so many times I can hardly count,” said Saoka’s father.
Amanda and Yujiro came back to the campground with us, and joined us for a while sitting in the morning sun. I warmed up some water on my stove, and we had hot chocolate, along with some Easter eggs Amanda had been given – it was Easter Sunday after all!
While we were chatting, the swans on the campground lake decided to all fly off in a similar fashion to the geese – all at once. Once again a great commotion of movement and noise.
By the time Amanda and Yujiro headed off and we started to pack up, the frost on our bikes from the morning was finally melted, and the day felt civilized again. There was still some snow along side the roads as we made our way back to Sapporo on the back roads, but there was less wind than yesterday. A very pleasant day out. We had lunch on the way home at Farm Restaurant Shokusai (1500yen for a light three-course lunch), and made it home by about 1:30pm, just in time for a nap!