Uso, or Eurasian Bullfinch, is the size of a swallow with characteristic short beak and, in case of a male bullfinch, a light pink color in his cheeks.
The Japanese name, uso, came from “usobuku” which means “to pretend not to know”. The bird’s short beak and pink cheeks must have reminded ancient people of people who whistle when they feign ignorance.
Uso, utilizing their short, wide beaks, eat leaves and nuts as well as insects and spiders. They are especially fond of eating flower buds just when cherry and plum trees start shooting out the new season’s growth.
Uso was regarded as a useful bird and is protected by many farmers because by eating the buds of fruit trees they play a role thinning out excess buds thereby helping others grow bigger.
However, more recently some fruit trees eaten by uso don’t grow any fruit at all. It can cause serious damage to the crop and uso may be considered a harmful bird when this happens.
Dazaifu Tenmanguu Shrine in Fukuoka, Kyuushuu, which is famous for its plum trees, still protects uso and preserves a special place for the birds. The shrine holds a religious event called “Usokae” in which visitors bring their own wooden uso birds and exchange them with one another. It is said that the person who receives a golden uso will be blessed with happiness.
Izunuma and Uchinuma are lakes in Senhoku Plain in Miyagi Prefecture. Covering a total area of 4 square meters, the majority of the surfaces of these shallow lakes is covered with water plants such as lotuses and reeds and provides precious habitat for insects and fish. They were designated as a registered wetland under the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as a Waterfowl Habitat, known as the Ramsar Site in 1985.
Located in the northernmost area of the warm-temperate zone, the surfaces of Izunuma and Uchinuma rarely freeze, even during the coldest seasons. This makes them a popular wintering area for such waterfowl as whooper swans, white-fronted geese and Aleutian Canada goose. At the sunrise, you can see 30,000 goose and ducks flapping their wings all at once. This sound was designated as one of Japan’s 100 Landscapes with Sounds by the Ministry of Environment.
Visitors can enjoy viewing wild birds all through the year from observation deck at Izunuma Uchinuma Visitors Center.
Hisamine Uzura Guruma or Hisamine Quail Toy Car is a traditional folk toy whose history has been passed down for years in Miyazaki City, Miyazaki Prefecture.
Since Edo era, quail has been a familiar bird in Miyazaki region and local people adore them. It was a local practice to keep the birds to enjoy their calling.
Quail in Japan breed in Hokkaido and northeastern Japan from Spring to Summer, then migrate to warmer areas of Shikoku and Kyushu from Fall to Winter.
Uzura Gurum is a children’s toy based on the quail. Japanese Angelica tree is used for the body and bamboo is used to make the axle of the wheels. On its side is a word, “の”, to pray for children’s safety and happiness.
In old days, the quail toy car was sold at religious festivals in Hisamine Kannon and Kishibo Shrine. They are still loved by the locals and can be seen being displayed by the front entrance of each household.
There are two kinds of quail toy cars in Miyazaki City; One in Hokkedake Yakushi-ji Temple and the other one in Hisamine Kannon. Hisamine quail toy car has a more feminine look.
Shodoshima Peacock Garden is a bird garden located near Ikeda Harbor on Shodoshima Island in Kagawa Prefecture. As many as about 1,000 peacocks stroll on the ground of the garden. Peacocks, or to say correctly “peafowl,” are the birds in the pheasant family, mainly inhabiting in China and the southeastern Asia. Peafowl are most notable for the male's extravagant display feathers, which are flared out to get the female’s attention.
We rarely see peafowl flying, but in this peacock garden, visitors used to enjoy the Peacock Flying Show, in which a unit of peafowl few away and back in time to the music. It was said that there was no place in the world that could rival in training such a large number of peafowl. However, the show has been discontinued since 2003.
You can also see flamingoes and many other rare birds collected from all over the world. There is also an aquarium offering a panoramic view of fish next to the bird garden. This is a suitable place for a family vacation.
Choyo-no-Shinji and Crow Sumo Wrestling is Shinto rituals performed on September 9 at Kamigamo Shrine, which is famous as the oldest shrine in Kyoto. According to the concept of Yin and Yan, the odd number is the number of Yan (shine). Thus 9 is considered to be the number that Yan reaches to an extreme. As September 9 is the day when the extreme Yan overlaps, it was called Choyo (Double Yan) and was celebrated as the auspicious day since the ancient times. Since September is the blooming season of a chrysanthemum by the lunar calendar, it is also called the Chrysanthemum Festival.
In the old days, people drank chrysanthemum wine and purified themselves with dew on chrysanthemum petals in hope of a long life. Today, people in Kyoto visit Kamigamo Shrine on this day and offer chrysanthemum flowers to the deity and pray for the healthy life.
After the Choyo Shinto rituals are performed‚ a Shinto priest called “Tone” places a bow and arrow and a sword against a cone-shaped hill of sand. He then utters the cry “kaa‚ kaa‚ kaa‚ koo‚ koo‚ koo,” imitating the cawing of crows. After this ritual‚ children, divided into two teams of “Negi-kata (priests)” and “Hori-kata (people who cerebrate),” wrestle each other in matches. The sumo wrestling originates in an ancient Shinto rituals performed in the Heian period (794-1192) and it is designated as an intangible cultural property of Kyoto City. Free chrysanthemum flower sake will be offered that is believed to be effective for healthy longevity.
Hidetoshi Matsubara is considered the last falconer in Japan who hunts with Mountain Hawk-eagles and Golden Eagles, the largest raptors in Japan.
Matsubara was born in Aomori Prefecture, 1950. After graduating from Keio University with a major in Oriental History, he was compelled to live in nature and become a falconer. Later he became an apprentice to the late Asaji Kutsuzawa who was a noted falconer and lived in Mamurogawa Town, Yamagata Prefecture. Mr. Matsubara became independent after one year and moved to a hut in a mountainous region of Mamurogawa. He shared his life with falcons and led a self-sufficient existence for eight years until he moved to Asahi-mura and lived there for the following six years. In 1996, he came down from the mountain with his family and moved to Tamugimata in Tsuruoka City. Still today, he continues hunting with Mountain Hawk-eagles and Golden Eagles. Falconry is allowed only during winter (from the end of December to the middle of March) so Mr. Matsubara works as a mountain guide to Gassan Mountain, Asahi Mountain Range and Iide Mountain Range from Spring through Fall. He is also an active educator giving regular lectures and talks on falconry as well as working as a teacher at a nature school.
Lake Akkeshi with an area of 3,200 ha and a circumference of 25 km is located in Akkeshi Town in Hokkaido. It is considered to have been a part of the ocean in the prehistoric times. The lake is a part of a Special Zone of a prefectural national park and a nationally designated Special Wildlife Protection Area.
The lake is fed by the Bekanbeushi River, in the upstream area of which lies magnificent Akkeshi Wetland. About 25 sub-species of goose come flying to the lakes and ponds in Akkeshi Town, which is also one of the few places in Japan where Whooper swans inhabit during winter. More than 10,000 Whooper swans migrating to Japan make a short stay here and more than 2,000 swans winter here. Lake Akkeshi together with Bekanbeushi Wetland on the north shore of the lake is designated as a Ramsar Site.
The lake is known for aquaculture of oysters and short-necked clams. There are a lot of oyster reefs created by the deposition of natural oyster shells, on which plant colonies are formed. Lake Akkeshi is a treasure trove of plants, fish and shellfish.
Yururi Island is a small uninhabited island off the coast of the Nemuro Peninsula. It is prefecturally designated as a Natural Treasure. “Yururi” means “an island of cormorants” in Ainu. The island still remains as a breeding place for cormorants, etopirika, keimafuri, red-faced cormorants and many other sea birds, some of which are on the verge of extinction. It is a flat table-shaped island surrounded by cliffs with a height of 40 m. Just to the north of it lies a small island of Moyururi. This island is known for bright green pastures, where a herd of about 20 horses are leisurely grazing. The horses on this island were once used to carry sea tangles but now they have run wild. The island is also the breeding place of sea otters and seals. On top of the cliff spread wetland, where 300 species of plant grow. Yururi Island is a paradise for wild life.