Japan's isle of exiles — and gold

Jul 12, 2009

Japan's isle of exiles — and gold

Shaped like the Mark of Zorro, a rugged “Z” slashed across the Sea of Japan, Sado Island lies in the inhospitable Sea of Japan off the coast of Niigata Prefecture. Strangely, it warrants surprisingly little space in most guidebooks — which to my mind ...

'Spotted snakes, with double tongue'

| Jun 21, 2009

'Spotted snakes, with double tongue'

In ages past we humans relied on natural phenomena and omens from nature to guide us in our understanding of seasonal events and our attempts to make predictions about the uncertain future. There can have been few greater mysteries affecting us then than the ...

Mayhem, madness and bumps in the night

| May 17, 2009

Mayhem, madness and bumps in the night

Picture this: Darkness; a strong wind blowing; fog thickening and swirling; the ceaseless crashing of waves against a rocky shore. Not a night for nature observation you may think, but think again. My companions, Angus Macindoe and Mayumi Kanamura, and I — veterans now ...

A rip and a burp and the land is ours

| Apr 19, 2009

A rip and a burp and the land is ours

It’s that time of year when Japan’s media are meticulously monitoring the iconic cherry-blossom front as it passes up through the archipelago in a wave of warming temperatures and bursting buds. But have you ever imagined what it might be like to see Japan ...

Icy white 'blossoms' and a flourish of deep pink

| Mar 15, 2009

Icy white 'blossoms' and a flourish of deep pink

Each day last week I strapped on cross-country skis to patrol some trails quartering the primeval, 2,050-hectare Nopporo Forest adjoining Sapporo. I could feel the steady ticking away of the winter season as daytime temperatures topped freezing, though the nights were still below zero. ...

Celebrating a life with cranes

| Feb 15, 2009

Celebrating a life with cranes

In the dim gray light just before a winter’s dawn, a wash of sound emanates from some 12,000 tall, long-necked and long-legged birds as they awake in the fields of rural Kyushu. The bugling morning hubbub of massed ranks of cranes about to depart ...

In praise of 'Ice Birds'

| Dec 17, 2008

In praise of 'Ice Birds'

The rush, chatter and babble of a stream on a summer’s day is a great delight; the constantly shifting sounds make entrancing music and provide a wonderful source of entertainment for the wait-and-see naturalist. In autumn, drifting foliage brings flashes of color as the ...

Sweet dreams in the forest

| Nov 19, 2008

Sweet dreams in the forest

A gray wall of cloud is sweeping away my view, and the color is being leached from the mountains beyond Sapporo as the drabness of an early winter evening descends. A week of falling mercury, winds from the north and rainfall have whisked away ...

Let them eat whales!

| Oct 15, 2008

Let them eat whales!

Whales once fueled the industrialized world. First there was wood, then coal fired its steam engines alongside seal oil and whale oil that powered and lit the age of “dark satanic mills.” Once, too, whale meat fed coastal communities, while baleen provided strong flexible ...