East Hokkaido, Japan

    Posted on Tuesday, Feb 26, 2019
    Aggies can be found throughout the world, far and wide. We study human-animal conflict in Africa, fish evolution in the rivers of the Amazon and Indonesia, and ancient geologic structures at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.

    Am I currently the only Aggie studying and researching in eastern Hokkaido, Japan? I suspect so, yet it wouldn’t surprise me at all to discover a TAMU colleague working their way through the wetlands and forests here to learn all she or he can about the wildlife and environs.

    With a plan to graduate by summer 2020, I now find myself at a new base in Kushiro, the fourth largest city on Hokkaido, which is, for those unaware, the northernmost island in the Japanese archipelago. College Station Aggies may gearing up for spring and another gorgeous wild flower season just around the corner, but where I’m at winter is in full force. I awoke to temperatures of -14 degrees Celsius, or a hair under 7 degrees Fahrenheit. Nighttime temps routinely drop below zero. But it’s beautiful – Kushiro is surprisingly sunny in winter, arguably more so than any other part of the island, and this city only gets one-third the snowfall that famously snowy Sapporo must deal with every year. A light dusting greeted us just this morning and I went out to welcome it, hot coffee in hand. Of course, I later deemed it wise to retreat back inside as my fingers started to ache. The coffee can only do so much.

    I’m in the MS program in the College of Agriculture, Department of Ecosystem Sciences and Management. I chose this particular research locale for its proximity some of Japan’s most fabulous national parks. Kushiro Marsh National Park is literally in this city’s back yard, the last refuge of Japan’s famous red crowned crane. Further north you’ll find the twin volcanoes of Akan-Mashu National Park (the peaks of Oakan and Meakan are easily visible from many parts of Kushiro) and in the northeast Shiretoko, a UNESCO World Heritage site and home to the largest concentration of Asian brown bears.

    My goals are three-fold.

    Continuing my coursework and forging a path to graduation next year.

    Comparing and contrasting Japan’s red crowned crane conservation initiatives with those for another crane species more familiar to Aggies: the whooping cranes of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.

    To learn all I can about Japanese national park management and philosophy, and whether or not conservation officials here are embracing the ecosystems services perspective as much as their peers in the West seem to be.

    To all that let’s add a fourth: to enjoy the sights, sounds, and people of eastern Hokkaido, while keeping warm in the process.

    ---Nathanial Gronewold
    Nathanial Gronewold is a Masters student in the College of Agriculture

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