Nature / Uncategorized

Postcards from Hokkaido – April 2017

Early April is a bad time to go to Hokkaido, they say – it’s that awkward time between winter and spring, when snow starts to melt and buds are yet to break. I lamented the lack of wildlife and flowers at first, but after flicking through some of the photos from the trip, I felt grateful I went during the transition period – it was a chance to appreciate beauty in the quiet and plain.


Dog tracks by Mizuho Pond in Nopporo Forest Park, Sapporo, Japan 


Mystery tracks in Niseko, Japan

Could it be a bear!?: I felt a mix of excitement and fear when I saw these paw prints – I thought they were bear prints. I tried to put myself in the bear’s shoes – if I were an Asiatic Bear (Ursus thibetanus) or an Ussuri Brown Bear (Ursus arctos lasiotus), I would probably take residence by Mizuho Pond in Nopporo Forest Park too. Unfortunately (or fortunately, given the rise in mauling incidents), they are most likely the paw prints of a large dog. My guess reveals a lack of animal tracking skills. The only other time I’ve seen animal tracks on snow was in Niseko. I was too far to figure out what it was – an Ezo Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes schrencki) perhaps?


Discarded Manchurian Walnut (Juglans mandshurica maxim) shells in Maruyama Primeval Forest, Sapporo, Japan

Squirrel nibbles: Hey Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), pick up your trash!


Mistletoe (Viscum album) on an otherwise bare Japanese Elm (Ulmus davidiana) in Historic Village of Hokkaido, Sapporo, Japan

Giant poms poms: Giant poms poms? A bird’s nest? A parasitic plant? Turns out they’re the Common Mistletoe – a hemiparasitic plant that grows on the upper branches of trees. They acquire nutrients and water from the host plant via a haustorium, but photosynthesize their own carbohydrates. Their seeds are commonly dispersed by birds that eat the fruits and excrete the seeds on tree branches. The seeds are able to stick to the bark thanks to a sticky layer of viscin.


The cracked wall of North Star Transport Company Limited’s terminal in Otaru Port, Otaru, Japan

Concrete maze: One of the first things I noticed in Sapporo was how weathered the sidewalks were. It was a stark contrast to the perfectly maintained footpaths in Tokyo. Even more surprising were the large cracks and conspicuous repairs done on the walls of buildings. The harsh winter had taken its toll on the concrete – the freeze-thaw process and thermal shocks left a maze of surface cracks, which were unintentionally accentuated by the rough patchwork.


Emile Gallé’s Iris Vase (1900) displayed as part of the Catch the Colors exhibition at Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art, Sapporo, Japan

Not just a cameo in the world of glass: Cameo glass dates back to ancient Rome, but took a backseat until it made a comeback during the Art Nouveau movement from the 1890s to the 1910s – it remains a popular form of fine art today.


Mystery mountain en route to Sapporo Chitose Airport from Narita Airport – I’m guessing it’s Mt. Hayachine

A matter of vantage point: I usually opt for the aisle seat, so it was the first time I had a bird’s eye view of a mountain range. It was nice to see it from a different angle. When I hike, I’m too distracted by the flora and fauna to acknowledge the mountain; when I’m at the summit, I’m in awe at the view of the surrounding mountains; it’s as if I can only see a mountain for what it is from 30,000 ft.


A Varied Tit (Sittiparus varius) perched on a Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum) in the Hokkaido Govenor’s Official Residence, Sapporo, Japan


The moooooooooooooooon


Ojizosama near a shrine at the entrance of Maruyama Cemetery, Sapporo, Japan


Slime flux separating moss beds on the trunk of a Japanese Elm (Ulmus davidiana) in Nopporo Forest Park, Sapporo, Japan

Toxic barrier: Heartwood slime flux is a common bacterial disease among Japanese Elms (Ulmus davidiana). The process starts when bacteria, which are commonly found in soil and water, infect a tree through wounds to the bark. The bacteria, using sap as an energy source, grows in the heartwood of tree. It eventually depletes oxygen within the xylem, thereby producing methane gas. As more liquid and gas is created, pressure within the xylem increases until it is eventually relieved through cracks in the form of fermented sap, or otherwise known as slime. Slime is toxic to growing parts of a tree and other herbaceous plants. The colonies of moss in the above photo were separated by the toxic slime on the bark of a Japanese Elm (Ulmus davidiana).


Fallen Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria japonica) needles and cones in Maruyama Primeval Forest, Sapporo, Japan


Muskmelon (Cucumis melo L.) from Miyazaki on display at a fruit stall in Nijo Market, Sapporo, Japan

Not quite a Yubari: Melons from Yubari, Hokkaido are considered the best in Japan and can fetch prices as high as JPY3,000,000 for two. This seems bizarre for many foreigners who come from countries without a luxury fruit market. The photo above is the skin of a Red Muskmelon (Cucumis melo L.) grown in Miyazaki. It’s not quite a Yubari melon but the retail price is still JPY6,800 for one.


Hoof Fungus (Fomes fomentarius) on a decaying tree in Nopporo Forest Park, Sapporo, Japan

Be gone, evil spirit!: If you can’t eat it, burn it? The Ainu believed that burning the Hoof Fungus (Fomes fomenters) with incense would drive away evil spirits during an epidemic.


Japanese Red Pine (Pinus densiflora) with a feeding hole bored by a Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) in Nopporo Forest Park, Sapporo, Japan


Feeding frenzy – a wide shot of the same tree

Peek-a-boo, I eat you: This is definitely the horror version of A Bug’s Life. The Great Spotted Woodpecker detects the presence of beetle larvae in trees by listening for the sound of larvae chewing wood or tapping on the wood to see if there is a hollow section, an indication that larvae are inside. A woodpecker will typically bore multiple holes in the one tree to maximise the amount of insects excavated.


A printed ad of fish swimming towards some whiskey on display at the Nikka Museum in Yoichi, Japan

Alcoholic fish: Don’t laugh – it’s true, fish can get drunk. What’s more, there’s research that examines the social behaviour of zebrafish (Danio rerio) when exposed to ethanol.


Red Alaskan Crab (Paralithodes camtschaticus) covered with calcareous tube worms (Spirorbis) for sale at Nijo Market, Sapporo, Japan

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Close up shot of the calcareous tube worms

Polka Dot King: I love polka dots and the color orange. Hence, this crab instantly caught my attention at the market. I assumed the white spots were baby barnacles, but I was wrong – they’re calcareous tube worms. Sounds gross doesn’t it? Spirorbis is a genus of very small bristle worms that are generally marine filter feeders. The small coils in the photo are just  calcium carbonate shells – a little unsightly, but the Red Alaskan Crab (Paralithodes camtschaticus) is still fit for consumption.


Rough painting of clay pots on a red brick wall in Otaru, Japan

Clay pots on a red brick canvas: Bar some artefacts in Hokkaido Museum, this is as close as I got to seeing pottery in Hokkaido. You know what that means? I’ll be back!



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