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Don’t come to Kushiro expecting blue skies and a blazing sun. This town of roughly 200,000 people in southeast Hokkaido is known instead for its misty appeal, often shrouded in a fog that adds to the port’s atmosphere. But the natural and cultural attractions that await nearby are brilliant in any weather. Japan’s largest undeveloped wetlands—Kushiro Shitsugen National Park—sprawl across some 270 square kilometers (104 square miles) just north of town. This is the place to see the revered Japanese crane, also known as the red-crowned crane. Options for visiting the park include canoe tours through the marshlands or visits to the accessible boardwalk trails at the official visitor center.
The Kushiro area is home to another natural wonder farther north at Akan National Park, where you can admire volcanoes and pristine crater lakes and dip into one of the area’s onsen, or natural hot springs. Hokkaido’s most beautiful lake, Lake Mashu—reputedly the clearest lake in the world—will make your head spin with its pure beauty. There are sulfur-spewing volcanoes to visit here as well. When you’re back in town in Kushiro, don’t miss a visit to the Washo market for fresh sushi and sashimi or the fisherman’s wharf for some souvenir shopping.