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  Field Notes From
Japan's Winter Wildlife

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From Author

Jennifer Ackerman

On Assignment

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From Photographer

Tim Laman

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Paul Kostyu (top) and Tim Laman


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Japan's Winter

Field Notes From Author
Jennifer Ackerman
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Sumio Yamamoto, an expert on Blakiston's fish-owls, invited me to join him and his family for tea at their home. His yard was like a menagerie, with a variety of animals, including several owls in large cages awaiting release after Mr. Yamamoto nursed them back to health. The small house was filled with owl objects such as paintings, sculptures, and even macrame owls. We sat for about two hours over cups of tea and talked about the 30 years he's been working with these owls.

We were driving north to the Shiretoko Peninsula, a very wild part of eastern Hokkaido, when a big blizzard blew up. It closed the roads into the peninsula, so we were unable to get to the national park on the northern end to observe the sea lions and different varieties of birds. But what was even worse was that I missed the drift ice that comes in at the coast of eastern Hokkaido across the Sea of Okhotsk. It's an incredible sight, a mass of broken blue-white ice where seals and eagles take refuge. It had been sitting in place for days. But by the time we arrived, the storm had blown it far away from the coast, and all I could see was a very thin white line on the horizon. That was a big disappointment.

I arrived in Sapporo in western Hokkaido just before the annual Snow Festival. It's held every February and draws about two million people. Participants build very elaborate snow sculptures of such things as castles and farm scenes. In the 1950s high school students built the sculptures, but then the Japanese army stepped in to help build them. I was there in late January when the sculpting was underway. It was wonderful to watch these army men on cranes and scaffolding, in full uniform, building a gargantuan sculpture of Mickey Mouse.

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