Trip Report: Japan, October 4-12, 1999

Neil Money, Heathfield House, Dunnet, Thurso, Caithness, Scotland, KW14 8XP;


This was a fairly intensive business trip that gave very little time for birding. However, I was able to tag a couple of days leave on to the end of the trip before returning and chose to undertake the ferry trip to Tomakomai in the hope of seeing seabirds. Although the number of species seen was not large this report may give a flavour of what is possible for other birders planning short business trips based on Tokyo.

Getting Around

If you enter Japan through Narita airport then apart from a taxi, you can travel to Tokyo by train or limousine bus. The advantage of the bus is that is sets down and picks up from all major hotels. If you travel by train you will probably have an additional journey to make to your accommodation from Ueno station.

Two things about Tokyo taxis:

  1. They are expensive!
  2. Do not rely on the driver knowing the way unless the destination is a very well known site or hotel. It is best to do what the locals do and take a map showing where you want to go. This also overcomes any language problems.

In Tokyo the best way to get around is by subway or the JR line. The trains are clean, frequent and run to time. The Yamanote line is a circle line and links a lot of main destinations. Tickets can be purchased from machines at the stations and many have the capability of giving instructions in English. Once on the train there should be no concern at getting lost as stations display names in both Japanese and English.

My experience of travelling outside Tokyo is limited to the journey to Oarai and taking the Shinkansen (the Bullet Train) to Kyoto and back. There are other trains travelling throughout Japan and prices vary according to type of train with the Shinkansen being the most expensive and the local trains the cheapest. Bird watchers should also consider using the extensive ferry network to give the added advantage of an opportunity to see seabirds. There are also internal flights.

To arrange internal travel and accommodation I used: Sony Travel Service, 11th Floor, Shinagawa Intercity-B, 2-15-2 Konan, Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-611. Tel: 03 5769 6671 Fax: 03 5769 6675. Contact Mitsuru Kogishi e-mail

The Ferry Trip

The ferry to Tomakomai has recently changed is departure point from Tokyo to Oarai. This is about two hours to the north by train and is far less convenient if you are based in Tokyo. I travelled from Ueno station by limited express to Mito and then local train to Oarai and taxi to the ferry terminal. Depending on the time you travel you should consider reserving seats on the limited express as it can get very full, particularly in the evenings.

The ferry sailed at 23.59 on Friday and arrived in Tomakomai on the evening of Saturday. The return journey left Tomakomai on Sunday morning and arrived in Oarai at 06.30 on Monday morning. Thus the trip involved two nights on the ferry and one night in Tomakomai. I stayed at the Prince Hotel (Tel 0144 32 9222) which was very reasonably priced. The schedule gives two days at sea to look for seabirds.

The ferries were well equipped, and catering (Japanese style) was available.

Contact: Blue Highway Line, 1-11-1 Kaigan, Minato-ku, Tokyo, Tel: 03 3578 1127

Meiji Shrine

A large area of established woodland with open grassed areas and small lakes. The main area can be entered free of charge but it is well worth paying the 500 yen to enter the Iris Garden area within the main grounds. This is quieter, looks to have good habitat to attract migrants and was the only place where I saw Varied Tit.

The shrine is very popular on weekends and holidays and can get crowded.

Access is easy by taking the Yamanote line to Harajuku station and on leaving the station turning right and then right again to cross the railway by a broad bridge. The entrance is then before you, slightly to the right.

Tokyo Port Wild Bird Park

This is a gem surrounded by the concrete of Tokyo and an easy half-day trip for anyone staying in the centre of the city. A variety of habitats including shorebird scrapes give an opportunity to see a wide range of species.

Take the Yamanote line to Hamamatsucho station and transfer to the Tokyo Monorail which goes out to Haneda airport. Leave the Monorail at Ryutsu-senta station (third stop not second as advised by Brazil). From the station walk back in the direction from which the train has come and turn right over the bridge crossing the river. Stay on the right of the road but keep going straight across any junctions for about 15 minutes. The entrance is on the right.

There is a small entrance fee and a leaflet in English is available at the park office.

The park is open February to October from 9am to 5pm and November to January from 9am to 4.30pm. It is closed from 29th December to 3rd January and on Mondays. If Monday is a national or city holiday the park opens but then closes on the Tuesday.

Contact: Tokyo Port Wild Bird Park, Administration Office, Tokai 3-1, Ota-ku, Tokyo 143, Tel: 03 3799 5031

BOOKS - English Language

A Field Guide to the Birds of Japan: The Wild Bird Society of Japan. Kodansha International Ltd*

A Field Guide to the Water Birds of Asia: The Wild Bird Society of Japan. Kodansha International Ltd**

A Birdwatcher’s Guide to Japan: Mark Brazil. Kodansha International Ltd

The Birds of Japan: Mark Brazil. Helm

The Rough Guide to Japan: J Dodd & S Richmond. Rough Guides

* I understand that this book is out of print. I obtained a new copy from Geoff Lightfoot, Waxwings Natural History Books, 12 Bellfield Avenue, Cheadle Hume, Cheshire, SK8 7AG, UK. Tel: 0161 486 0784 Fax: 0161 476 2656

** Includes divers, cormorants, herons, waterfowl, rails, shorebirds, gulls and terns but not pelagic seabirds.


4th October:  Arrived Tokyo via Narita airport. Business meetings.

5th October:  Travel from Tokyo to Kyoto by Shinkansen. Business meetings. Visit to Kinkaku-ji Temple.

6th October:  Travel from Kyoto to Tokyo by Shinkansen. Business meetings.

7th October:  Tokyo. Business meetings.

8th October:  Tokyo. Business meetings. Visit to Meiji Shrine. Evening travel from Tokyo to Oarai via Mito to board ferry to Tomakomai. Overnight on ferry.

9th October:  Ferry to Tomakomai. Overnight in Tomakomai.

10th October: Early morning visit to small park in Tomakomai. Ferry to Oarai. Overnight on ferry.

11th October: Early morning arrival at Oarai. Train to Tokyo via Mito. Visits to Tokyo Port Wild Bird Park and Meiji Shrine.

12th October: Departed Tokyo via Narita airport.

Species List

Abbreviation: TPWBP = Tokyo Port Wild Bird Park

Species Scientific Name Comment
LITTLE GREBE Tachybaptus ruficollis 2 TPWBP 11th Oct
BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSS Diomedea nigripes 1 from ferry 9th Oct
LAYSAN ALBATROSS Diomedea immutablis 3 from ferry 10th Oct - one flying close and parallel to vessel for 15 minutes
STREAKED SHEARWATER Calonectris leucomelas Abundant with hundreds seen from the ferry on 9th & 10th Oct. Thousands moving south on broad front on either side of the vessel south of Tomakomai on 10th Oct
FLESH-FOOTED SHEARWATER Puffinus carneipes 2 from ferry 10th Oct
SOOTY SHEARWATER Puffinus griseus 1 from ferry 10th Oct
GREAT CORMORANT Phalacrocorax carbo 5 TPWBP 11th Oct
JAPANESE CORMORANT Phalacrocorax capillatus 30 at entrance to Tomakomai harbour 10th Oct and 20 TPWBP 11th Oct
LITTLE EGRET Egretta garzette Common on Honshu with birds seen in suitable habitat from trains, along waterfronts in Tokyo and at TPWBP
INTERMEDIATE EGRET Egretta intermedia 3 TPWBP 11th Oct
GREAT EGRET Egretta alba 5 TPWBP 11th Oct. Probably also seen in suitable habitat from trains
GREY HERON Ardea cinerea 2 TPWBP 11th Oct
MALLARD Anas platyrhnchos 6 TPWBP 11th Oct
SPOT-BILLED DUCK Anas poecilorhyncha 4 in grounds of Meiji Shrine 9th Oct; 3 TPWBP 11th Oct
COMMON SCOTER Melanitta nigra 1 from ferry 10th Oct
BLACK KITE Milvus migrans Single seen in small numbers from trains
EURASIAN KESTREL Falco tinnunculus 2 between Oarai and Mito 11th Oct
COMMON MOORHEN Gallinula chloropus Common at TPWBP 11th Oct
BLACK-WINGED STILT Himantopus himantopus 10 TPWBP 11th Oct
BLACK-TAILED GODWIT Limosa limosa 4 TPWBP 11th Oct
COMMON GREENSHANK Tringa nebularia 10 TPWBP 11th Oct
COMMON SANDPIPER Actitis hypoleucos 2 TPWBP 11th Oct
TEREK SANDPIPER Xenus cinereus 7 TPWBP 11th Oct
LATHAM'S SNIPE Gallinago hardwickii 1 TPWBP 11th Oct
POMARINE SKUA Stercocrarius pomarinus 1 from ferry 10th Oct
BLACK-TAILED GULL Larus crassirostris Common and widespread
VEGA GULL Larus vegae 5 from ferry 10th Oct
SLATY-BLACKED GULL Larus schistisagus Small numbers seen from the ferry on 9th & 10th Oct and in Tomakomai Harbour on 10th Oct
COMMON BLACK-HEADED GULL Larus ridibundus Flock of 22 from ferry on 10th Oct
BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE Rissa tridactyla Small numbers from the ferry on 9th & 10th Oct
ORIENTAL TURTLE DOVE Streptopelia orientalis Present in small numbers in wooded areas of Tokyo and Kyoto
COMMON KINGFISHER Alcedo atthis 1 in grounds of Meiji Shrine 9th Oct
JAPANESE PYGMY WOODPECKER Dendrocopos kizuki 2 in grounds of Meiji Shrine 9th Oct (1 in Iris Garden)
WHITE WAGTAIL Motacilla alba Widespread in small numbers even in the centre of urban Tokyo
BROWN-EARED BULBUL Ixos amaurotis Common in Tokyo and Kyoto
BULL-HEADED SHRIKE Lanius bucephalus 2 in park in Tomakomai 10th Oct
BLUE AND WHITE FLYCATCHER Cyanoptila cyanomelana 1 grounds of Meiji Shrine 9th & 11thOct
GREAT TIT Parus major Common in grounds of Meiji Shrine 9th & 11th Oct; 2 Tomakomai 10th Oct
VARIED TIT Parus varius 4 in Iris Garden, Meiji Shrine 9th Oct and 1 on 11th Oct
JAPANESE WHITE-EYE Zosterops japonicus Common in grounds of Meiji Shrine 9th & 11th Oct and at TPWBP on 11th Oct
AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE Cyanopica cyana 3 in grounds of Meiji Shrine 11th Oct; 4 TPWBP 11th Oct
CARRION CROW Corvus crone 2 between Oarai and Mito 11th Oct
JUNGLE CROW Corvus levaillantii Very common in Tokyo
GRAY STARLING Sturnus cineraceus 10 Tomakomai 10th Oct; 6 Mito station 11th Oct
JAPANESE GROSBEAK Eophona personata 1 Tomakomai 10th Oct
TREE SPARROW Passer montanus Common in grounds of Meiji Shrine 9th & 11th Oct

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This page served with permission of the author by Urs Geiser;; December 7, 1999