1 Dec 2018

The Migration of Geese

Brant Goose © HIH Princess Takamado
Brant Goose © HIH Princess Takamado
By Yasuaki Furukawa

'Through the Lens', Fujingaho magazine, Dcember 2018

Click here to view the pdf

Photos and text: Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado

English Translation: Asia Club, a WBSJ Volunteer Group (YOKOYAMA Kazuko, KASE Tomoko)


While we were distracted by the extreme heat and typhoons, the season has come when winter birds fly over to Japan.   Above all, the migration of geese is so impressive that it is often covered by televisions and newspapers as one of the most typical seasonal sights of Japan.   So far I have shown you photos of Greater White-fronted Goose, Lesser White-fronted Goose and Cackling Goose taken in Japan and those of Greylag Goose and Barnacle Goose photographed overseas.   This time photos of Brant Goose, Snow Goose and Tundra Bean Goose (a sub-species of Bean Goose) are introduced to you for the first time.   As is said, most of goose family winter in Miyagi Prefecture, and all the photos for this essay were taken in that area.


A Snow Goose among Greater White-fronted Geese

Greylag Goose and Snow Goose are both smaller and charming faced.   As many as 2500 Brant Geese are reported to winter in groups in Miyagi every year, yet I have only seen one or two Snow Geese merged in groups of Greater White-fronted Geese or Swans.   I heard that there arrived 340 Snow Geese in Miyagi last year in which a lot of young birds were included, so I am looking forward to observing not a small number of white goose groups in the near future.  


Geese have been one of the food sources for humans since olden days and even at present they are game species in many countries.  


In Japan, as soon as a ban on gunning was removed in Meiji Era, overhunting was started and the number of geese drastically decreased.   When Bean Goose together with Greater White-fronted Goose and Brant Goose were designated as national natural treasure in 1971, their hunting has been banned finally.   Now a considerable number of Bean Goose and Greater White-fronted Goose  come over to our country again.  


Although it differs in areas, many of geese throughout the world keep a proper distance from human life, and live by foraging for grass, stalks, roots, seeds, berries and beans in farms and pastures.   In Japan, too, they get a tiny share from agriculture and stock farming, seemingly dependent on fallen chaff and, in recent years, dent corn, an animal feed.  As not only the corns but also stalks are nutritious and make excellent feed, many farmers grow the dent corn these days.   It must be very delicious for geese.   Once Bean Goose and Greater White-fronted Goose get to know the taste of the dent corn, some do not move southward to their destination and stay on such fields,

Tundra Bean Goose

Different from those geese, the chief food source of Brant Goose is seagrass and seaweed.   It feeds on Eel-grass and other seaweed belonging to Sea Lettuce and Green Laver groups.   After the Great East Japan Earthquake, Brant Goose had disappeared along the coast of Minami-Sanriku, maybe because its habitat and food source were damaged by the earthquake and tsunami.   Recently, however, it has been observed again, which may indicate that the marine environment has recovered.     How blessing it is!


In Shizugawa Bay in Miyagi Prefecture, more than 200 species of seagrass have been confirmed to grow and this October, it was declared that approximately 5800 hectares of the land in this area is to be registered with the Ramsar Convention that aims at the conservation of wetlands of international importance.   The media news explained how the Black, Oyashio and other currents have created a rich ecosystem to provide a wintering place for Brant Goose, a national natural treasure.   Its appearance was also shown.


Since early times, the Japanese have warmly welcomed geese which fly back to the country safely over a long distance, as is shown in the famous haiku by Issa (1763-1828) as follows;

From today on

You are a Japanese goose,

So stay here peacefully.

In the ‘haiku’ world, “Goose” is a season term for the late autumn and the expression”a goose returns” symbolizes the spring.   We have a lot of terms to describe changes of the four seasons and the beauty of the nature.


I have developed a feeling of dread from the unprecedentedly strong and wide-ranged storms and typhoons in recent years and, at the same time, I have felt confused at the fact that the seasonal perspectives which we Japanese have taken as a matter of course are being changed,   Let us thank each scenery we can see at present and keep it in mind.   Furthermore, let us try to live as friendly to the environment as possible and wish the newly-born sight of each season will be even more attractive.     A wish and a goose are both ‘gan’ in Japanese.  So, shall we make ‘a wish’ on a ‘goose’?


Read more Fujingaho articles by HIH Princess Takamado


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