A Local Perspective on Life in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.

A Different Way of Encountering Japan`s Most Elegant of Everyday Birds- the SHIRASAGI (白鷺)- Egret




The egret rookery along the Sakuragawa River on the Tsuchiura-Tsukuba Border


The egret rookery along the Sakuragawa River on the Tsuchiura-Tsukuba Border – May


By Avi Landau

One of my favorite everyday experiences in Tsukuba is catching sight of one or more of this area`s numerous egrets ( SAGI in Japanese)- long-legged and long necked white-plumed wading birds, either stalking their prey in the rice fields or streams or flying elegantly overhead, with their necks tucked in and their long legs trailing behind while their slender wings gracefully propel them across the sky.  It is  something that I never tire of, no matter how often I see it.


A closer look at the egret colony on the banks of the Sakura River

The slender white form of an egret among the deep greenery of a paddy field in Tsukuba`s Matsushiro neighborhood

There is another side to experiencing these birds, however, which is far from elegant. It can be intense, noisy, and…….. stinky!

That`s what it is like if you approach these bird`s nesting areas which are called SAGI YAMA ( egret mountains or perhaps egret groves) in Japanese. You see, while these birds spend the day searching for food solo or in small units, they live communally large boisterous groups which include several varieties of similar birds.

Whenever I head towards Tsuchiura by car or bus, I always look forward to catching a glimpse of the large flock of egrets (shirasagi,白鷺) and night herons (goisagi, ゴイサギ)which use the  grove of trees on the eastern bank of the Sakura River as their rookery (sagi yama). In fact, if you live in Tsukuba, the egret that you see flying overhead or in a nearby rice field probably spends the night at this spot. From spring through the summer it is thrilling to see all the frenetic activity of the colony, even if for the briefest moment, as you drive by on the Tsuchiura-Gakuen Road (look to the north when you get on the bridge just past the route 6 underpass). I always worry about this particular egret grove in October, as the launching point for the famous and extremely crowded and noisy Tsuchiura Fireworks Competition is just a couple of hundred meters to the south. I guess that for that one night, the egrets just have to find another place to sleep.

Egrets as seen from the bridge over the Sakura River

Egret among the rice plants (Onozaki, Tsukuba)

This has NOT  been a very good decade for egrets ( or other birds ) in Tsukuba. Besides the  massive habitat loss coinciding with the local development boom, the population was devastated by the tornado of May 6th 2012 which tore through another of the city’s major egret roosting areas, which was located in Hojo.

The egrets along the banks of the river Sakura

The egrets along the banks of the river Sakura

More than one year later I went to have a longer and closer look at the rookery by the bridge. I crossed over to the Tsuchiura side and then turned off to the left- where the Titanic Pachinko Parlor stands ( the building is actually shaped like a ship) and parked in its parking lot (surrounded by love hotels).

The first impression I had when stepping out of the car was the smell- strong and fishy- which I assumed was emanating from what must be the prolific amount of droppings in the area ( which must consist of  digested and excreted fish, frog, snail and crayfish).

Stepping up to the river embankment was almost frightening with all the noise and  activity. The birds, which are always very shy and difficult to approach, also became uneasy.

I immediately decided that I would make it a very brief visit do as not to cause too much of a disturbance.

I tried to note the different varieties nesting in this grove and I think I could say with confidence that I saw KOSAGI ( Egretta garzetta- Little egrets), GOISAGI ( crowned night herons- which are stumpier and grayish), CHU-SAGI (EGRETTA INTERMEDIA- intermediate egrets) and AMASAGI (bubulcus ibis- cattle egrets).

Mother feeding its young

Overwhelmed by the sounds, smells, and energy, my heart was racing and I started to run  a sweat. I realized that I was having a hard-core wildlife experience right here in the Tsukuba area. It also made me think of this most elegant of birds ( as I once thought of them) in a  very different way!

An egret in the pond at Matsushiro Park

An egret with its young

An egret with its young

And there`s plenty to see in the vicinity as well – here is the 18th century Kasuge Amida Hall

This 13th century bronze bell at the Hannyaji Temple in Shizuka

One of the 13th century Kekkai Stones (demarcating the sacred precincts of a temple) at Hannyaji.

A rare Shogun Jizo (dated 1795) on the embankment of the Sakura River in Sanonko

A very unusual wooden Nyoirin Kannon. I found this in a cemetery next the Hachiman Shrine in Tanaka

A hauntingly weather-worn statue of Jizo, in a graveyard on the Kashimadai Tumulus (which the Tsuchiura Gakuen Road runs right thru)

An old house in Shishizuka
(along the Tsuchiura-Gakuen Road)


A sacred stone standing nearly 2 meters tall and dated Taisho 10 (1911). I found it on the far side of the bridge, in Mushikake, across from the Butchers Association. It is engraved with the characters Batto Kanzeon (the Horse-headed Kannon) , a deity which in this part is associated with prayers to console the spirit of dead horses. This one was erected by the the Tsuchiura Horse-cartmen`s Union

A statue of Billiken. Well known to residents of Western Japan (especially Osaka and Hyogo Prefectures) as a god of good fortune (of American origin!), this statue had long been in Tsukuba, before it disappeared. I rediscovered it along the Tsuchiura Gakuen Line!

Just to show you how the unique experiences never seem to end – roaming the countryside near the nesting ground I came across a restaurant – Holiday Cafe – with this sign by the door! When I stepped inside, the proprietor gruffly asked me if I had read it , before ushering me to a table. and a few minutes later, when I told him I just wanted coffee, he threw me out and told me to go to Starbucks! Why don’t you try your luck! Japanese language comments on the internet claim the food (Hawaiian-style) is delicious!

Egret in Nishi O-Hashi, Tsukuba

The same bird with Mt. Tsukuba in the background (December 2020)

A heron in Ami Town

A road-side statue near the roosting area

A detail from the Ippen Hijiri Picture Scroll of 1299 showing egrets in the paddy fields


  • Hanamizuki says:

    I often find an egret among the deep greenery of a paddy field near my house
    in Tsukuba, just like your picture in Matsushiro.
    And then I remember the famous poem by Bokusui Wakayama…
    Shiratori wa kanasikarazuya sorano-ao umino-ao nimo somazu tadayou
    White bird, don’t you feel sad(lonely)? In blue of sky nor blue of sea, you don’t
    dye, and float around…

  • Avi Landau says:

    Hanamizuki! Thank you for sharing that with us! Beautiful!

  • Ginny says:

    Beautiful poem! I thought you might also be interested in Keizo Hino’s novel Isle of Dreams, which takes the protagonist and the reader from a vision of urban decay to a less benign and wilder vision of Tokyo – in a roosting spot for shirasagi!

  • Hanamizuki says:

    Ginny, thank you for showing me! I’m a woman who seldom read books.
    I just learned and was impressed in my junior high or high school over
    40 years ago!
    Anyway I’ll try to read his book, thanks!