In Oct. 2018, I visited Toyooka, Hyogo Prefecture for the first time. Famous for the Oriental white stork, Toyooka turned out to be a great tourist town with lots to see besides the beautiful storks. Toyooka is about a 2.5-hour express train ride north of Osaka or Kyoto Station.
First on my list for Toyooka was the Hyogo Park of the Oriental White Stork (兵庫県立コウノトリの郷公園). The Oriental White Stork Park is a short bus ride from JR Toyooka Station (JR San’in Line). Free admission. http://www.stork.u-hyogo.ac.jp/
The Oriental White Stork Park is in the middle of rice paddies near some mountains. It is a bird sanctuary, college research facility, stork museum, and tourist attraction (gift shops).
Once found all over Japan, the Oriental white stork (“kounotori” in Japanese) became extinct in the wild in Japan in 1971 despite preservation efforts since 1955. Toyooka was where the last living Oriental white stork in Japan died in 1986. Pesticides in rice paddies (where they feed) and other environmental problems caused their demise.
In 1985, six wild Oriental white stork chicks from the USSR (Khabarovsk) were acquired to be raised in Toyooka. From 1989, the birds from Russia started to breed successfully in captivity in Toyooka every year. From 2005, the park started releasing Oriental white storks into the wild in Toyooka, which was a great celebration. The birds then started to breed and reproduce in the wild. They’ve been releasing only a few birds (fewer than 5) almost every year.
As of Oct. 2018, Japan has over 140 Oriental white storks in the wild. They are also successfully breeding in Tokushima, Shimane, and Kyoto Prefectures. It’s still an endangered species, with only slightly over 2,000 of them in the Far East.
The Oriental White Stork Park keeps nine storks in an open cage (no roof), but their wings have been clipped. So all park visitors are guaranteed to see storks here.
One half of the open cage has these terraced paddies where the park feeds the birds once a day. The storks are carnivores, feeding on fish, frogs, snakes, rabbits, mice, etc. The park feeds them mainly fish.
The best time to visit the park is during the feeding time 9:30 am–10 am. Park staff throw small dead fish into the paddies. The storks then go to the paddies and feed. A few wild storks also fly in to feed.
The storks’ feeding time also attracts unwanted birds like the grey heron (always fighting each other), crows, and black kites trying to steal fish.
The park and adjacent area have nesting platforms. Each nesting platform has a video camera monitoring it 24/7 especially during the egg-laying and hatching season in spring. More Oriental white stork photos here: http://photoguide.jp/pix/thumbnails.php?album=1038
If you take a local bus from JR Toyooka Station to the Oriental white stork park, you may ride a bus that looks like a bag. Toyooka is a major producer of bags. It even has a street named “Caban (Bag) Street” with a number of bag shops.
My next stop in Toyooka was Kinosaki Onsen (城崎温泉), only a 10-min. train ride from JR Toyooka Station. It’s one of the best onsen I’ve ever visited in Japan. It’s picturesque, and the main highlight are the seven public hot spring baths (sotoyu 外湯). They are all distinctly different, the baths, decor, etc. A few of them look palatial. Guests who stay at a ryokan in Kinosaki Onsen can visit all seven public baths for free. But daytrippers like me have to pay admission for each one, costing ¥600 or ¥700. However, they have a public bath day pass for only ¥1,200 (外湯めぐり券). Use it to enter all seven. Great deal! Definitely one of the best bargains in Japan!
Kinosaki Onsen has a long history of 1,300 years. A favorite hot spring for centuries. Lots to see and do. All the attractions are within walking distance from Kinosaki Onsen Station. Compact hot spring town.
More photos of Kinosaki Onsen: http://photoguide.jp/pix/thumbnails.php?album=1042
Another must-see in Toyooka is Izushi (出石), a short bus ride from JR Toyooka Station. Izushi was town that merged with Toyooka. There’s the Shinkoro Clock Tower, Izushi Castle, and Eirakukan kabuki theater. Izushi soba noodles are also the local favorite. Many soba shops. All the major sights are within walking distance from the Izushi bus terminal.
You should spend at least two days in Toyooka. The Oriental white stork park and Izushi on one day, and Kinosaki Onsen on another day. Toyooka Station also has the Kyoto Tango Railway that runs to Amanohashidate in northern Kyoto. Lots to see and explore in this area.
More Izushi photos: http://photoguide.jp/pix/thumbnails.php?album=1040
More Toyooka photos: http://photoguide.jp/pix/index.php?cat=363