Snow Monkeys & Cranes of Japan

February 11, 2015 - March 1, 2015

Based on the expeditionary nature of our trips, there may be ongoing enhancements to this itinerary.

Below please find the day-by-day itinerary for this expedition. Unless otherwise noted, daily excursion options are included in the cost of the trip. We do our best to adhere to the scheduled itinerary, but in the spirit of our expeditionary style of travel we may deviate slightly to take full advantage of encounters with the destination and its people, culture, and wildlife.

Feb 11 - Feb 12 Depart USA / Tokyo, Honshu, Japan

Depart the USA on your independent flight, arriving in Tokyo on February 12th. Check in to the hotel for dinner and overnight.

February 13 Tokyo / Kagoshima, Kyushu / Kirishima

A morning flight takes you to Kyushu Island. From Kagoshima we walk through wooded hills into the Kirishima-Yaku National Park. Here visit the ancient Kirishima Shrine and walk through the beautiful mature laurel forests around Lake Miike to observe wintering waterfowl. Dinner and overnight at a hot spring hotel in Kirishima.

February 14 Arasaki Crane Reserve, Izumi

The fallow rice paddies around the coastal village of Arasaki are the site of a spectacular winter gathering of Asian cranes. The sights and sounds of nearly 12,000 hooded and white-naped cranes make this one of the most powerful wildlife experiences one can hope for, and a photographer’s dream. Overnight at our hotel in Akune for the next two nights.

February 15 Arasaki Crane Reserve

Today is dedicated to the cranes and you may rise early to visit the main concentration at dawn to witness their mass departure from the roost. After breakfast explore the surrounding fields to photograph adults and juveniles and search for other wintering birds.

February 16 Izumi / Shirakawa-Go, Honshu / Takayama

After an early morning flight, leave Kyushu for the snowy mountains of central Honshu. Visit the village of Shirakawa-go, located in an isolated, steep, mountainous area of the Sho River Valley in the Chubu mountain range. This World Heritage Site showcases the unique architectural style of houses that resemble praying hands. Overnight in Takayama.

February 17 Takayama / Jigokudani

This morning explore the historical town of Takayama, visiting saké breweries and miso stores, before continuing by road to Jigokudani. Here you have the extraordinary opportunity to watch and photograph snow monkeys. Kambayashi Onsen, your accommodations for the next three nights, features an attractive and artistic interior and a delightful garden. With its own onsen (natural thermal spring) you are able to emulate generations of Japanese people (and the monkeys) and enjoy a relaxing and therapeutic soak in the mineral waters.

Feb 18 - Feb 19 Jigokudani

Jigokudani is a steep-sided valley set amid forested mountains. After breakfast walk along the mile-and-a-half trail to the viewing area and spend the day observing and photographing the two resident troops of Japanese macaques as they feed nearby and soak in their very own hot pools. Also keep a lookout for the shy and elusive Japanese serow, an ecological equivalent of the North American mountain goat, and birds such as the brown dipper and alpine accentor.

February 20 Jigokudani / Kushiro, Hokkaido

Today drive across Honshu and then fly from Tokyo to Kushiro. Arriving in eastern Hokkaido, more wildlife spectacles await—huge numbers of Japanese cranes, flocks of whooper swans, magnificent Steller’s sea eagles—and possibly Eurasian red squirrels, sika deer, and red fox. Overnight at a family-run hot spring hotel in Tsurui-mura for the next three nights.

Feb 21 - Feb 22 Kushiro Region

In snowy east Hokkaido, visit several areas to view Japanese cranes. You can expect to see flocks of 100 or more of these magnificent birds at ranges down to just 30 feet or less. Greeting ceremonies and courtship dances involve leaps and pirouettes, posturing, and trumpeting cries. Such behavior can be infectious, spreading through the flocks in waves, and oftentimes dozens of cranes are leaping and trumpeting in a thrilling display. 

Feb 23 - Feb 24 Akan National Park

Akan National Park is geothermally rich, and today you are presented with a variety of visually stunning subjects—steaming sulphuroles, Hokkaido’s most scenic crater lake, and flocks of vociferous whooper swans. In the evening retreat to your delightful lakeside hotel for a gourmet meal. 

February 25 Rauso, Shiretoko Peninsula

Today drive to the fishing port of Rausu, another of Japan’s World Heritage Sites. This rugged, mountainous finger of land attracts white-tailed eagles and Steller’s sea eagles, truly immense birds, half again as big as the bald eagle. Weather permitting, visit the edge of the sea ice by boat and lure these impressive raptors with fish scraps. Tonight stay at a local inn overlooking the sea.

February 26 Shiretoko Peninsula / Yoroushi

Depart early this morning for a second opportunity to watch the eagles at the ice edge. Following breakfast continue your exploration of eastern Hokkaido, first along the Shiretoko Peninsula for more views of winter wildfowl and raptors, and to watch for foxes, deer, and seals. Sightings of Steller’s sea lions and harbor seals are possible, and keep a look out for sea-urchin harvesters. Then head south to your accommodations inland at Yoroushi where you spend two nights. 

February 27 Yoroushi

Today explore the scenery of the southeast coast of Hokkaido, where there are more chances to encounter deer, foxes, and wintering swans, ducks, and raptors. Time permitting, you may also visit the workshop of a local wood-block printer.

February 28 Kushiro / Tokyo

After breakfast drive back to Kushiro for your flight south to Tokyo. Pause for your last glimpses of cranes and views of Kushiro marsh before saying farewell to Japan’s wildest island, Hokkaido. Overnight in Tokyo with a special farewell dinner. 

March 1 Tokyo / USA

Board your independent flight. Cross the Date Line and arrive in the USA on the same day.