Snow Monkeys & Cranes of Japan
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.
Depart USA / Tokyo, JapanJanuary 16 — January 17
Board your independent flight, arriving in Tokyo the next day. Check in to Haneda Excel Tokyu for dinner and overnight.
Tokyo / Kagoshima / KirishimaJanuary 18
A morning flight takes you to Kyushu Island. From Kagoshima, drive 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 resident forest birds and wintering waterfowl. Dinner and overnight at a hot spring hotel in Kirishima.
Arasaki Crane ReserveJanuary 19
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 14,000 hooded and white-naped cranes make this one of the most powerful wildlife experiences one can hope for, and a photographer’s dream. This area is one of the best in Japan for winter birdwatching. Overnight at Hotel Sengokutei for the next two nights.
Arasaki Crane ReserveJanuary 20
Rise early to visit the main concentration of cranes to witness their mass departure from the roost at dawn. After breakfast, explore the surrounding fields to photograph adults and juveniles and search for other wintering birds.
Arasaki Crane Reserve / Nagoya / Shirakawa-go / TakayamaJanuary 21
Leave Kyushu on an early morning flight 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. This World Heritage Site showcases the unique architectural style of houses that resemble hands folded in prayer. Overnight in Takayama.
Takayama / Kambayashi OnsenJanuary 22
This morning explore the historical town of Takayama, visiting saké breweries and miso stores, before continuing by road to Matsumoto (for a visit to the historical castle) and Kambayashi Onsen. Here you have the extraordinary opportunity to watch and photograph snow monkeys. Your ryokan, or inn, 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.
Kambayashi Onsen / JigokudaniJanuary 23 — January 24
Jigokudani is a steep-sided valley set amid forested mountains. After breakfast walk along the mile-long trail to the viewing area and spend the day observing and photographing the resident troop of Japanese macaques as they feed nearby and soak in their very own hot pool. Also keep a lookout for the shy and elusive Japanese serow, and birds such as the brown dipper and alpine accentor.
Kambayashi Onsen / Tokyo / KushiroJanuary 25
Today drive across Honshu and then fly from Tokyo to Kushiro. Arriving in eastern Hokkaido, more wildlife spectacles await—huge numbers of red-crowned cranes, flocks of whooper swans, magnificent Steller’s eagles—and possibly Eurasian red squirrels, Japanese deer, and red fox. Overnight at a family-run hot spring hotel in Tsurui-mura for the next three nights.
Kushiro RegionJanuary 26 — January 27
In snowy east Hokkaido, visit several areas to view red-crowned cranes. You can expect to see large flocks of these magnificent birds at ranges down to just 100 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 leap and trumpet together in a thrilling display.
Akan-Mashu National ParkJanuary 28 — January 29
The Akan-Mashu National Park is geothermally rich and over two days you will explore a variety of visually stunning subjects—volcanic peaks, steaming sulphuroles, Hokkaido’s most scenic crater lake, and flocks of vociferous whooper swans. In the evening, retreat to your delightful lakeside pension for a gourmet meal.
Rausu, Shiretoko PeninsulaJanuary 30
Today drive to the Shiretoko Peninsula, another of Japan’s World Heritage Sites. This rugged, mountainous finger of land attracts white-tailed and Steller’s 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.
Shiretoko Peninsula / YoroushiJanuary 31
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 lion and harbor seal are possible), and keep a look out for sea-urchin harvesters. Then head south to your accommodations inland at Yoroushi where you will spend two nights.
Today explore the scenery of the southeast coast of Hokkaido, where there are more chances to encounter deer and foxes, as well as wintering swans, ducks, and raptors. Time permitting, you may also visit the workshop of a local wood-block printer.
Yoroushi / Kushiro / TokyoFebruary 2
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 at Okura Hotel Tokyo, with a special farewell dinner.
Tokyo / USAFebruary 3
Board your independent flight and arrive in the USA on the same day.