During the winter Japan becomes a wildlife watchers and wildlife photographers paradise and the wonderful winter wildlife is the main focus of this trip, firstly we visit Hokkaido where we will spend time watching the regal courtship dances of the Japanese cranes before visiting the wintering whooper swans on the caldera lakes in the volcanic lands of Shiretoko National Park. But also in Hokkaido we will take cruises out of both Rausu and Abashiri (Abashiri in a ice breaker) where the huge and powerful Stellers sea eagles compete for fish along with white-tailed eagles and the local fisherman and at one of the onsens we will be staying at we will hopefully see the world’s largest species of owl the Blakistons fish owl as they often visit the stream and pond on the property during winter as do resident sables from time to time. From Hokkaido we travel south to Honshu and into the heart of the Japanese Alps; here the many geothermal features manifest in a collection of hot springs that are utilised by Japan’s most iconic and charismatic mammal. We are of course here to see the Japanese macaques (of snow monkeys) as they warm themselves in the hot springs throughout the long cold winter. In addition to the wilderness of Hokkaido and the Japanese Alps we will also travel to some of the capitals most famous sights. As we fully experience Japanese winter wildlife and some of the rich culture and history of this fantastic country.
Ice Breaker trip through Arctic Pac Ice
Local expert biologist guides throughout
Steller Sea Eagle winter photography
Two trips to the Snow Monkey hotsprings
Night trips for Blakistons fish owl
Experience traditional and modern Japan
Japanese Red-crowned Crane
Stellers Sea Eagle
Tour Dates: 23/2/2021 – 8/3/2021
Duration: 13 nights
Type / Focus: Winter Wildlife
When you arrive in the Japans capital the busy and ultra-modern Tokyo you will be met by your local guide and transferred to your accommodation, level – 3-4* hotel (Keikyu EX Inn). As most flights arrive to Japan during the evening or night we recommend resting tonight and preparing for a full day in Tokyo tomorrow.
This morning you will be shown around some of this iconic and wonderful city, comparing the traditional and modern aspects of Tokyo is half the fun of visiting the city and we will visit locations such as the Japanese bonsai garden, Imperial Palace, Nijubashi Bridge, Odaiba Bridge, Kaminari-mon Gate as well as the iconic Omotesando Street and the famous intersection at Shibuya. You will also be taken to the amazing Tsukiji; this huge outdoor fish market is the heart of soul of Japanese food cuisine and seeing all of this beautiful sushi before it is prepared is an ideal way to prepare for your evening meal back at the accommodation, level – 3-4* hotel (Keikyu EX Inn) or a nearby restaurant.
Akan International Crane Centre / Hokkaido
This morning we will travel to Haneda airport in Tokyo to catch our flight north to the island of Hokkaido. This is the second largest island in Japan and is very sparsely population compared with Honshu (the largest island) and as a result Hokkaido contains some of the wildest and most remote areas of the country. During the winter the island is also mostly snow covered and the north-eastern coastline become clogged with frozen sea ice. Whilst in Hokkaido we will be visiting many of Japan’s best wildlife locations and once we arrive in Kushiro we will meet our local guide Mr. Kuhawara (who is the Japanese number one wolf biologist and expert in all things Japanese wildlife); and taken to our accommodation for the night, around 40 minutes from the town of Kushiro. After checking in and having some lunch we will have an afternoon at one of the crane sanctuaries. There are two protected areas around here that have become incredibly important for the continued survival of the red-crowned crane. These protected areas are Tsurui-Ito Tancho Sanctuary and the Akan International Crane Centre. This afternoon we will visit Tsurui-Ito Sanctuary where they have been leaving food out for the cranes since 1983. The cranes have been protected here since the 1920’s when only 20 or so were discovered feeding on a farmers land and he realised their significance as they had been declared extinct in Japan previous to this. During the winter the red-crowned cranes congregate in these sanctuaries and are protected, due to this incredible protection they have increased in numbers to over 2,700 at present. The main reason for coming here are of course the cranes and their amazing dancing as they perform in synchrony with their partner. They seem to glide and bounce over the snow covered ground in unison and the main aim of this is to build and strengthen bonds with each other.. Whilst spending time around here it is possible to see white-tailed eagles, black-eared kites, whooper swans, white-naped cranes, Latham’s snipe, long-tailed rosefinch, marsh tit and the grey-faced woodpecker. Once the cranes leave for their roost sites we will head back to the accommodation for dinner.
Akan International Crane Sanctuary
This morning we can wake up at dawn and visit the cranes again, they do not usually arrive at the feeding stations until around 09:00am so we will visit the famous Otowa-bashi Bridge at dawn and hopefully (with no wind and with low temperatures) the river mist and frosty trees will add to the atmospheric feeling as the cranes roost in the river each night. We will then change hotel after breakfast and move to one that is over the road from the world famous Akan International Crane Centre. By staying here you will have access to the feeding station throughout the afternoon and this is the site where the cranes are fed fish and this fish attracts white-tailed eagles and black-eared kites and the frenzy of feeding is incredible to watch.
This morning we are free to wake up early and end over the road to the crane feeding station at the Akan International Crane Centre. The reserve does not open until later in the morning and there is a chance that many of the cranes will still be in their roost, but we will see if any of them are there and if you would like we can arrange another dawn trip to the Otowa-bashi Bridge before having breakfast back at the hotel. We will then pack up our bags and leave for Nakashibetsu (~2 hours). This drive will take us further east and north wards and along the way we will stop for any wildlife we see. We will pass through the Kushiro National Park, this park is well known for its wetland ecosystems which are frozen solid during the long winter. The reedbeds, forests, marshes and bogs have a high diversity of plant life (with over 600 species known) and there are many bird species. Around here the top target for us is once again the red-crowned crane and we hope to also find eagles, red fox, sika deer and maybe a Japanese marten. Once we arrive at the wonderful lodge (or onsen in Japanese) in Nakashibestu we will be able to explore some of the surrounding areas; the areas around the lodge are beautiful with pristine forests, mountains and hot springs, but the real treat of staying here is during the evening when the world’s largest species of owl sometimes visits a small stream running through the lodge grounds. Over the years this large, rare and beautiful owl (the Blakistons fish owl) have become very used to people and this is one of the best place in the world to see and photograph the Blakistons fish owl; even though sightings are not guaranteed. This is the one targeted species on this trip that can be difficult and unpredictable). But we have two nights here to see if one shows up. Whilst here there are also many species of birds that are attracted to the feeders such as hawfinches, greater-spotted woodpeckers, Eurasian jay which are wonderful to watch and there is a small population of sable that are resident around the lodge and are very entertaining. So we will arrive at the lodge in plenty of time to see the owls if they arrive tonight. The lodge is also famous for its own hot springs which you are welcome to try; the lodge was established in 1929 and since then it has become well known for its owls, hot springs and traditional food using local ingredients.
Today we will spend the day exploring the surrounding areas for wildlife, and visiting Kussharo Lake in the morning, here many whooper swans spend the winter as the caldera lakes have ice free pockets that attract the swans. There are many other species to be seen around here including red foxes, sika deer, wild boar, Stellers sea eagle and many more. As well as trying to find the wildlife around Nakashibetsu we will also pay a visit to Mr. Kuhawara’s home, we will aim to have a local venison stir-fry lunch here and be introduced to the wolves and several other animals that Mr. Kuhawara owns for his own studies and conservation. We will also spend some time around the lodge as the lodge ground also attract rare visitors including the yellow-cream coloured sable and the also endemic Hokkaido squirrel. The bird feeders also bring in greater-spotted woodpeckers, Japanese tits, marsh tits and the mountain streams play host to crested and Eurasian kingfishers too. So as well as staking out the feeders, streams and likely spots for sable around the lodge and exploring the surrounding wilderness, we will once again arrive back in the late afternoon in order to see if the Blakistons fish owl has arrived for its nightly fishing.
This morning we will leave Nakashibetsu and travel further north to the coastal town of Rausu. Rausu is located on the eastern side of the Shiretoko Peninsula which is the most north-easterly point of the main Japanese islands. It is the largest town of the Shiretoko peninsula and due to the abundance of marine life offshore (thanks to the productive Nemuro Strait current) fishing is a major industry here. However so is tourism; during the summer whale and dolphin watching is very popular and during the winter the frozen sea attracts large numbers (the world’s largest aggregation) of huge Stellers sea eagles and white-tailed eagles. Along with these magnificent birds there are often many seals that drift on the sea ice and take advantage of the fish that are readily available once the sea ice begins to crack and break up slightly. Today we will check into the accommodation and then explore some of the peninsula, including the stunning coastline line here, the sea ice forming intricate and ever changing patterns as far as the eye can see. The Shiretoko Peninsula is famed for its rugged wilderness consisting of high mountains, dense forests and rivers rich in salmon during the summer and autumn. This abundance of salmon is the reason for the world’s densest aggregation of brown bears. However they are all hibernating during the winter and we will be confronted with an imposing and stunning frozen wonderland. The major mountain here is Mt. Rausu and it stands at 1,660m (5,312ft) and it visible from almost everywhere on the peninsula. Most of the park is only accessible by foot or boat and in winter the access is even more reduced than normal; so we are limited to where we can go. However we will explore as much as possible along the east coast of the park and hopefully see many sea eagles and seals on the sea ice and of course deer, foxes, squirrels and other birds and mammals in the forests. Tomorrow we will rise early as we head out at dawn on our first ice-breaker cruise.
Nemuro Strait / Shiretoko National Park
This morning we will leave the hotel before dawn and head out on our first cruise into the coastal waters of northern Hokkkaido. This is the most southerly that there is sea ice and the ice comes from the Amur River in Russia to the north. The major draw card for any wildlife enthusiast here is the large aggregation of Stellers sea eagles that winter here. With only around 5,000 Stellers sea eagles remaining in the world this population of around 2,000 is globally important. Also around here are many white-tailed eagles. These huge birds are among the largest flying birds in the world but they are dwarfed by the incredibly powerful and majestic Stellers sea eagles. The reason for the concentrations of these large fish eating eagles is the abundance of fish that is found here, with the cold up-wellings of the Nemura current bringing rich nutrients from the deep Pacific ocean and forming the basis of a very rich and productive marine ecosystem. Whilst on the boat we should be able to see the eagles all around the boat and within a few meters of us as they fly around the boat as well as feeding, resting and jostling for position on the sea ice. During the morning (we will spend around 2.5 hours on the boat) it is not uncommon to see many of these birds together and the behaviours you can witness in a morning is incredible. It is also not unusual to see largha seals, glaucous gulls, slaty-backed gulls as well as many species of ducks and other marine birds, of which northern pintail, harlequin and long-tailed ducks are among the most beautiful. For the rest of the morning (even from the hotel and shore) it is possible to see the eagles as they aggregate around here in large numbers. On our return to the hotel we will leave Rausu and travel through the Shiretoko and Akan National Park towards Utoro on the west side of the peninsula. This drive is one of the most stunning in all of Japan as we travel between Mt. Rausu and Mt. Onnebetsu and it may be possible to see deer, red foxes and other wildlife during the drive this afternoon. Utoto will be our base for the next two nights, being the gateway to Shiretoko National Park we will be able to easily explore the park from here. There is a chance that we can gain access to a second location which is reliable for Blakistons fish owl if we have not seen one at Nakashibetsu, this will have to be decided whilst we are there.
Shiretoko National Park
This morning we will rise early and head into Shiretoko National Park, whilst exploring the stunning coastlines and forests of Shiretoko National Park we will hopefully be able to enjoy more photography of the sea ice, seals, eagles, deer, foxes and many more species of wildlife. This is one of Japan’s most pristine and pretty landscapes and is well worth the full day exploring the region in order to fully appreciate the wildlife and environment. We will also have the opportunity to walk out onto the sea ice here and explore this very alien and pristine environment, in dry suits there is also the chance for you to take a dip by breaking through the ice and experiencing the frozen sea water. This is a chance not be missed, we will also search for the sea angel, a small and adorable jellyfish that lives under the sea ice here.
This morning after breakfast we will travel from Utoro west along the coastline towards Abashiri, stopping at bird watching locations such as the many brakish lagoons that attract water birds such as whooper swans, northern pintails, glaucous gulls, goldeneyes and slaty-backed gulls. We will also search for raptors as eagles, kites and buzzards are all readily seen along the roadsides. We will then carry on to Abarshiri and check into the hotel. After lunch we will explore a small forest between a housing estate and the coast, here there is a small population of Japanese pygmy flying squirrels that can be seen if we stake them out in the evening. Afterwards you will return to the hotel for your last dinner and night spent in Hokkaido.
Abashiri / Jigodukani Snow Monkey Park
This morning we will have an ice-breaker cruise. Whilst on the boat we will have the chance to see seals (mostly largha seals, but a number of Arctic species can be found here; including rarities like the ribbon seal that are usually only seen way out in the deep oceans); as well as eagles and sea ducks like greater scaup, harlequin ducks and white-tailed scoters. We will then head straight to Memanbetsu airport to catch our flight back to Tokyo; from here we will depart Tokyo on the incredible bullet train. Travelling at 260kmph the journey to Nagano (the closest bullet train station to Jigodukani Snow Monkey Park) only takes around 1 hour 40 minutes. From here we will travel by local (or normal) train the rest of the journey to Yamanouchi and then we take a taxi to our hotel. Located a short walk from the park this is an ideal base for our visits to the snow monkeys. Today however it will be late by the time we make it to the hotel and so we will just have dinner and then prepare for a full day with the wonderful Japanese macaques tomorrow.
Jigodukani Snow Monkey Park
Today after breakfast we will walk for 1.6km through the forest to the park entrance, and towards the hot springs where the monkeys congregate during the winter. Along the trail to and from the hot springs it is possible to see Japanese macaques, they spend the nights in the forest and arrive at the hot springs during the morning; plus there are strict hierarchies in place that dictate which macaques can use the hot springs and which cannot. As a result there are usually a few in the trees that cannot get into the hot springs. Also sometimes seen around the hot springs are the endemic and unusual Japanese serow as well as Japanese squirrels and various forest birds including species of finches and tits. But of course our main focus is the Japanese macaque and we will spend the majority of the day surrounded by many macaques as they play, relax and socialise in the warm and steaming hot springs. Their behaviour is incredible to watch and after a couple of hours here you will begin to understand their subtle intricacies and complex language of facial expressions, calls and body language. The macaques are very used to people and they are quite bold, it is a good idea to keep hole of everything in locked bags and zipped pockets, but this boldness does allow for close up photographs. The park here and the macaques are one of Japan’s main tourist attractions and the park is always busy; but we have all day and also tomorrow morning so we have plenty of time to spend with the macaques. We will take our lunch in a cafe at the park so we do not have to walk to and from the hotel any more than necessary; so when we return to the hotel in the evening we will very much welcome a warm saki and the cosy surroundings.
Jigodukani Snow Monkey Park / Tokyo
This morning we will visit the snow monkeys once again for more photography of these engaging and wonderful primates in their fairy-tale setting. We will also hope for a Japanese serow sighting along the pathway to the hotsprings. Then in the mid morning we will return to the hotel and depart for the capital Tokyo. Once again we will utilise the comprehensive train system in Japan and use both the local ‘normal’ trains as well as the ultra-modern Bullet train. On arrival in Tokyo we will check into our accommodation at the airport (4* hotel), have dinner in a nearby restaurant before relaxing for our last night in Japan.
This morning you will be taken to the airport in time to meet your return flight home.
This tour is available on different date (subject to availability) please contact us for more details about running this tour on a date which suits you more.
The weather in northern Japan is very cold in February / March with an average temperature of just -5 degrees C. There is also a fair amount of snow fall during the winter too with snow fall on over half the days. So prepare for the cold and deep snow underfoot and possibly rain whilst at sea.
Everything mentioned in the itinerary is included. Including three meals per day (breakfast, lunch and dinner). There will be an amount of bottled water (approx 1ltr) available for each guest each day. We have our own private vehicle to be driven by a local guide for transfers and taxis when needed. We have included the services of one of Japans leading biologists whilst in Hokkaido and have a great team of local guides throughout.
All our excursions including guided walks, ice-breaker trips, guide fees, sightseeing fees and park entrance fees are also included.
We recommend you bring along your own binoculars or scope as well as appropriate clothing; which should be a very warm clothes, such as a down jacket or Parker, fleece, woolly hat, pair of gloves, scarf and long trousers, thermal underwear and other cold weather gear can be useful. Comfortable, waterproof walking shoes are a must. Any medication, books or other items of a personal nature is of course up to you to bring along. Oh and please bring plenty of memory cards or film for your camera.
We provide a comprehensive species list of all the vertebrates present in the areas we are visiting as well as some of the best field guides and reference books for the areas we are visiting. We provide a couple of binoculars and at least one spotting scope. Camera Traps will also be used to try and capture hard to see wildlife in the dead of night and wildlife scanners etc are used when needed (subject to local conditions).
Nearly everything is included in this tour. The only things not included are international flights and flights within Japan, (special tourist air passes can and should be purchased together with international tickets. For more information on the flights that you need to book please contact us and we will let you know), Travel insurance (contact us for more information one what is required from your insurance policy), any food bought outside of the three main meals, drinks outside of any offered with the meals and the bottled water provided each day and any items of a personal nature such as souvenirs and tips. Any applicable departure taxes and not included (but maybe included in the cost of your flights). Please check before departure.
International air tickets – when purchasing an international ticket, make sure that the airline is part of the oneworld team. This includes Air Berlin, American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines, LAN, Mexicana, Qantas, Royal Jordanian, S7 Airlines and this will allow you to also purchase a discounted oneworld Yokoso pass which makes your internal flights very cheap. If you book with another airline then the Visit Japan Fare will be applicable. For more information you can visit http://www.jal.co.jp/yokosojapan/ . It is worth noting that either passes are very cheap and make the internal flights very good value. When it comes to time of booking then I recommend you contact the UK office and they will talk you through the best way of purchasing what you need.
All UK passport holders are not required to have a visa for Japan but there are criteria for entering (it is all pretty standard requirements but worth checking first). However things change so the easiest way to find information is by visiting http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/arrange/essential/visa.html (be aware that this link leaves our site and we at Royle Safaris hold no responsibility for information on the site).
There are no mandatory vaccinations needed to visit the USA. Please consult your GP about your individual requirements for visiting the Japan as soon as you have decided on this trip.
Mr & Mrs. Kilgannon, Humberside
Derek & Sally Howes, Essex
Patrick Stolz, Switzerland
Mrs. Sara Page - Northampton
Mr. Mark Baldridge - Northampton, UK
Mr. & Mrs. Yu - Saratoga, California, USA
Eileen Collins - London, UK
Jess & Peter Wilcox - Washington State, US