Start: February 5, 2024, Tokyo, Japan
End: February 16, 2024, Tokyo, Japan
Group: Maximum 8 guests
Winter Wildlife Journey with Japanese Flavor
Winter in Japan is a truly magical time of year, revealing a type of mystical beauty that is hard if not impossible to match. Japan is a mountainous country, with many of its regions covered in snow during the winter months. In fact, about 70% of Japan's land area is mountainous, with the Japanese Alps and other mountain ranges dominating much of the landscape. The country's northern regions, such as Hokkaido, see particularly heavy snowfall during the winter months, with some areas receiving several meters of snow each year.
On this trip, we will visit the best locations to observe and photograph the incredible winter wildlife of the island of Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s main islands. It is known for its volcanoes and natural hot springs (onsen). On Hokkaido, with a snow-covered backdrop, we will witness and photograph beautiful and rare, Japanese cranes dancing and displaying at their riverine roosts and at their feeding grounds. Delightful whooper swans at ice-coated and mist-fringed lakes are another opportunity for great shoots. We also will experience private boat rides among the shimmering pack ice and photograph one of the world's largest and most dramatic raptors—the Steller's sea eagles and White-tailed Sea Eagles.
In addition to these main subjects, we may have opportunities to photograph other local wildlife.
We also can organize a photoshoot of a Japanese Ghost - Blakiston’s Fish-Ow that regularly comes to Minshuku’s local river to fish. The owl almost always comes, to the same spot where the local hotel owner equipped the place with warm cozy hides and illuminates it during the night with pulse light allowing for good photos. This activity is optional and could be booked during our stay in Rausu.
After visiting Hokkaido, we will return to Honshu and travel to Jigokudani Valley - a scenic area located in Yamanouchi, in Nagano Prefecture. The valley is best known for its resident population of Japanese macaques, also known as snow monkeys. Snow monkeys are famous for their habit of soaking in the valley's hot springs to keep warm during the winter months. We will spend two full days photographing these charismatic and highly approachable animals. The Jigokudani Monkey Park is the only place in the world where Snow Monkeys have been observed soaking in hot springs to stay warm during the cold winter months.
We will be staying in both traditional and western-style hotels, which is a great way to experience the different sides of Japan's culture and hospitality. Traditional Japanese inns, or "ryokans," offer a unique and immersive experience that can't be found in other types of accommodations. Ryokans typically feature traditional tatami rooms with futon bedding, communal hot spring baths, and elaborate kaiseki dinners featuring local and seasonal ingredients. Staying in traditional hotels and experiencing local food is a great way to fully immerse yourself in the culture and cuisine of Japan, and to create lasting memories in addition to the impressive photo portfolio you will bring home from this trip.
Our flights between Tokyo and Kushiro are included in the price. All other transportation is private. We are using a comfortable private bus with a driver and local guide when in Hokkaido, which is an excellent way to ensure comfortable and hassle-free travel and enjoy a more personalized and flexible itinerary. Private boat charters in Rausu, including bait fish, will allow a unique and memorable experience and get up close with the local eagles. We can choose the right time of the day and weather conditions.
When we back to Honshu - a private bus from Tokyo to Jigokudani in Nagano prefecture (Snow Monkeys park) and back will be a great way to reach this popular attraction while enjoying the comfort and convenience of private transportation. We will avoid the crowds and queues associated with public transportation. With a private bus, we can also stop at other interesting locations along the way, and customize the itinerary to our needs. Also, we will avoid the crowds associated with public transportation and skip dragging luggage and equipment through all the connections via buses and shinkansen.
☛ FEATURE: MULTIPLE DAYS IN ALL KEY LOCATIONS The weather in Japan during the winter months can be moody, and conditions can change rapidly from day to day. By spending multiple nights in key locations, we'll increase our chances of catching the perfect light, weather, and conditions for our photographs.
☛ FEATURE: MAXIMUM COMFORT / MINIMUM BUSTLE All transportation and internal flights are included in the price. We will use private transportation such as buses, minivans, and even privately chartered boats. Besides maximizing comfort and minimizing time, we will be able to customize the route and schedule to our needs.
☛ FEATURE: SMALL GROUP / TWO EXPERIENCED GUIDES We will have two experienced guides on this trip and the number of participants will be limited to 8. So you are the focus of our attention. Due to the small size of the group, you have the opportunity to discuss with us photographic techniques and artistic tricks and immediately put them into practice.
Day 1 | February 5, 2024
- Arrive at Tokyo Haneda airport and check in at Haneda Excel Hotel Tokyu located in Terminal 2. The room will be booked in your name.
There are two major international airports in Tokyo: Haneda and Narita. We recommend arriving at Haneda as our flight the next day leaves from this airport.
- Welcome dinner at the hotel.
Day 2 | February 6, 2024
- After breakfast in the hotel, we are flying from Haneda Airport to Kushiro on the northern island of Hokkaido. Our private guide, bus, and driver will accompany us throughout our Hokkaido exploration.
- Our first destination - Tsurui Mura Crane Reserve yields extraordinary shots of courting Japanese (red-crowned) cranes. We also may spot white-tailed eagles and black-eared kites. Though some of the cranes here are local nesters, many of the birds we see here are migrants from Siberia and Kamchatka. Our hotel is located in close proximity to the main shooting points. We expect snow to be on the ground (and hopefully also falling) during our visit to Hokkaido.
- We will arrive at the hotel in Tsurui Mura Crane Reserve in the afternoon and check in for three nights. After settling in your rooms, discuss upcoming adventures with your tour leaders at a delicious Japanese dinner and soak in the traditional and world-famous Hokkaido onsen bath.
Day 3 | February 7, 2024
- Today we rise early to photograph Japanese cranes from a famous bridge where views of the birds roosting in the river can yield extraordinary images of frost, fog, and early pastel light.
- Following breakfast (and warm-up) we shoot cranes and, possibly white-tailed eagles. During the day, we will move from point to point (there are three of them in the park), choosing the best angles. We shoot until the evening, focusing on the activity of birds. There is a chance we also see red foxes and sika deer. Our busy day ends after in-flight shots of cranes as they head to roost.
- Well-deserved dinner and onsen bath at the hotel.
Day 4 | February 8, 2024
- Another full day at Tsurui Mura Crane Reserve. Winter weather in Japan can be unpredictable, with conditions ranging from clear blue skies to heavy snowfall. An extra day at the reserve can give you more opportunities to capture the cranes in different weather conditions and lighting, allowing to experiment with different photography techniques and styles.
Day 5 | February 9, 2024
- In the early morning, we are going back to the bridge for the iconic Tsurui Mura scene. The weather is never the same in this place, and all photo opportunities will be different.
- After breakfast, we will check out and drive to Lake Mashu for the snowy landscapes of its massive volcanic caldera. After Mashu we'll move to "Svan Lake" and spend the evening photographing whooper swans.
- Check in to the hotel, and well-deserved dinner.
Day 6 | February 10, 2024
- As early morning steam from the geothermal hot spots rises from the lake, throngs of whooper swans arrive for their morning feeding. Wonderful flight shots of their arrival are possible, followed by extraordinary photo opportunities of them landing on the ice—their large black feet spread behind them, acting as brakes to control airspeed. For many participants, the swan photos may become the most "artistic" shots created on this trip.
- Explore the Shiretoko Peninsula, passing through snowy national parklands en route to Rausu. We may pause on the way to photograph rugged snowy mountain scenery.
- Check in to the hotel for three nights.
Days 7-8 | February 11-12, 2024
- This part of the trip is to photograph the Stellers and White Tailed Sea Eagles from a boat. It is 100% dependent on weather, and pack ice conditions and we added an extra day to beat the odds.
- Each day our plan is to photograph white-tailed and Steller's sea eagles on the pack ice on a two-hour private morning photo cruise out of the fishing village of Rausu. Once we reach the ice (if there is any ice), we empty boxes of fish into larger ice chunks. If not, we empty boxes into the water. More than 100 immense Steller's eagles and their smaller white-tailed cousins—waiting for the treat—come from all directions and provide spectacular shots. We capture their exciting images in flight, on ice, picking fish from the water, and fighting for fish—just a few feet from the boat.
- Our time frame is flexible and will completely depend on weather conditions. We may even have to take both two-hour trips in one day. In the ideal scenario, we will photograph for two hours during two mornings and have free time afterward. We can soak in the onsen, sort and discuss images, and have some rest before a long travel day en route to Nagano, where we will spend busy days with snow monkeys. We also can explore the mountain landscapes of Shiretoko National Park or book an optional night photoshoot of Blakiston's fish owls. We can book spots in bird-watching hides right by a stream where a pair of Blakiston's fish owls feed almost nightly. The owls are also accustomed to flash, which makes this an ideal place for anyone interested in photographing this impressive owl.
Day 9 | February 13, 2024
- Travel day. We drive to Memanbetsu Airport (app. 2 hours) and board our two hours flight to Tokyo. Upon arrival, we'll be met by our private chartered bus and will drive (4.5 hours) into the Japanese Alps coming right to our hotel. Private transportation allows us to avoid the hassles of transferring baggage and camera gear through Japan's inconvenient (for travelers with luggage) train stations.
- Upon arrival - we are checking in to our charming ryokan for three nights.
Days 10-11 | February 14-15, 2024
- Next two days we will live on the "standard schedule". Jigokudani is located in the northern part of the Joshinetsu Kogen National Park and is surrounded by steep cliffs and dense forests. The valley is accessible only via walking trail. This easy 30-minute trail from our delightful inn will immerse us in backcountry charm and bring to to hot springs.
- We'll photograph hot-tubbing monkeys, babies clutching their mother's fur, dominant males as they argue over territory, old matriarchs, and juveniles playing with "snowballs"
- In the evenings we will enjoy delicious dinners, and soak in the indoor or outdoor onsen.
- Due to the short length of good light in this steep canyon, we recommend bringing snacks or sandwiches and skipping unnecessary returns to town for lunch. This will maximize the time for photography.
Day 12 | February 16, 2024
- Drive to Tokyo in private bus and board flights home the same day.
Accommodation and Meals
A wonderful feature of this trip is the charming traditional inns (ryokans) and lodges where we stay — almost a "stone's throw" from our photography locations. After a chilly session in the field, it is a pleasure to retreat to delightful accommodations that offer a chance to rejuvenate before returning to the field. Most hotels have their own natural hot bath - onsen. We will stay in both - traditional and western style rooms.
Japanese traditional multi-course food (also called kaiseki) is all made with locally grown and seasonally available ingredients such as Shinshu beef, chicken, and vegetables like mushrooms. And don't forget about the wagyu - the world-famous japanize marble beef! It has different taste in different regions. In Nagano prefecture, for example, cows are fed locally grown apples, as Nagano is the apple prefecture.
Weather and Fitness Level
Most of our shooting locations are an easy few-minute walk from the bus. We will not climb or go on long hikes on this tour, but you should be able to walk on uneven and possibly icy surfaces. The longest walk will be a 30-minute stroll to photograph monkeys in Jigokudani.
You must be prepared for mild winter weather with temperatures ranging from +3 to -10°C, snow days, and long sessions outdoors. There is always a possibility to warm up on the bus, or in the special warming room in the park from time to time.
What is Included
INCLUDED IN THE PRICE
*Single Accommodation ($900 value) FREE with booking before May 30th
- Accommodations for 11 nights*
- All land transfers
- Return airfare (economy) from Tokyo to Hokkaido
- All entrance fees to photography locations
- Private bus charter from Tokyo to Nagano/Jigokudani and back
- All breakfasts and dinners
- Comfortable private bus with driver and local guide when in Hokkaido
- Privately chartered boats for eagles photo sessions (including plenty of fish to attract raptors)
- All drives to the various wildlife sites
- Two professional photography guides
- Image reviews and critique
NOT INCLUDED IN THE PRICE
- International airfare to and from Tokyo
- Lunches (usually we won't have time for them and recommend carrying some snacks instead)
- Alcoholic beverages
- Items of a personal nature
- Travel Insurance.
- Visa fees (if applicable)
- Any extras not mentioned in the included list such as extra meals and activities
Terms of Payment
A deposit payment of $2500 is required to confirm booking. We will send you payment instructions upon registration. The remaining balance is due October 5, 2023.
Please register for this expedition using the form below.