Japan: Winter Festivals and Snow Monkeys Photography Expedition

  • Trip Type: Land
  • 11 Days | Round-trip Tokyo
  • Group Size: Max 16

Expedition Details


Focus your lens on Japan’s exquisite wintertime landscapes, where snow, ice, and steaming hot springs provide the backdrop to a thrilling wildlife display. Explore dynamic Tokyo, and then fly north to Hokkaido to document the island’s magnificent red-crowned cranes as they perform splendid courtship dances amid the snow. Zoom in on whooper swans congregating on crater lakes, and capture the ancient ways of the Ainu people. Marvel at ice and snow sculpture masterpieces at a winter festival; soak in soothing hot springs; and conclude your journey in the mountains of Nagano, photographing Japan's famed snow monkeys.

Trip Highlights

  • Fill your lens with the minimalist beauty of Japan’s winter landscapes, from steaming crater lakes to frost-fringed wetlands.
  • Hone your wildlife photography skills as you capture the theatrical courtship displays of red-crowned cranes and snow monkeys soaking in hot springs.
  • Go on a photo shoot at an Ainu cultural center, shooting portraits of Hokkaido's indigenous people and documenting a lively dance performance.
  • Savor the time-honored tradition of the Japanese onsen, or hot-spring bath, while staying at a lakeside hotel and a rustic ryokan.

Itinerary - 11 Days

Day 1 — Tokyo, Japan

Arrive in Japan and transfer to our centrally located hotel in one of Tokyo's dynamic neighborhoods.
Capitol Hotel Tokyu

Day 2 — Tokyo

Begin the day at Meiji Shrine, Tokyo's most important Shinto shrine. After lunch at a local restaurant, photograph the organized chaos at Shibuya Crossing, one of the busiest intersections in the world. Later, visit an antiquities museum or a Japanese garden and venture into a traditional teahouse to document the elaborate ritual of an authentic tea ceremony. Photograph the sunset over the Tokyo skyline before tonight's welcome dinner.
Capitol Hotel Tokyu (B,L,D)

Day 3 — Kushiro/Lake Akan

Fly to Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island. A photographer's dream, this vast wilderness is punctuated by snowcapped mountains, primordial forests, volcanoes, and lakes. Drive to the marshes north of the city, designated a national park in 1987 to protect a resident population of endangered red-crowned cranes, also known as Japanese cranes. Photograph the splendid courtship rituals of these magnificent birds as they dance and leap in the snow. Later, continue to our resort overlooking Lake Akan, and unwind in the hotel's hot springs.
Akan Yuku no Sato Tsuruga (B,L,D)

Day 4 — Lake Akan

Our day begins with an optional early-morning visit to Lake Kussharo to photograph the spectacular whooper swans. At a nearby cultural center, capture the colorful whirl of Ainu dancers clad in distinctly patterned costumes. Spend the afternoon exploring the geothermal wonders of Akan National Park, framing bubbling hot springs and steaming fumaroles against a backdrop of snow. Look for sika deer, red foxes, and other wildlife that congregate around thermal vents in the park's frozen crater lakes.
Akan Yuku no Sato Tsuruga (B,L,D)

Day 5 — Lake Akan/Sapporo

Go for an early photo walk along the shores of Lake Akan, or enjoy the hot springs at our hotel. Then depart by motor coach for a four-hour scenic drive to Sapporo, Hokkaido's capital city. Have lunch at a brewery, then bring your camera along for an exploration of Nijo Market, where vendors preside over gleaming piles of fish. Before dinner, head to an observation deck for photos of the city, which is beautifully illuminated during winter with hundreds of thousands of lights.
Keio Plaza Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 6 — Sapporo

Train your lens on the snow-and-ice wonders of the Sapporo Snow Festival, one of Japan’s largest winter events. Photograph crystalline masterpieces competing for the top prize in the festival's international snow sculpture contest, and sample traditional food from across the island.
Keio Plaza Hotel (B,L)

Day 7 — Sapporo/Nagano

Return to Tokyo by airplane and travel by coach to Nagano, site of the 1998 Winter Olympics. En route, stop at Matsumoto Castle to photograph its historic and dramatic architecture.
Hotel Metropolitan Nagano (B,L,D)

Day 8 — Nagano/Japan Alps

Along our way to the Japan Alps, stop for a walk and lunch in the charming small town of Obuse. Continue to our traditional Japanese inn, or ryokan, situated in Kanbayashi Onsen—a picturesque village brimming with natural hot springs. Spend the remainder of the day unwinding in soothing indoor baths and outdoor hot springs nestled amid snow-dappled gardens, or (time permitting) get a head start photographing the nearby snow monkeys.
Kanbayashi Hotel Senjukaku (B,L,D)

Day 9 — Japan Alps

Today, we focus our lenses on the northernmost-living, nonhuman primate in the world: the wild Japanese macaque, or snow monkey. A 30-45 minute walk along a nature trail brings us to Jigokudani Yaen-Koen (Monkey Park), where more than a hundred snow monkeys descend each day from the surrounding cliffs to bathe in the park's hot springs. Take advantage of extraordinary opportunities to observe and photograph the monkeys at close range, capturing their antics as they soak, groom, and play against a steamy, snow-draped backdrop. Cap off the day with a visually sumptuous, multicourse kaiseki dinner featuring seasonal ingredients.
Kanbayashi Hotel Senjukaku (B,L,D)

Day 10 — Japan Alps/Tokyo

Visit the seventh-century Zenko-ji temple, which houses the first Buddhist statue brought to Japan. Document the temple's elegant architecture and wander through surrounding courtyards to snap portraits of some of the several million pilgrims who visit each year. Return to Tokyo with a quintessential Japanese travel experience, moving at up to 200 miles per hour on the bullet train. This evening, gather for a farewell dinner.
Capitol Hotel Tokyu (B,L,D)

Day 11 — Tokyo

Transfer to the airport for your return flight home.

Related Trips

National Geographic Expert

Jasper Doest

Jasper DoestOver the past several years, photographer Jasper Doest has captured a stunning diversity of images chronicling the lives of Japanese macaques. His “snow monkey” photographs received recognition in the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition and appeared in National Geographic magazine. Through his photographic work, Jasper tries to give a voice to those who can’t speak our language or are often misunderstood, emphasizing the beauty and fragility of our planet. Jasper is a regular contributor to the Dutch editions of National Geographic and National Geographic Traveler magazines, and he is a Fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers.

Jasper will join the following departures:

Feb 02 - 12, 2018
Feb 24 - Mar 06, 2018


  • Feb 02 - 12, 2018 (waitlist only)
  • Feb 24 - Mar 06, 2018 ALT

ALT indicates a departure that has a slightly different itinerary than the one shown on this page. Click the ALT icon to see the day-to-day itinerary.

Expedition Cost



Price is per person, double occupancy. For a single room, add $2,595.

International airfare to/from Tokyo and airfare within Japan are not included in the expedition cost. The group flights within Japan are $440-$490 (subject to change) depending on the departure date.

In order to optimize photographic opportunities and allow for better access to our National Geographic photographer, these trips are limited to 16 travelers.

Featured Traveler Photo

Activity Level


Travelers should be in good health and comfortable walking or standing for extended periods of time. Daily activities may include city walking tours, visits to sites, game drives, or easy hikes, with options for more physical activities such as hiking, kayaking, snorkeling and biking.

Click here for a description of all activity levels.

What To Expect

Travelers wishing to see the snow monkeys must be able to walk 1.2 miles each way along a forested path that can be icy, snowy, and muddy in winter. Travelers should be prepared to encounter slippery conditions. Sturdy footwear with good traction is necessary.

The Akan Yuku no Sato Tsuruga hotel and Kanbayashi Hotel Senjukaku ryokan are traditional Japanese accommodations with futons set atop tatami mats on the floor.