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Venture to Japan during the heart of winter, when snow-mantled mountains, frost-fringed wetlands, and steaming crater lakes set the stage for an incredible wildlife spectacle. Explore dynamic Tokyo, and then fly to the wild island of Hokkaido to witness the splendid courtship displays of the endangered red-crowned crane. Search for whooping swans, red foxes, and sika deer amid the geothermal landscapes of Akan National Park, and learn about the ancient ways of the indigenous Ainu people. Continue to Sapporo to experience the city’s internationally-renowned winter festival. Conclude our journey amid the hot springs of Kanbayashi Onsen, enjoying up-close encounters with Japan’s famous snow monkeys.
Marvel at snow- and ice-sculpted masterpieces at either the Sounkyo Hyobaku (Ice Waterfall) Festival or the Sapporo Snow Festival.
Get up close to rare and wonderful winter wildlife: splendid red- crowned cranes, Steller’s sea eagles, snow monkeys, and more.
Experience the time-honored tradition of the Japanese onsen, or hot spring bath, while staying at a lakeside hotel and a mountainside ryokan.
Explore the snow-dappled forests and geothermal wonders of Hokkaido, and attend a dance performance at an Ainu cultural center.
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, take in 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 partake in the elaborate ritual of an authentic tea ceremony
Capitol Hotel Tokyu (B,L,D)
Day 3 — Kushiro/Lake Akan
The northernmost of Japan's four main islands, Hokkaido is a vast, rugged frontier of snowy mountains, primeval forests, volcanoes, and lakes. Fly to the fishing port of Kushiro and experience the colorful bustle of the Washo Fish Market. Then 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. Get up close to these magnificent birds at the Akan International Crane Center, a breeding center and museum. Learn about the history and ecology of Japanese cranes and the conservation efforts that have brought them back from the brink of extinction. Witness their spectacular, noisy courtship displays and synchronized dancing amid the quiet landscapes of winter—the best time to see the cranes in action. Continue to our resort overlooking Lake Akan, surrounded by mountains and volcanoes. Unwind at the on-site onsen, or hot spring baths. Akan Yuku no Sato Tsuruga (B,L,D)
Day 4 — Lake Akan
Visit a nearby cultural center and enjoy a vibrant dance performance by Hokkaido’s indigenous Ainu people. Spend the afternoon exploring the geothermal features of Akan National Park, where bubbling hot springs and fumaroles steam through the snow. Look for sika deer and red foxes that congregate around thermal vents in the park’s frozen crater lakes. This evening, view fireworks over Lake Akan as part of a local winter festival. Akan Yuku no Sato Tsuruga (B,L,D)
Day 5 — Lake Akan/Abashiri/Sounkyo
Drive to Abashiri and cruise the Okhotsk Sea on an icebreaker, marveling at the drift ice floating by. Continue to Sounkyo, located in a giant gorge with multiple hot springs and surrounded by dramatic waterfalls and rock formations. In the evening, celebrate the Ice Waterfall Festival and the illuminated frozen waterfalls surrounding Sounkyo. Sounkyo Choyotei Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 6 — Daisetsuzan National Park/Sounkyo
Spend the day exploring the mountainous terrain of Daisetsuzan National Park. Known as the "roof of Hokkaido," the pristine wilderness of Japan's largest national park teems with wildlife, flora and unique geological features. In the evening, return to the illuminated frozen waterfalls surrounding Sounkyo. Sounkyo Choyotei Hotel (B,L)
Day 7 — Sounkyo/Nagano
Drive to the Asahikawa Airport and return to Tokyo by airplane. Drive to Nagano, site of the 1998 Winter Olympics. En route, stop at the Matsumoto Castle known for its unique black exterior. Hotel Metropolitan Nagano (B,L,D)
Day 8 — Nagano/Japan Alps
Begin the day strolling the picturesque chestnut path of Obuse village and its Hokusai Art Museum. 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 relaxing at the inn’s soothing onsen, which include indoor baths and outdoor cascading hot springs nestled amid peaceful gardens. Kanbayashi Hotel Senjukaku (B,L,D)
Day 9 — Japan Alps
Buried in snow several months of the year, the mountains of Nagano are home to the wild Japanese macaque, or snow monkey. Walk along a nature trail 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. Observe and photograph these remarkable primates up close as they soak, groom, and socialize against a steamy, snow-draped backdrop. This evening, sit down to a multi-course kaiseki dinner at our ryokan. Kanbayashi Hotel Senjukaku (B,L,D)
Day 10 — Japan Alps/Tokyo
Enjoy a morning at leisure with an option to visit the snow monkeys again. Drive to Nagano and explore the city’s highlights, including the 7th-century Zenkoji Temple, an important pilgrimage destination which houses the first Buddhist statue brought to Japan., Return to Tokyo by bullet train, a quintessential Japanese travel experience, moving at up to 200 miles per hour. 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. (B)
Barry Till is a curator of Asian art at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria in Canada with a wide knowledge of Japanese culture, history, and archaeology. He has curated exhibitions focused on Japanese art, and published books and catalogues highlighting aspects of Japanese culture from Zen Buddhist paintings and woodblock prints to samurai culture, geisha kimono, tea ceremony ceramics, and works from the Edo and Meiji periods. His publications include Samurai, The Warrior Class of Japan, Less is More: Japanese Zen Paintings from the Seventeenth to the Twentieth Century, The Kimono of the Geisha, and many other titles focused on Japanese subjects. The traveling exhibition of geisha kimonos Barry curated has been displayed at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C. Barry lived for three years in Asia, and he has traveled extensively throughout the continent for more than thirty years. A veteran of numerous educational expeditions, Barry is an enthusiastic and engaging speaker. He looks forward to introducing travelers to Japan.
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.