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Japan: Winter Festivals and Snow Monkeys Photography Expedition

Alternate Itinerary
February 24 - March 06, 2018 (11 Days)

Day 1 — Tokyo, Japan

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

Day 2 — Tokyo

Begin the day with a private Noh performance, snapping photos of the dramatic actors and masks. After lunch at a local restaurant, visit a traditional teahouse to document the elaborate ritual of an authentic tea ceremony. In the evening, venture on your own to Shibuya crossing or join an optional sunset photography session at Roppongi Hills Observatory. Afterwards, enjoy a festive welcome reception and dinner.
Cerulean Tower 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. Then visit a nearby cultural center to 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. 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, training your lens on 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, capture images of the Ice Waterfall Festival and the illuminated frozen waterfalls surrounding Sounkyo.
Sounkyo Choyotei Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 6 — Daisetsuzan National Park/Sounkyo

Take part in a private photography session at a restaurant, snapping shots as the chefs prepare a colorful array of dishes. After lunch at the restaurant, travel through the scenic, 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. If weather permits, it may be possible to get a bird’s eye view from the Kurodake Ropeway. After dinner at the hotel, return to the Ice Waterfall Festival or take time to relax this evening.
Sounkyo Choyotei Hotel (B,L)

Day 7 — Sounkyo/Nagano

Drive to the Asahikawa Airport and return to Tokyo by airplane. Travel by motor coach to Nagano, site of the 1998 Winter Olympics. En route, stop at Matsumoto Castle for photos of the dramatic black 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, non-human 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, multi-course kaiseki dinner featuring seasonal ingredients.
Kanbayashi Hotel Senjukaku (B,L,D)

Day 10 — Japan Alps/Tokyo

Visit the 7th-century Zenkoji 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.
Cerulean Tower Tokyu (B,L,D)

Day 11 — Tokyo

Transfer to the airport for your return flight home.