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Snow Monkeys & Cranes of Japan

Japan Tour

Summary : This extraordinary Japan expedition blends an array of fascinating wildlife with the exquisite wintertime landscapes of the country. Birders and photographers are in heaven on a visit to Arasaki, Kyushu, where nearly 12,000 hooded and white-naped cranes winter each year. Continue on for a snow monkeys expedition, visiting these stirring creatures in Jigokudani in central Honshu, as they soak in the regionís thermal baths. This Japan tour culminates with a boat trip to the ice edge of the Shiretoko Peninsula, where you greet Steller's sea eagles, the planet's largest and most powerful raptor.

Activities : Birding, Culture, Hiking


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$999,999,999 to $0

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Day 1 – 2
Depart USA / Tokyo, Honshu, Japan

Depart the USA on your independent flight, arriving in Tokyo the following day. Check in to the hotel for dinner and overnight.

Day 3
Tokyo / Kagoshima, Kyushu / Kirishima

A morning flight takes you to Kyushu Island. From Kagoshima, walk through wooded hills into the Kirishima-Yaku National Park. Here visit the ancient Kirishima Shrine and walk through the beautiful mature laurel forests around Lake Miike to observe wintering waterfowl. Dinner and overnight at a hot spring hotel in Kirishima.

Day 4
Arasaki Crane Reserve, Izumi

The fallow rice paddies around the coastal village of Arasaki are the site of a spectacular winter gathering of Asian cranes. The sights and sounds of nearly 12,000 hooded and white-naped cranes make this one of the most powerful wildlife experiences one can hope for, and a photographer’s dream. Overnight at your hotel in Akune for the next two nights.

Day 5
Arasaki Crane Reserve

With a full day to concentrate on the cranes, explore the Arasaki area, visiting the main concentration of cranes again, and hoping for a clear dawn to enjoy their mass departure from the roost. After breakfast,explore the surrounding fields, to photograph adults and juveniles. Enjoy time to focus on different aspects of crane behavior and to look for any unusual additions to the crane flock and for other wintering birds.

Day 6
Izumi / Shirakawa-Go, Takayama, Honshu

After an early morning flight, leave Kyushu for the snowy mountains of central Honshu. Visit the village of Shirakawa-go, located in an isolated, steep, mountainous area of the Sho River Valley in the Chubu mountain range.

This 1966 World Heritage Site showcases the unique architectural style (called Gassho-Zukuri) of the houses that resemble "praying hands," their steeply-pitched roofs like steepled fingers. Some of these gable-roofed houses rise four stories high and accommodated up to 50 people. Visit in the late afternoon as darkness falls to see the houses magically illuminated. Overnight in Takayama.

Day 7
Takayama / Jigokudani

Explore the historical town of Takayama, visiting local saké breweries, miso stores, and local crafts shop before continuing by road through the Japan Alps and via Matsumoto to Jigokudani in the mountains of central Honshu. Here you have the extraordinary opportunity to watch and photograph the snow monkeys.

Arrive in time for dinner at your delightful hotel. Quiet simplicity and style are its hallmarks; its attractive and artistic interior is matched by its delightful garden. With its own onsen (natural thermal spring), you are be able to emulate generations of Japanese people (and the monkeys) by enjoying a relaxing and therapeutic soak in the mineral waters. The views from the baths to the snowy outdoors are wonderful—suitably rounding off the days. Overnight for the next three nights at Kambayashi Onsen.

Day 8 – 9

Jigokudani is a steep-sided valley set amid forested mountains. Its name, which translates to "Hell Valley," comes from the gushing steam spring here. The sun arrives late to this valley and leaves early. After breakfast, walk along the gently contoured mile-and-a-half trail to the viewing area. Spend a leisurely day observing and photographing the two local resident troops of Japanese macaques as they feed nearby and soak in their very own hot pools. Also, keep a lookout for the shy and elusive Japanese serow, an ecological equivalent of the North American mountain goat, and birds such as the brown dipper and alpine accentor.

Day 10
Jigokudani / Kushiro, Hokkaido

Drive across Honshu and then fly from Tokyo to Kushiro. Arriving in eastern Hokkaido, more wildlife spectacles await—huge numbers of Japanese cranes, flocks of mist-enshrouded whooper swans, magnificent Steller's sea eagles—and you have the possibility of encountering Eurasian red squirrels, sika deer, and red fox. Overnight at your hotel in Tsurui-mura for the next three nights.

Day 11 – 12
Kushiro Region

In snowy east Hokkaido, visit several areas to view Japanese cranes. Observe and photograph the tall, red-crowned, or Japanese cranes, the largest and most northerly of the cranes in Japan. Expect to see flocks of 100 or more of these magnificent birds at ranges down to just 30 feet or less. Greeting ceremonies and courtship dances involve leaps and pirouettes, posturing, and trumpeting cries. Such behavior can be infectious, spreading through the flocks in waves, and oftentimes dozens of ecstatic cranes are leaping and trumpeting in a thrilling display.

Day 13 – 14
Akan National Park

The next location, though not far from Kushiro, is an entirely different setting— the volcanic scenery of Akan National Park. The Kawayu area is geothermally rich, and you are presented with a variety of visually stunning subjects: steaming sulphuroles, Hokkaido's most scenic crater lake, and flocks of vociferous whooper swans gliding among the steam and morning mist. In the evening, retreat to your delightful lakeside hotel for a gourmet meal.

Day 15
Rausu, Shiretoko Peninsula

Drive to the fishing port of Rausu, on the Shiretoko Peninsula, another of Japan's World Heritage Sites. This rugged, mountainous finger of land attracts good numbers of white-tailed eagles and Steller's sea eagles, truly immense birds, half again as big as the bald eagle. Weather permitting, visit the edge of the sea ice by boat and lure these impressive raptors with fish scraps. Over 2,000 of them winter on Hokkaido. Tonight, stay at a local inn overlooking the sea.

Day 16
Shiretoko Peninsula / Yoroushi

Enjoy a second opportunity to visit the eagles and, weather-permitting, greet the sunrise and the eagles at the ice edge. Following breakfast, continue exploration of eastern Hokkaido, first along the Shiretoko Peninsula for more views of winter wildfowl and raptors, and to watch for foxes, deer, and seals. Sightings of Steller's sea lions and harbor seals are possible. Also, look out for sea-urchin harvesters. Soon you must leave Shiretoko behind and head south to your accommodations inland at Yoroushi. The architecturally-modern inn has feeders busy with birds, a superb hot spring, and delightful artwork. Overnight for the next two nights at Yoroushi.

Day 17

Explore the scenery of the southeast coast of Hokkaido, where there are more chances to encounter deer, foxes, and wintering swans, ducks, and raptors. Time permitting, you may also visit the workshop of a local wood-block printer.

Day 18
Kushiro / Tokyo

After breakfast drive back to Kushiro for your flight south to Tokyo. Pause for your last glimpses of cranes and views of Kushiro marsh before saying farewell to Japan’s wildest island, Hokkaido. Overnight in Tokyo with a special farewell dinner.

Day 19
Tokyo / USA

Board your independent international flights and re-cross the Date Line to arrive back in the USA on the same day.


All accommodations and group meals, including selected beverages with lunch and dinner; arrival and departure transfers on group dates; guided excursions as stated in the itinerary; entrance fees for parks, reserves, etc.; all gratuities; emergency medical coverage (maximum benefit per paying passenger of $25,000)*; evacuation coverage (maximum benefit per paying passenger of $100,000)*.

Not Included:
All air transportation; excess baggage charges; airport arrival and departure taxes; transfers for independent arrivals and departures; passport and/or visa fees; accident/baggage/cancellation insurance; items of a personal nature such as laundry, bar charges, alcoholic beverages, email/fax/telephone charges.

*Emergency Medical & Evacuation Insurance:
Emergency medical coverage to a maximum benefit per paying passenger of $25,000 is included in the cost of this expedition, as well as evacuation coverage to a maximum benefit per paying passenger of $100,000. Insurance is underwritten by National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, PA. The policy will contain reductions, limitations, exclusions and termination provisions. All coverages may not be available in all states. Please note this coverage does not cover you against trip cancellation or for additional days of travel prior to and/or after the expedition trip dates. ExpeditionTrips strongly advises all clients to purchase travel insurance which includes trip cancellation and interruption coverage for the entire duration of your trip.

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