Summary : Wander through vast fields of wildflowers on Rebun Island, the “Floating Island of Flowers” that makes up part of Rishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu National Park. Search for Japanese pygmy-woodpeckers, white-tailed eagles, Eurasian bullfinches, and iconic red-crowned cranes, along with millions of migratory seabirds that breed on Teuri Island. Explore spectacular Shikotsu-Toya National Park, a UNESCO Global Geopark noted for its two namesake caldera lakes, as well as hot springs and extensive hiking trails. Join locals at the buzzing asaichis (morning markets) in Abashiri and Hakodate. Learn about the indigenous Ainu culture at the Museum of Northern Peoples and experience a traditional Cossack performance in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk.
Activities : Birding, Culture, Hiking
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Board your independent flight to Japan, crossing the International Date Line en route.
Arrive in Tokyo and transfer to your hotel for dinner and overnight.
After breakfast, set out on an introductory tour of Japan’s cutting-edge capital city. Discover modern and ancient highlights alike before lunch at a local restaurant. Then board one of Japan’s famed shinkansen (high-speed trains) for the ride to Niigata. This evening, embark the Caledonian Sky and set sail for Hokkaido.
During a relaxing day at sea, join your naturalists on deck to search for wildlife and attend engaging lectures on such topics as Hokkaido’s natural history and traditional Japanese culture.
Hokkaido’s dynamic capital Sapporo is famous for its ski slopes, ice-sculpting festival, green spaces, and great culinary scene. For a scenic overview, head southwest to Mount Moiwa Odori Park and ride the cable-car to the summit’s observation deck. Lunch at a local restaurant offers the chance to try Sapporo’s famous beer and perhaps some local seafood before browsing the busy fish market. Birders set out from Otaru to explore the surrounding foothills in search of resident Japanese pygmy-woodpeckers and varied tits, as well as blue-and-white flycatchers and other migrant species.
The northwestern island of Teuri is the seasonal home to millions of migratory seabirds, which flock to its steep slopes during the breeding season. It is also the world’s most important breeding ground for the rare rhinoceros auklet. The nearby island of Rishiri—known locally as Rishiri-Fuji due to its resemblance to Mount Fuji—rises majestically from the ocean, and offers a variety of trekking opportunities.
Along with neighboring Rishiri, Rebun Island forms part of the popular Rishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu National Park. Between late-April and mid-September, the “Floating Island of Flowers” is blanketed in fields of wildflowers, and your visit is timed to enjoy the blooms before the annual flood of tourists arrive.
A former military post and penal colony, Korsakov serves as your gateway to Sakhalin Island’s capital, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. Founded as a small Russian settlement in the 1880s, the city was a Japanese prefect capital from 1905 until the end of WWII. Visit a Russian Orthodox church, the Regional Museum—housed in an impressive former Japanese mansion—and the bustling market. You’ll also enjoy a performance of traditional Cossack song and dance from a colorfully costumed local choir. Alternatively, join your ornithologist for a day of birding around the southern end of Sakhalin. Watch for Latham’s snipes, Eurasian bullfinches, white-tailed sea eagles, Siberian thrushes, and Swinhoe’s robins.
Fishing is one of the main industries of Abashiri, and your first full day here offers tasty seafood and a choice of tours. A scenic, geological expedition to the south visits a number of calderas and volcanic features, including Lakes Kussharo and Mashu and the Iwo Sulphur Springs. Then try on a surprisingly heavy sumo apron at the Taiho Sumo Museum, before lunch in Kawayu. Or, choose a nature tour in Utoro where you will take a cruise to look for brown bears, white-tailed eagles, and spectacled guillemots. Then drive up to the 2,425-foot-high Shiretoko Pass (weather permitting) for stunning views of Mount Rausu, returning via Lake Toufutsu and Koshimizu Gensei-kaen, a 12-mile-long stretch awash in some 40 species of wildflowers.
Abashiri Kando Asaichi, Abashiri’s buzzing morning market, is the first stop on your city tour, followed by Ryuhyo Garasa Kan to shop for unique glass craft gifts. Learn about the Ainu, Inuit, and other indigenous cultures at the Hokkaido Museum of Northern Peoples before a short walk around scenic Cape Notoro. If time permits, a visit to the Okhotski Sea Ice Museum offers hands-on insights into the sea ice that encircles the region during winter. Alternatively, join a natural history tour to explore along the shore of Lake Abashiri and Komaba Kinohiroba Forest Reserve. This afternoon, be on deck as the ship navigates the scenic Nemuro Channel to search for minke, orca, and sperm whales, as well as Pacific white-sided dolphins, and Dall’s porpoises.
Two thousand species of flora and fauna are found in Kushiro Marsh, Japan’s largest peat swamp and wetland reserve. A Ramsar-registered site and national park, Kushiro provides sanctuary to the red-crowned crane, a symbol of luck and longevity in Japan. Thanks to successful conservation efforts, Hokkaido is now home to 1,500 of these rare birds. Enjoy spectacular scenery while you search for them in their marshy breeding grounds. A visit to the Kushiro City Museum offers insights into the lifestyle of the Ainu through a small, but excellent exhibit.
Its two namesake lakes—along with hot springs and great hiking—make Shikotsu-Toya National Park a popular escape from Sapporo. Your tour of this UNESCO Global Geopark includes stops at various viewpoints to appreciate Lake Toya, a nearly circular caldera lake; on a clear day, it is backdropped by Mt. Usu, an active volcano that often billows smoke.
Hakodate was one of the first ports in Japan to open to foreign trade in 1854, and around the waterfront you’ll find many western-style buildings such as churches, warehouses, and the Old British Consulate. Start your day like a local at the Hakodate Asaichi (morning market), which overflows with displays of fresh seafood, produce, and traditional snacks. Then climb aboard the cable-car and ascend Mount Hakodate for magnificent views over the city.
Nature rules in the Akita Prefecture, known for its rice farming, traditional festivals, and treasured dog breed of the same name. At the center of its capital lies Senshu Park, built from the ruins of Kubota Castle, a former samurai fortress. Lotus flowers now fill the remnants of old moats, and tree-lined walking trails lead to its watchtower, temple, and shrine. The city’s Hirano Art Museum houses “Akita no Gyoji,” the largest canvas painting in the world. Akita also boasts Lake Tazawa, Japan’s deepest lake.
Disembark in Niigata and board the bullet train back to Tokyo. A city tour, visiting highlights such as the 2,080-foot-high Skytree—the world’s second highest tower and the beautiful Meiji Shrine. Or, join a birding tour in Kasai Rinkai-koen Park, a third of which is a designated seabird sanctuary.
Transfer to the airport for your independent homeward flight, arriving in the USA the same day.
Read this itinerary as a guide only; the exact route and program varies according to weather conditions and the wildlife you encounter. Flexibility is the key to the success of this expedition.
Accommodations as outlined in the itinerary, meals onboard and group meals ashore per itinerary, including soft drinks, beer, and wine with lunch and dinner; Wi-Fi; gear certificate; arrival and departure transfers on group dates; services of the expedition staff, including lectures, briefings, slide/film shows; group activities and excursions; landing and port fees; gratuities; limited emergency medical and evacuation coverage. Subject to change without notice.
All air transportation; excess baggage charges; airport arrival and departure taxes; transfers for independent arrivals and departures; passport and/or visa fees; travel insurance; items of a personal nature such as laundry, bar charges, alcoholic beverages (other than listed above), email/fax/telephone charges; fuel surcharge may apply.
*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.