February 19th - March 6th, 2016
We will encounter and photograph the wild and mystical wildlife of Japan, including the charismatic “hot tubbing” snow monkeys (Japanese macaques) in central Honshu and even indulge in our own hot springs experience. These fun-loving monkeys are curious and human-like, playing, chasing, and even throwing snowballs at each other like little children in a snowball fight.
We’ll travel north to the island of Hokkaido where bird life dominates the winter landscapes. The elegant Japanese crane will dance in and out of our lenses while one of the world’s largest raptors, the Steller’s sea eagle, preforms in the sky above us. We’ll also have great opportunities for red fox and deer.
Soak in the onsen next to a playful Snow Monkey, photograph a pirouetting crane, or just simply have tea at one of the many traditional charming ryokans. Japan will be a unforgettable experience, join us in 2016!
2016 Japan Winter Wildlife Photography Tour Travel Plans
Friday, February 19
Depart US/Canada for Tokyo
Saturday, February 20
Arrive in Tokyo any time of day via Narita (NRT) airport. You’ll be met at the airpot and guided to the shuttle for a ten-minute ride to the Crowne Plaza Narita.
Enjoy the hotel’s tranquil garden setting or take advantage of the facilities, including a fully equipped health club, indoor swimming pool, and spa with traditional Japanese massage to combat jetlag.
Sunday, February 21 (B, L, D)
Today we’ll visit and have lunch in the nearby Narita Village. Narita is known for its famous Narita-san Shinsoji Temple and colorful pagodas. We’ll meander along the quaint, winding old streets lined with wooden restaurants and shops displaying traditional crafts, foods, and souvenirs.
We end the day with a welcome dinner and overnight at the Crowne Plaza Narita again.
Monday, February 22 (B, D)
After a good night’s sleep, we’ll travel five hours via private coach to Jigokudani Yaen National Park (Snow Monkey Park). The name Jigokundani, translates to “Hell’s Valley” to describe its eerie atmosphere of steam and boiling water bubbling from the frozen ground. The ominous steep cliffs and wild forest add to the mystery and magic that snow monkeys call home during the winter months.
We’ll observe and photograph monkeys soaking up the watery warmth of hot springs among a snowy, wintery landscape. The snow monkeys, or Japanese macaques, are the only monkeys in the world to live so far north.
We’ll spend three nights at the Korakukan Inn, a rustic mountain inn nearest to the beautiful Jigokudani Yaen National Park in the mountains of the Yudanaka Onsen in Nagano. There are indoor and outdoor hot spring baths for both women and men, and snow monkeys frequently visit the outdoor hot spring baths! There are also two family baths which can be reserved for private use. The snow monkey’s hot springs can be seen from the hotel’s outdoor hot spring baths.
Tuesday, February 23 – Wednesday, February 24 (B, D)
While staying at the Korakukan Inn, we will take daily walks (10-15 minutes) into the nearby Jigokudani Yaen National Park to photograph the approximately 160 snow monkeys residing there. These intriguing primates love to put on a show for their human admirers. You’ll no doubt witness snowball fights among siblings, territory disputes among the males, babies clinging to their mothers, and other monkey antics. You can get very close to the monkeys as they walk around and sit in the trees or steamy hot springs. This park is between hills so you are walking in a very natural environment through the valley.
We’ll overnight at the Korakukan Inn.
Thursday, February 25 (B)
In the morning, we will enjoy one last visit with the iconic snow monkeys. In the afternoon, we drive back to Tokyo and fly to Kushiro, located on the northernmost island of the Japanese archipelago, Hokkaido.
Upon arrival, we have a short transfer to our accommodation for the next two nights–the Crowne Plaza ANA Kushiro. Adjacent to Kushiro’s Fisherman’s Wharf, our stay at the Crowne Plaza promises to be a memorable experience of high quality of service and elegance. Every room has spectacular views of the harbor and its natural surroundings.
Friday, February 26 (B, D)
Today is dedicated to photographing the various birds in the Tsurui-Ito Tancho Sanctuary (Tsurui-mura Reserve). We’re sure to be entertained by the leaping, pirouetting, and trumpeting Japanese (red-crowned) cranes as they carry out their mating rituals. This infectious behavior often spreads through the flock in waves leading to a thrilling display. We can expect to see flocks of 100 or more of these birds at ranges of 30 feet or less.
The red-crowned crane is one of the largest birds in Japan. Because of their red heads, their Japanese name is Tancho (“tan”= red, “cho” = top). These magnificent birds are considered a symbol of luck and longevity.
Other feathered friends we’re sure to encounter include white-naped cranes, white-tailed eagles, and black-eared kites.
We’ll spend another night at the Crowne Plaza ANA Kushiro.
Saturday, February 27 (B, D)
Today we continue photographing the various birds in the Tsurui-mura before heading out in the evening on our private charter bus to Lake Akan.
We spend the next two nights at Lake Akan Tsuruga Wings Resort Spa. The hotel is renowned for its beautiful views, warm hospitality, sophisticated interiors, and luxurious hot springs facilities.
Sunday, February 28 (B, D)
We consider Laka Akan Tsuruga a “take a breather” location. Enjoy an impressive buffet breakfast and have free time to shop, relax in the hotel’s luxurious hot spring facilities, or explore around this beautiful photogenic village. The main street is lined on both sides with folk art stores and restaurants.
This area is home of the Ainu native people. Watch Ainu dances and listen to the traditional Ainu Jew’s harp, known as the mukkuri, at the Onne Chise in the center of the village. Plan to have a portrait photo shoot with local Ainu in traditional clothing.
We’ll meet up for a mid-afternoon photography workshop and gather again for dinner.
We overnight at Lake Akan Tsuruga Wings Resort Spa.
Monday, February 29 (B, L, D)
After breakfast, we drive to Kussharo by private bus.
Each year hundreds of whooper swans winter in eastern Hokkaido, principally on Lake Kussharo, after migrating from Siberia and northern Mongolia. Although much of the lake is frozen in winter, it’s fed by hot spring water, creating warm temperatures.
The winter white colors of snow and ice make for an excellent backdrop for photographs of these migrating birds.
We spend two nights at Pension Papilio, a quiet inn in the forest with hot spring baths and western-style rooms.
Tuesday, March 1 (B, D)
As early morning steam rises from the geothermal hot spots rises in and around the lake, throngs of whooper swans arrive for their morning feeding. We’ll be there to photograph them in their snowy landscapes around Lake Kussharo. We can expect to catch them landing on the ice, their large black feet spread behind them, as well as in other fanciful and beautiful poses.
Overnight at Pension Papilio again.
Wednesday, March 2 (B, D)
After an early morning shoot with the swans, we’ll pack up and head to the easternmost portion of Hokkaido island, the Shiretoko Peninsula, where we’ll base ourselves out of the town of Rausu for the next two nights. In route, we will stop to photograph the Notsuke Pennisula, a great place to find sea eagles, foxes, and deer.
The Shiretoko Peninsula, a UNESCO world heritage site, and surrounding waters offer a prime example of the interaction of marine and terrestrial ecosystems. Many migratory and threatened seabirds make their home on the ice pack each winter. We are drawn to the peninsula to capture images of the immense Stellar’s sea eagle. These majestic birds have wingspans of over two meters and are one of the heaviest birds in the world weighing in at five to nine kilograms (11 to 20 pounds).
Overnight Rausu Dalichi Hotel, known for its ceramic owls which light up with candles at night, Japanese style, and open-air hot spring baths. As night falls, there is even the possibility of visits by wildlife including deer and fox.
Thursday, March 3 (B, D)
We are getting up early (5:00 a.m.!) for an icebreaker boat ride to the edge of the ice pack.
We’ll depart from the port in Rausu followed by playful trail of various gulls, and head out as the sun works its way up over the Northern Territories occupied by Russia. Once at the ice pack we’ll be greeted by numerous Stellar’s sea eagles and smaller white-tailed eagles eager for their morning fish breakfast.
Watch these magnificent birds quarrel and fight in the air over above you. We’ll be out on the water for approximately 2.5 hours before heading back to port. (Boat ride is weather dependent, ice conditions can vary.)
The afternoon is dedicated to photographing the surrounding Rausu area on the southwest corner of the peninsula facing the Nemuro Strait.
We spend a second night at Rausu Dalichi Hotel.
Friday, March 4 (B, D)
For those who can’t get enough of birds on ice, we offer an optional (additional fee) 5:00 a.m. icebreaker boat ride back out to the ice pack for more eagle photography. We’ll be back at port in time for breakfast and to pack up our things and slowly make our way back to the city of Kushiro via the Notsuke Peninsula.
We spend the night at the Crowne Plaza ANA Kushiro adjacent to Kushiro’s Fisherman’s Wharf. The classic exterior houses a spacious atrium lobby and 180 of the largest guest rooms in Kushiro. The rooms are specially designed for comfort, each of which boasts spectacular views of the harbor and its natural surroundings.
Saturday, March 5 (B, D)
Today we fly back to Tokyo via Haneda airport.
In the afternoon we’ll take a guided tour in the nearby area by foot or local train. We will be staying in the the heart of Tokyo with many, many camera stores to explore. Also nearby are Shinjuku Central Park, Shinjuku Imperial Gardens, Meiji Shrine, Odakyu store, and the fashion ward.
At a farewell group dinner we’ll reminisce over an amazing trip filled with wildlife, hot springs, and good company.
We will overnight at the luxurious Hyatt Regency Tokyo, Shinjuku-ku, located in Shinjuku, a thriving business, shopping, and entertainment district.
Sunday, March 6 (B)
Today we bid goodbye and fly home. Flights can be booked for any time and the hotel will provide limousine bus transfers to either Narita or Haneda airport.
15 Guests Maximum
9650 USD per person, based on double occupancy
Rate includes domestic flight Haneda – Kushiro – Haneda
Single Supplement: $1100 Limited space
$1000 Per person due at time of booking
Visa, MasterCard, AmEx, Discover, or check accepted
Deposits are non-refundable. If cancellations are necessary, we require this request in writing. We will do our best to resell your space. Only if we can resell your space, we will refund (minus deposit and discounts given to sell your space). No partial refunds are possible for unused services.
May 1, 2015: $3500 First Installment
October 15, 2015: Final Payment
Please make check payable to Natural Exposures and mail to:
810 N. Wallace, Suite E
Bozeman, MT 59715
- Private small group travel with professional photographer Daniel J. Cox
- Hotel shuttle transfers to/from Narita International Airport
- Entrance fees for various locations visited
- English-speaking guide and private coach with extra room for comfort and camera gear while traveling between locations.
- Meals where indicated (B = Breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner)
- Domestic flight Haneda – Kushiro – Haneda
- Lodging for 15 nights
- All admission fees and planned excursion on boat for eagles for 1 tour
- International airfare
- Laundry, miscellaneous personal expenses, drinks, Internet charges
- Attractions/activities not listed in itinerary
- Meals not listed in itinerary
- Pre/post trip hotel nights
- Travel insurance
- Transfers arriving into Haneda airport (departure transfers to Haneda included)
- Transfers pre/post trip from hotels not stated on itinerary
- Gratuities for bus driver and guide
Flights to Book
February 20, 2016
Arrive Tokyo via Narita (NRT) any time of day (Fly Feb 19 to arrive Feb 20 from USA)
March 6, 2016
Depart Tokyo via Narita (NRT) or Haneda (HND) any time of day
Travel/emergency medical evacuation insurance is not required for this photo tour, but we always recommend purchasing it for any trip. We recommend one or more of the following, depending on your needs:
(use code natexp)
Allianz Global Assistance
(use travel agency ID F203564)
Terms & Conditions
Natural Exposures cannot control nor is responsible for abnormal weather, natural disasters, or any other disaster that might affect the trip. Travel insurance should be purchased to cover any missed flights or medical problems that may affect/delay your travel. National Parks have the right to change our itinerary.
By booking a trip with Natural Exposures, you agree to the following CANCELLATION AND LIABILITY POLICY
Accommodations for 2016 Japan Winter Wildlife Photography Tour
February 20 – 21, 2 Nights
ANA Crowne Plaza Narita
Located near the airport, complimentary shuttle, bilingual front desk staff, indoor pool, sauna and fitness center.
February 22 – 24, 3 Nights
For three nights we’ll stay in a Japanese ryokan. A ryokan is type of traditional Japanese inn that originated during the Edo period. You will find traditional matted floors (tatami), sliding doors, and futons. Most of the ryokan are family owned, basic accommodations.
Korakukan Inn has 12 traditional Japanese-style rooms. The rooms are rustic, yet charming and afford us the luxury to come and go as we please from the monkey park avoiding the 1.6 mile long walking trail. We will store our main luggage and only take a small overnight pack and camera gear to this Inn. The walk can be icy, mostly flat with a couple inclines. We will take the walk slow and our overnight packs will go by 4-wheeler to the Inn. We suggest ice cleats to prevent any falls. Shared bathrooms. Private rooms are very simple with futons on floor. Traditional dinners with mixed western breakfast/Japanese. Lunch is noodle soups with mountain vegetables or spaghetti. This lodge is the best area to stay in to see the monkeys. Overall, it will feel a little like “camping indoors” because it is so traditional but the post accommodations will make up for these 3 nights.
February 25-26 and March 4, 3 Nights
ANA Crowne Plaza Kushiro
Very similar quality to North American Crowne Plaza hotels, offering a mix of Japanese food and western food.
February 27-28, 2 Nights
Lake Akan Tsuruga Resort Spa Wings
Lake Akan Tsuruga Resort Spa Tsuruga Wings is a hotel renowned for its beautiful views, warm hospitality, sophisticated interiors, and luxurious hot spring facilities. Rooms are between Japanese style and westernized. Meals will be at incredible buffets with a wide mix of cuisine. This was the first place we decided to try the bath house, it was so rejuvenating after a cold day in the field. The village of Lake Akan is quaint and photogenic.
February 29 – March 1, 2 Nights
Pension Papilio is a quiet inn in the forest with hot spring baths and western-style rooms. Close to the whooper swans which cuts the driving time each day.
March 2-3, 2 Nights
Rausu Dalichi Hotel
Located in a peaceful valley of Shiretoko National Park, Rausu Dalichi offers great accessibility within the park, a public onsen and a friendly staff to make you feel right at home.
Helpful Information for 2016 Japan Winter Wildlife Photography Tour
PASSPORT and VISA
You must have a valid passport and an onward/return ticket for tourist/business “visa free” stays of up to 90 days. Your passports must be valid for the entire time you are staying in Japan.
Vaccinations are not required for Japan.
We’ll send a list of suggested camera gear to bring and Dan will phone each guest to discuss gear prior to departure time.
What to Bring
- Warm hat
- Heavy Socks
- Slip-resistant, waterproof winter boots/shoes (spikes/traction aids would be good for bottom of boots/shoes to walk in icy conditions)
- Waterproof jacket/winter coat (Gore-Tex)
- Thermal wear
- T-shirt/long sleeves for layering
- Lip balm
- Hand and feet warmers (Hotties)
- Spare batteries for cameras (cold will deplete a charge quick)
- Plug adapter for Japan
- small overnight bag for Korkukan Inn
Sub-zero temperatures in Hokkaido. Very warm inside buildings, so bring layers. Daylight is from 7:00am to 5:00pm. We’ll be photographing from dawn to dusk, taking breaks for meals and to warm up.
Each guest must be able to walk short to moderate distances, carry their own camera gear and at times walk on icy conditions with a few times on inclines. When we arrive at the snow monkey park on the third day, there is an approximate 1.5 mile walk to Korakukan Inn. The walk is mostly flat and not too difficult, but it could be icy, so ice cleats are a must! For easier travel, while at this inn only, we’ll transfer some of our belongings into smaller bags and leave our larger bags behind in a safe storage area. This is really the only area where there will be a fairly long walk. Also access from the Inn to the monkey park can be icy and hilly – a short distance to walk
Most of the other locations have minimal walking and the bus can get close to photography areas.
We did two photo tours to Japan in 2014. Based on guest suggestions, we tweaked the itinerary for the 2016 trip. There is one extra night in Narita to help with jetlag and a half day cultural experience now included in Narita village. The village is 15 minutes by shuttle from the hotel. Everyone really enjoyed staying at the Lake Akan resort, however, the drive to the Whooper Swans is a long bus ride. We’re still including Lake Akan but also added a family-owned ryoken closer the swans, Pension Papilio. We plan to include a little more time on Notsuke Peninsula which is great for photography. On the return to Tokyo, we’re staying closer to the “city action” and within walking distance to the electronic district with all the camera stores. Early flights to Tokyo will give us the afternoon to walk around with a guide in the camera district. If guests wish to spend an extra night in Tokyo, we can help to book accommodations if needed.
We’ll have private transfers between locations on a chartered bus.
Internal flights are included between Haneda airport and Hokkaido. It is a large plane, so there has not been any carry on issues.
Beds will range from a futon on the floor at Korakukan Inn to low beds to normal North American style beds. Internet is available throughout the trip. Tanya will have a USB WiFi modem on the bus which can accommodate five devices at one time.
The hot baths (onsens) are public baths with natural hot springs. They are found all over Hokkaido. Men and women have separate areas to bathe; all are nude. Some inns will have private baths available. Onsens vary from extremely nice and fancy to basic cement rooms – some indoor, some outdoor. The nicest one is at Lake Akan. We suggest trying them out! They sure warm you up after a long day outside.
In some of the more remote areas, the inns will serve Japanese food with minimal options. Usually there is enough variety for everyone to find something they like; many have hot soups which are delicious. If they mention western style food, this usually means Italian – pasta or pizza. Both tea and coffee are served everywhere including the vending machines, hot in a can! We’ll have a combination of meals at low tables sitting on the floor or standard tables. Most will be standard.
Have a question?
Have a question about this tour? We're happy to answer any queries you may have.
Testimonials from Natural Exposures' Explorers
"Dan and Tanya are the nicest people you can travel with."
Bob Ross, California
"A wonderful trip filled with fantastic opportunities to see and photograph the snow monkeys and cranes along with a nice view into the Japanese culture."
Cathy Pemberton, California
"Totally joyful trip to see the animals, scenery, people and culture - and I'm not even a photographer! Yet I was engrossed with it all - thank you so much."
Peggy Kapner, Arizona
" A historic trip - Japan's two worst snow storms in 20 years and we persevered. Great group, great times."
Claude Lecours, Ontario
"Dan and Tanya offer the best photo tour experience in the industry."
Mark Pemberton, California
"An awesome adventure taking us back in time at Snow Monkey Park and Inn."
Marty Salwen, North Carolina
"Amazing!! :) First class al the way!"
Michelle Duggan, Massachusetts
"Dan and Tanya are the best tour guides I have experienced so far. Overall wonderful trips!"
Pat Dillon, California
"Dan and Tanya are great to travel with. Their trips are well organized and provide great experiences and learning possibilities in photography to all of their guests. If snags occur in the schedule, they are always ahead of the issue to make it transparent to their guests."
Lynne Edwards, California
"Dan and Tanya make traveling easy. Everything is looked after for you. The accommodations are top notch and the wildlife access superb. Love exploring with Dan and Tanya."
Rhonda Handley, Beeton, Ontario
"Dan and Tanya are so caring of each person's needs and desires."
Bev Graham, California
"My pleasure, you are very, very gracious hosts. TOPS."
Joel Kleiner, New York
"Seeing Japan with Dan and Tanya was an incredible experience! As always, Tanya attended to every detail and made sure we were always so well cared for. I learn so much each trip with Dan and feel like my skills improve every time! What amazing opportunities to learn and experience! One of my very favorites surprisingly was shooting whooper swans in a snowstorm!! Dan's enthusiasm is infectious and his eye and teaching skills exceptional, so you can achieve the most from each shooting opportunity. The "white on white" shoot was fantastic! You guys are the BEST!"
Christine Crosby, Oregon
"Good! Loved seeing the Snow Monkeys. They were on my "bucket list" and got some wonderful pictures! Great seeing the eagles dive for the fish. Swans were beautiful and glad Dan showed me how to make my pictures white and not gray."
Lani Dillon, California
"Fantastic! Noriko was exceptional."
Judy Edgar, Colorado