February 11th - 27th, 2020
Encounter and photograph the wild and mystical wildlife of Japan, including the charismatic “hot tubbing” snow monkeys (Japanese macaques) in central Honshu. 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 landscape. 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, performs 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 an unforgettable experience—join us in 2020! If you have time, join us on the Snow Leopard Tour pre-Japan.
2020 Japan Winter Wildlife Photography Tour Travel Plans
Tuesday, February 11
Depart US/Canada for Tokyo
Wednesday, February 12 (D)
Arrive in Tokyo any time of day via Narita (NRT) airport. You’ll be met at the airport and guided to the shuttle for a ten-minute ride to the ANA 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. Tonight we’ll gather for a group welcome dinner.
Overnight ANA Crowne Plaza Narita
Thursday, February 13 (B)
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. After a full day, take the evening to relax.
Overnight at the ANA Crowne Plaza Narita
Friday, February 14 (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 Jigokudani, 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 hot springs can be seen from the hotel’s outdoor hot spring baths.
Saturday, February 15 – Sunday, February 16 (B, L, 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’re walking in a very natural environment through the valley.
We’ll overnight at the Korakukan Inn.
Monday, February 17 (B)
In the morning, we’ll 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 ANA Crowne Plaza 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.
Tuesday, February 18 (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 ANA Crowne Plaza Kushiro.
Wednesday, February 19 (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.
Thursday, February 20 (B, D)
We consider Lake 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.
Friday, February 21 (B, L, D)
After breakfast, we drive to Lake 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.
Saturday, February 22 (B, D)
As early morning steam rises from the geothermal hot spots in and around the lake, throngs of whooper swans arrive for their morning feeding. We’ll be there to photograph them in the 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
Sunday, February 23 (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. En route, we will stop to photograph the Notsuke Peninsula, 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 here each winter. We are drawn to the peninsula to capture images of the immense Steller’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 Daiichi 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.
Monday, February 24 (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 Steller’s sea eagles and smaller white-tailed eagles eager for their morning fish breakfast.
Watch these magnificent birds quarrel and fight in the air 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 Daiichi Hotel.
Tuesday, February 25 (B, D)
For those who can’t get enough of birds on ice, take an optional (extra 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 ANA Crowne Plaza 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.
Wednesday, February 26 (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 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.
Thursday, February 27 (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.
SCROLL DOWN TO SEE EXPLORER IMAGES FROM PAST JAPAN TRIPS WITH NATURAL EXPOSURES!
Tour Extensions Available
January 24th - February 5th, 2020
14 Guests Maximum
BOOKING RATE: 10,411 per person, based on double occupancy
Rate includes domestic flights Haneda – Kushiro – Haneda
Single supplement: 1100 (limited space)
All pricing in USD
$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.
April 1, 2019: $3500 first installment
September 15, 2019: Final payment
Please make checks 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 on scheduled itinerary days
- Hotel shuttle transfer to Haneda on departure day (if needed)
- 15 nights accommodations
- Entrance fees for various locations visited
- English-speaking guide with private coach
- Meals where indicated (B = Breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner)
- Domestic flights Haneda – Kushiro – Haneda
- One boat tour for eagles
- International airfare
- Travel insurance
- Laundry, drinks, Internet charges, and other miscellaneous personal expenses
- Attractions/activities not listed in itinerary
- Meals not listed in itinerary
- Pre/post trip hotel nights
- Transfers arriving into Haneda airport (departure transfers to Haneda included)
- Transfers pre/post trip
- Gratuities for bus driver and guide
- Optional second boat tour for eagles
Flights to Book
February 11, 2020
February 12, 2020
Arrive Tokyo via Narita (NRT) any time of day.
February 27, 2020
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 2020 Japan Winter Wildlife Photography Tour
February 12 -13, 2 Nights
ANA Crowne Plaza Narita
Located near the airport, complimentary shuttle, bilingual front desk staff, indoor pool, sauna and fitness center.
February 14 – 16, 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 17-18 and February 25, 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 19-20, 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 are incredible buffets with a wide mix of cuisine. The bath house is very rejuvenating after a cold day in the field. The village of Lake Akan is quaint and photogenic.
February 21-22, 2 Nights
Pension Papilio is a quiet inn in the forest with hot spring baths and western-style rooms. It’s also close to the whooper swans which cuts driving time each day.
February 23-24, 2 Nights
Rausu Daiichi Hotel
Located in a peaceful valley of Shiretoko National Park, Rausu Daiichi offers great accessibility within the park, a public onsen, and a friendly staff to make you feel right at home.
February 26, 1 Night
Hyatt Regency Tokyo or similar
Helpful Information for 2020 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 passport must be valid for the entire time you’re staying in Japan, and one blank page is required for the entry stamp. Please visit the US Department of State – Bureau of Consular Affairs for the most up to date entry requirements.
Vaccinations are not required for entry into 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
Expect sub-zero temperatures in Hokkaido. It’s 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. It could be cold in the mornings!
Each guest must be able to walk short to moderate distances, carry their own camera gear, and at times walk on ice / 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 has inclines (a short distance to walk).
Most of the other locations have minimal walking and the bus can get close to photography areas.
The Japanese are very quiet and reserved—a very giving group of people. There is not an actual word for “no” in their language; they find it’s too impolite to say. Japan is very clean and safe. When you get out of the cities, especially in Hokkaido, you’ll swear you’re in Minnesota in the winter! There are a lot of dairy farms, and snowmobiling, ice fishing, and wildlife can be seen all around. We’ve had many great opportunities to photograph birds, foxes, and deer on past trips.
We did two photo tours to Japan in 2014 and one tour in 2016. Everyone really enjoyed staying at the Lake Akan resort. However, the drive from the resort to the whooper swans is a long bus ride. So we will still visit Lake Akan—it has its own draws—but have also added a family-owned ryokan, Pension Papilio, which is closer to the swans. We’re including a little more time on Notsuke Peninsula, a great area for photography. On the return to Tokyo, we’ll stay closer to the ‘city action’ and within walking distance to the electronic district where all of the big camera stores can be found. Our early flight back to Tokyo gives us the afternoon to walk around with a guide in the camera district. If you wish to spend an extra night in Tokyo, we can help to book accommodations if needed.
We’ll have private bus transfers between locations. There is a fair amount of driving on this trip, but it is needed to see the different wildlife and birds Japan has to offer.
Internal flights are included between Haneda Airport and Hokkaido. It is a large plane, so there are not usually any carry-on issues. There are two airports in Tokyo: Haneda and Narita. Both are international. Make sure you fly into Narita (NRT) on arrival day, but you can depart from either airport.
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.
Onsens are natural hot spring baths. 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 we’ll have the opportunity to visit 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 in vending machines, hot in a can! We’ll eat some meals at low tables sitting on the floor and others at standard tables. Most will be standard. We did not include some meals so you can explore on your own. Also, when we travel to the Snow Monkey area, we will stop at a convenience roadside stop. They are everywhere in Japan along the highways and have lots of options for food and also gift items as well as clean bathrooms (everything is clean in Japan!!). It is usually easier for everyone to choose what to eat at these stops.
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