Focus your lens on Japan’s exquisite wintertime landscapes, where snow, ice, and steaming hot springs provide the backdrop to a thrilling wildlife display. Explore dynamic Tokyo, and then fly north to Hokkaido to document the island’s magnificent red-crowned cranes as they perform splendid courtship dances amid the snow. Zoom in on whooper swans congregating on crater lakes, and capture the ancient ways of the Ainu people. Marvel at ice and snow sculpture masterpieces at a winter festival; soak in soothing hot springs; and conclude your journey in the mountains of Nagano, photographing Japan's famed snow monkeys.
Arrive in Japan and transfer to our centrally located hotel in one of Tokyo's dynamic neighborhoods.
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. Afterward, enjoy a festive welcome reception and dinner.
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.
Our day begins with an optional early-morning visit to Lake Kussharo to photograph the spectacular whooper swans. At a nearby cultural center, 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.
Go for an early photo walk along the shores of Lake Akan, or enjoy the hot springs at our hotel. Then depart by motor coach for a four-hour scenic drive to Sapporo, Hokkaido's capital city, stopping for lunch along the way. Visit the Sapporo Beer Museum and have dinner at a local grill. Afterward, stroll Odori Park for a glimpse of the renowned Snow Festival.
Train your lens on the snow-and-ice wonders of the Sapporo Snow Festival, one of Japan’s largest winter events. Photograph crystalline masterpieces competing for the top prize in the festival's international snow sculpture contest, and sample traditional food from across the island.
Return to Tokyo by air and travel by coach to Nagano, site of the 1998 Winter Olympics. En route, stop at Matsumoto Castle to photograph its historic and dramatic architecture.
On our way to the Japanese Alps, stop for a walk and lunch in the charming 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.
Today, we focus our lenses on the northernmost-living, nonhuman 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, multicourse kaiseki dinner featuring seasonal ingredients.
Visit the seventh-century Zenko-ji 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, traveling up to 200 miles per hour on the bullet train. This evening, gather for a farewell dinner.
Transfer to the airport for your return flight home.