Venture to Japan during the heart of winter, when snow-mantled mountains, frost-fringed wetlands, and steaming crater lakes set the stage for an incredible wildlife spectacle. Explore dynamic Tokyo, and then fly to the wild island of Hokkaido to witness the splendid courtship displays of the endangered red-crowned crane. Search for red foxes and sika deer amid the geothermal landscapes of Akan National Park, and learn about the ancient ways of the indigenous Ainu people. Continue to Sapporo to experience the city’s internationally-renowned winter festival. Conclude our journey amid the hot springs of Kanbayashi Onsen, enjoying up close encounters with Japan’s famous snow monkeys.
Arrive in Japan and transfer to our centrally located hotel in one of Tokyo's dynamic neighborhoods.
Begin the day at Meiji Shrine, Tokyo's most important Shinto shrine. After lunch at a local restaurant, take in the organized chaos at Shibuya Crossing, one of the busiest intersections in the world. Later, visit an antiquities museum or a Japanese garden and venture into a traditional teahouse to partake in the elaborate ritual of an authentic tea ceremony.
The northernmost of Japan's four main islands, Hokkaido is a vast, rugged frontier of snowy mountains, primeval forests, volcanoes, and lakes. Fly to the fishing port of Kushiro and experience the colorful bustle of the Washo Fish Market. Then 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. Learn about the history and ecology of Japanese cranes and the conservation efforts that have brought them back from the brink of extinction. Witness their spectacular, noisy courtship displays and synchronized dancing amid the quiet landscapes of winter—the best time to see the cranes in action. Continue to our resort overlooking Lake Akan, surrounded by mountains and volcanoes. Unwind at the on-site onsen, or hot spring baths.
Visit a nearby cultural center and enjoy a vibrant dance performance by Hokkaido’s indigenous Ainu people. Spend the afternoon exploring the geothermal features of Akan National Park, where bubbling hot springs and fumaroles steam through the snow. Look for sika deer and red foxes 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.
Drive to Abashiri and cruise the Okhotsk Sea on an icebreaker, marveling at the drift ice floating by. Continue to Sounkyo, located in a giant gorge with multiple hot springs and surrounded by dramatic waterfalls and rock formations. In the evening, celebrate the Ice Waterfall Festival and marvel at the illuminated frozen waterfalls surrounding Sounkyo.
Spend the day exploring the mountainous terrain of Daisetsuzan National Park. Known as the "roof of Hokkaido," the pristine wilderness of Japan's largest national park teems with wildlife, flora, and unique geological features. In the evening, return to the illuminated frozen waterfalls surrounding Sounkyo.
Drive to the Asahikawa Airport and return to Tokyo by air. Drive to Nagano, site of the 1998 Winter Olympics. En route, stop at the Matsumoto Castle, known for its unique black exterior.
Begin the day strolling the picturesque chestnut path of Obuse village and its Hokusai Art Museum. 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 relaxing at the inn’s soothing onsen, which include indoor baths and outdoor cascading hot springs nestled amid peaceful gardens.
Buried in snow several months of the year, the mountains of Nagano are home to the wild Japanese macaque, or snow monkey. Walk along a nature trail 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. Observe and photograph these remarkable primates up close as they soak, groom, and socialize against a steamy, snow-draped backdrop. This evening, sit down to a multi-course kaiseki dinner at our ryokan.
Drive to Nagano and explore the city’s highlights, including the seventh-century Zenkoji Temple, an important pilgrimage destination which houses the first Buddhist statue brought to Japan. Return to Tokyo by bullet train, a quintessential Japanese travel experience, traveling up to 200 miles per hour. This evening, gather for a farewell dinner.
Transfer to the airport for your return flight home.