Wildlife and Cultural Adventure in a Wintery World with Kate Ulberg

Overview

Wild monkeys soaking in geothermal pools, graceful cranes preening and “dancing” on snowy rivers, whooper swans gliding on icy lakes, the snow sculptures of Sapporo—this is the natural winter world of Japan. With Trip Leader Kate Ulberg, our cultural ambassador to Japan, we head to the Japanese Alps to watch snow monkeys (Japanese macaques) as they blissfully soak in bubbling mineral springs deep in the forest (we’ll enjoy soaks of our own at our traditional hot-springs inn). In Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, we join in the fun and food of the Sapporo Snow Festival, where huge snow sculptures line the streets. At the great Kushiro Marsh, Japan’s largest wetland reserve, we’ll watch flocks of red-crested cranes, the symbol of Japan, awaken at dawn as the fog lifts over the icy river—a sight to behold. Journeying to Lake Akan National Park, with its caldera lakes, we’ll witness a lakeside Ainu cultural festival with traditional dances. Most nights we’ll stay in ryokans, where a hot soak at the end of the day will feel particularly good in the winter! A highlight of any visit to Japan is its superb cuisine, and we sample both familiar and new dishes, plus winter specialties such as yosanabe (“hot pot,” often cooked right at the table), along with Hokkaido’s bounty of amazing seafood. Japan is a new world in many ways in winter—get out your winter boots and warm parka and join us!

Itinerary at a Glance

Days 1-3, Feb 3- 5, 2019
Tokyo / Yudanaka / Snow Monkeys

From Tokyo, the “bullet train” takes us up to Nagano and we head up to the ancient hot springs town of Yudanaka in the Japanese Alps. The mineral springs where the Japanese macaques reside is just a short walk from our inn. We’ll enjoy watching and photographing these fascinating creatures as they play, groom, and bathe in the springs.

Days 4-5, Feb 6- 7, 2019
Hokkaido / Sapporo Snow Festival

Flying to the lovely city of Sapporo, capital of Hokkaido, we join in the fun of the annual Snow Festival, with its giant snow and ice sculptures, intricately carved and lit at night.

Days 6-7, Feb 8- 9, 2019
Kushiro Marsh / Red-Crested Cranes

In Hokkaido’s scenic countryside, we head for the Kushiro Marsh, home to half the world’s population of red-crested cranes (known as tancho in Japanese). We’ll witness their famous courtship dances as we explore the sanctuary and marshlands where they reside. An optional dawn viewing is a special treat, and we’ll take a canoe trip through the marshland to view birds and other wildlife.

Days 8-9, Feb 10-11, 2019
Lake Akan / Lake Kussharo / Whooper Swans

The spectacular crater lake of Akan is the site of an Ainu cultural center, and we’ll see the traditional dances held at the lake. At Lake Kussharo, flocks of wintering whooper swans gather here to feed around the shallows and we’ll be able to see these beautiful white birds in the hundreds, along with possible red foxes and sea eagles.

Days 10-11, Feb 12-13, 2019
Sapporo / Depart

After our Farewell Dinner and overnight in Sapporo, we depart on homeward flights.

Highlights

Highlights

Get a fascinating insider perspective on Japanese culture with Kate Ulberg
See the famous “snow monkeys” of Japan’s Alps and the red-crested cranes and whooper swans of Hokkaido
Join in the fun of the Sapporo Snow Festival, see the Snow Light Path Festival in Otaru
Enjoy cozy traditional ryokans, a great way to experience Japanese life

Details

Length: 11 days
Cost From: $8395  
Arrive: Tokyo, Japan
Depart: Sapporo, Japan
Lodging: 10 nights ryokans and hotels
Meals: All meals included except 8 lunches and 1 dinner (B=Breakfast, L=Lunch, D=Dinner)
Activity: Cultural Adventures, Walking
Trip Level:

Walking, including some steep stairs, 6-7 hours a day, Japanese-style dining (sitting on floor)