2019 Winter Wildlife Photography Tour of Japan

Cherry blossom season and fall are perhaps the most famous seasons in Japan, though Winter in Japan is a beautiful time of year as well if you can handle the cold!  Japan’s wildlife in the Winter is beautiful and to just observe, but especially taking photos of Japan’s Winter wildlife is an amazing experience.  For the 2019 Winter Wildlife Photography Tour of Japan, we are planning on visiting and photographing Steller’s Sea Eagles, Whooper Swans, Red Crowned Cranes, Japanese Snow Monkeys and perhaps some other animals in Hokkaido such as Blakison’s Fish Owl, Ezo Red Fox and Sika Deer if we are lucky.  

The group size will be between 6 – 11 people including a photography leader that speaks intermediate Japanese and a Japanese assistant to cover administrative duties including checking into our hotels, ordering food and any other items that require Japanese assistance. 

Here are the trip reports from the 2017 Winter Wildlife Photo Tour of Japan and the 2018 Winter Wildlife Photography Tour of Japan.

2019 Winter Wildlife Photo Tour | 14 days, 13 nights
Tokyo | 2 nights (one at start and end)
Kyoto | 2 nights
Rausu | 2 nights
Kawayu Onsen | 1 night
Kushiro |  3 nights
Yudanaka Onsen  |  3 nights

Intro & Highlights

The basic plan will be in the next section, but here is a little about each place we plan on visiting. 

Tokyo | 2 nights, start and end

If New York is the city that never sleeps, Tokyo is the city the doesn't even slow down! A truly unique megalopolis, full of energy, lights and more food experiences that you could hope to try. For a city of this size (greater Tokyo area is around 35 million), Tokyo is amazingly clean, safe, provides ample and on time public transportation.  Depending on everyone's arrival, after getting situated into the hotel we will have a welcome dinner.

 

Kyoto | 2 nights

Kyoto is my favorite city in Japan and perhaps the world. It has a wonderful mix of modern and traditional Japan with food that is just as rich as Kyoto's history. Truly a unique place! Highlights include some spectacular temples and shrines like the Golden Pavilion, Ryoanji, Nanzenji, Kokedera and Fushimi Inari Taisha. Hopefully we will have a fresh coving of snow during our photo tour of Kyoto so we can take photos of places like the Golden Pavilion and bamboo forest with snow.  If the group is interested, we can also arrange a portrait session with a geiko (a geisha is referred to as geiko in Kyoto).

 

Steller's Sea Eagles in Japan | 2 nights

By now, hopefully the members of the Winter Wildlife Photography Tour of Japan have adjusted a bit and ready for some Winter wildlife in Japan!  We will fly up to Japan's northern most island, Hokkaido.  From there, if flight schedule allows, we will stop to take photos of Whooper Swans in Japan or Japanese Red Crowned Cranes on our way up to Rausu.  It's in Rausu where the next two mornings we will take a boat ride to photograph Steller's Sea Eagles.  We will keep our fingers crossed for a nice sunrise and drift ice to welcome us during our Winter Photography tour of Japan!  Here are photos of Steller's Sea Eagles from previous years of the Winter Photography Tour in Japan.

 

Whopper Swans in Japan | 1 Night

Next the photography tour will transfer to take photos of Whopper Swans against a fantastic Winter landscape where the hot waters from a natural spring meets with an ice covered lake.  There also could be an opportunity to stay at a Japanese Ryokan not too far away that has opportunities to photograph Blakiston's Fish Owl and other local wildlife. Here are photos of Whooper Swans from previous years of the Winter Wildlife Photo Tour of Japan.

 

Red Crowned Cranes in Japan  |  3 nights

After we spend time photographing the swans, we will head to Kushiro and spend the rest of the time in Hokkaido photographing the Japanese Red Crowned Crane.  There are multiple view points and sanctuaries that provide different atmosphere to observe and photograph these beautiful birds in Japan.  Here are photos of the Red Crowned Crane from previous years of the photography tour of Japan. 


 

Snow Monkeys  |  3 nights

Perhaps we have had enough time photographing birds in Japan by now, so we will head down to Tokyo by plane and then chartered bus to Nagano for the next few nights to photograph the Japanese Snow Monkeys.  The first day we arrive will most likely be a travel day, but we will have 2 full days to observe and photograph the Japanese Snow Monkeys and the last morning before heading on to our next destination.  Here are photos from the Winter Wildlife Photo Tour of Japan of the Japanese Snow Monkeys from previous years.

Tour Itinerary

Here is the basic itinerary for the Winter Wildlifel Photography Tour of Japan.  Dates are where we are staying that night and B = breakfast included, D = dinner included.

Feb 8th, Tokyo | DB

The group will meet in Tokyo on February 8th though if you wish to arrive early of course you can!  You can fly into either Narita or Haneda airport, though Haneda his highly recommended due to the proximity to city and the cost to transfer into Tokyo (which is on you).  The plan for this first day will depend on everyone's flights, but in most cases we will start with something in the afternoon or welcome dinner.

Feb 9th - 10th, Kyoto | B

After breakfast we will transfer by bullet train to Kyoto where we will will explore Japan's former capital filled with temples, shrines, traditional districts and more.  There will be minimal wildlife to photograph in Kyoto, but there are plenty of opportunities for miniature landscapes, portraits/street photography and of course, time for us to experience a little culture before heading into the remote country side of Japan.

Feb 11th - 12th, Rausu | BD

We will fly to northern Japan where we will have a chartered vehicle for the duration of our Winter Photography Tour in Japan.  In Rausu we will spend 2 mornings on boats photographing Steller's Sea Eagles.  We should have at least 3 boat rides to photograph the Steller's Sea Eagles.

Feb 13th, Kawayu Onsen | BD

Next we have a private transfer to Kawayu Onsen where we will spend some time with Whooper Swans at Lake Kussharo. We will have at least 1 morning photography session and 1 afternoon photo session with the swans.  Depending on flight schedule and other factors, we may stop by the swans after landing in Hokkaido.

Feb 14th - 16th - 31st, Kushiro | B

Again, we will have a private transfer to our next photography stop in Hokkaido. We will spend the next few days based in Kushiro to photograph the Red Crowned Cranes.  We will still have the chartered bus to take us to different view points and sanctuaries to photograph the Red Crowned Cranes. We should have 3 morning photography sessions and 3 afternoon photography sessions with the Red Crowned Cranes.

Feb 17th - 19th, Yudanaka Onsen | BD

After a morning session with the Red Crowned Cranes, we will fly back to Tokyo and have another private transfer to take us to our hotel in Yudanaka Onsen, close to the snow monkey park.  Our first day will be mostly a travel day, but we will have 2 full days with the Japanese Snow Monkeys and 1 morning if anyone is interested.

Feb 20th, Tokyo | B

Our photography tour is coming to an end and again we will transfer back to Tokyo by private transfer for one last night in Tokyo.  

 

Extension

There is potential for an extension to Fuji Five Lakes area, please inquire if interested!

 

Fuji Five Lakes  |  3  nights

Perhaps Japan's most iconic symbol, Mt. Fuji is best seen from afar rather than climbing!  Though the mountain has a reputation of being "shy" by hiding behind clouds, October - February offer the best percentage of days to see the mountain clearly.  We will base our stay in the resort town on Lake Kawaguchi though will also stop by some of the other five lakes searching for spectacular views of the mountain, hopefully with fall leaves, which in an average year we should have good timing for some areas of elevation in the area.

Accommodations

While Japanese accommodations are typically smaller than other countries, we will stay in a combination of Japanese Ryokans and "Western" style hotels, that will typically be 3 or 4 star accommodations. Japan is generally a very safe country, but certainly all of the places we will stay will be in safe locations as well as being convenient to our trip itinerary and being comfortable. Here are a few of the hotels I often reserve to give you an idea of the types of accommodations you can expect:

Tokyo | Shibuya Excel Hotel Tokyu or Akasaka Excel Hotel Tokyu
Kyoto | Royal Park Hotel, Kyoto

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There are some areas of Japan where we will not be able to find hotels to stay in as nice as these or times when we may sacrifice slightly on luxury in order to spend more time sleeping (in other words, staying closer to our photography locations in Japan), but all accommodations will be clean, safe and comfortable enough to get good night's rest.  That being said, some of the places in Hokkaido are very remote and sometimes fall into the category of sacrificing on luxury to be closer to our photography subjects!

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Investment

Fall Tour (13 nights) | $7100 USD

Single Occupancy Fee | $600 USD

Your investment per person, for this tour included:
  • 3-4 star accommodations for 13 nights for two people per room. Single rooms are available for a supplement of $600 USD and are due to availability.
  • Services of your photo leader and other local guides when applicable.
  • All transfers within Japan when we are together as a group, which will likely include a combination of bullet train (shinkansen), chartered transport and domestic air travel. Transfers to/from the airport as part of your international flight are not included.
  • Breakfast on all days and some other meals indicated on the itinerary.
  • Most temple, shrine and park fees are included unless there are some optional experiences you wish to take part in.
Your investment does not include:
  • Airfare to/from Japan or any fees associated with your tickets. Japan Photo Guide does have a relationship with a travel agency in Japan and can help you with airfare, but this is completely optional. If making your own reservations, it is very important to contact Japan Photo Guide before doing so to make sure times will work with the group.
  • Transfers to/from the airport for your international flight to Tokyo Hotel.
  • Participants from from some countries may need a visa to visit Japan. Japan Photo Guide can help you with the process, but there may be additional costs.
  • Any meals/activities/experiences during free time are not included and some of these while together are optional and are not included.
  • While some meals will be included, often there are additional beverages that are not included like alcohol and sometimes soft drinks.
  • All personal expenses are not included.
  • Medical or travel insurance is not included.
Other Notes About Your Investment

These prices are in United States Dollars are based on a group of 7 or more participants. If the group turns out to be 6 or less participants, there is small group fee of $500 USD per person or some potential changes to the itinerary.  9 would be the maximum number of participants. 

Photo Leader

evanpikesqEvan Pike, professional photographer and founder of Japan Photo Guide will be your main guide in Japan. Evan spent more than 4 years living and traveling around Japan as a freelance photographer. Though currently living in the USA, Evan returns to Japan 2 - 4 times a year for weeks at a time. Through personal experiences and connections gained by living/traveling within Japan, Evan offers guidance, assistance, and photography tips, to create a much more meaningful vacation for those visiting Japan. The main idea behind Japan Photo Guide is to create unique experiences and memories that will last much longer than the vacation itself. When not in Japan, Evan runs a boutique portrait studio in Cary, NC and is a photographer for USA Today Sports Images.  Evan can speak intermediate Japanese--conversational, situational and functional.

Testimonials

Japan Photo Guide has helped more travelers from more 11 different countries visit and experience Japan. Please take a look at the testimonial page for the most recent reviews of guided tours of Japan, but here are a few quotes taken from the reviews:

Thanks Evan for a trip of a lifetime. You are a wonderful guide and fantastic person. I feel I made a new friend.

Your ability to bridge the gap between U.S. and Japanese culture made the country come alive for me. You made it easy for me to see and do things that would have been extremely difficult and in some case impossible.

Nothing is more valuable when visiting a new place than someone with first-hand knowledge of and experience with the geography, the culture, the people, and the sights. Your energetic and enthusiastic guidance through Tokyo made our trip effortless and maximized our enjoyment of this amazing city.

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Additional Notes

Earthquakes

Earthquakes occur daily in Japan but high majority of them are so small they are not felt. In most cases, buildings in Japan are built to strict regulations to withstand moderate earthquakes but of course no place is completely safe nor can we predict earthquakes. In the unlikely event that we experience an earthquake of significance, it is important to be familiar with safety procedures. Japan Photo Guide highly recommends searching the web for this information but here is a good place to start your search.

Transit and Accommodations

All accommodations and hired transit (as well as public transit) will be clean, safe and hotels will have private bathrooms and showers. In general, Japan is a very safe and clean country, but still be mindful of valuables and your camera gear.

Health and Fitness

Please be aware that while we will not be taking place in any extreme workouts, there will be a considerable amount of walking and participants should be in good physical condition and health. Plan to have comfortable walking shoes as we will be walking not only a lot and on flat surfaces but also sometimes uphill/stairs.

Terms and Conditions

 

Insurance

Japan Photo Guide requires you to have health insurance that covers you while traveling. Travel insurance is strongly encouraged to help reduce risk of financial losses that could occur. Different restrictions and limitations apply to travel insurance so please contact your insurance provider of choice and read over the details of their policy carefully. Take into account factors such as weather, missed connections, unable to travel due to sickness, family emergency, injury, unexpected financial problems, airline strikes, or other personal issues.

Health Requirements

In most cases, tours in Japan require moderate activity levels but there will be a lot of walking. Additionally, you may find it difficult to adjust to multiple time zone changes depending on your country of origin. Waking up before sunrise for morning photography sessions also need to be taken into consideration as well as carrying your own photography equipment.

It is important to contact Japan Photo Guide before booking with any health or dietary concerns.

Most of the trip we will not be too far from hospitals or medical facilities, but there could be some days and time during transit where we are not within close range of immediate medical care.

Booking, Deposits, Cancellations and Refunds

Booking is available by first come first serve basis. To book a tour, you must submit the booking form and your deposit of $800 USD per person. Your spot is not reserved until you have submitted a form for your party and deposit per person. When booking less than 4 months in advance, payment in full is necessary.

If you need to cancel, you must submit the cancellation form and agree to the following conditions:

100 Days or more | You can receive a refund minus a $275 USD minimum cancellation fee per person plus any associated costs/fees (including credit card fees) charged by companies providing services, accommodations and experiences in Japan. Depending on the trip, fees could be in the amount of 25% to up to 100% of tour cost.

61 - 99 Days | You can receive a refund minus $550 USD minimum cancellation fee per person plus any associated costs/fees (including credit card fees) charged by companies providing services, accommodations and experiences in Japan. Depending on the trip, fees could be in the amount of 25% to up to 100% of tour cost.

60 Days or less through end of trip | No refund.

Tour Plan and Potential Changes

Japan Photo Guide designs tours with specific plans and goals in mind to experience all Japan has to offer, but in some cases, changes may need to be made without advance warning. Such changes could include but not limited to, accommodations, sightseeing schedule and experiences. When these changes need to be made, especially if weather is the factor for change, when possible, Japan Photo Guide will try to get input from the group when possible.

Model Photography Release

Japan Photo Guide reserves the right to use your picture, portrait, or photograph taken on tour in all forms and media and in all manners, including composite or distorted representations, for advertising, trade, or any other lawful purposes. Any photographs submitted to Japan Photo Guide also may be used online or printed for promotional use.

Note about the use of the word "Guide" in Japan Photo Guide:

Recently Japan has relaxed their laws about guides.  The amended law allows people without a national tourist guide license to guide international travelers in their native language.  That being said I still like to include the follow though it doesn't hold exactly as before:


I am not an official licensed guide in Japan or anywhere else!  Japan has very strict guidelines on becoming an official guide.  Basically there are 3 levels which now are all somewhat "grey areas" since the amended law:

1.  English Speaking Guide(ESG): Officially licensed guide. She/He can do guiding, escorting, interpreting or doing anything
2.  English Speaking Escort(ESE): Non-Licensed. She/He can escort the group and give them the instruction or information but cannot provide the history, culture, tradition and so on.  With new laws, as long as I'm speaking to you in English, I an provide additional information.
3.  English Speaking Assistant(ESA): Non-Licensed. She/He will just help boarding train or bus, or helping check-in etc.

I am number 2, ESE.  This means that I cannot be paid to teach you about Japanese history, culture, traditions and so on.  The "guide" in Japan Photo Guide is meant for photography location guide, not guide of Japan.  Any payment is not to hire me as an "Official English Speaking Guide" in Japan.


Photography Tour vs Photography Workshop

While Evan is happy to share any advice and techniques related to photography, this is a photography tour designed for photographers to enjoy Japan.  There are currently no "classes" or "workshops" planned though if interested, group discussion and reviews are always welcome.

Cost

7100

USD$ per person

Book your Trip Now

Tour Schedule

Tour dates: February 8th - 21st, 2019

Extension dates: TBD