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NEW! We’ve added two nights to set a good pace and not miss any of Japan’s amazing winter sightings. Japan offers a fantastic array of birding and nature opportunities—from the wintering cranes in Kagoshima to the world-famous Snow Monkeys in Jigokudani.
Marvel at massive flocks of waterfowl, working back and forth from the coast to the rice fields. Search for the range-restricted Saunders’s Gull, and hopefully spot endangered Black-faced Spoonbill. Enjoy the wonderful town of Karuizawa, with the possibility of getting good views of the endemic Copper Pheasant. Cruise among chunks of ice where Steller’s Sea Eagles feed. Explore the Shiretoko Peninsula in search of Asian Rosy-Finch and Snow Bunting.
- "FABULOUS! We saw many beautiful areas of Japan, great birds, the snow monkeys, had a variety of local food experiences and many lovely interactions with the Japanese people. Our guides, Bryan and Koichi, were AMAZING!" -- 2022 Traveler
- "Locations for birding were all great and resulted in good sightings. Bryan was fantastic...he not only knew where the birds were, but he could read and speak Japanese which was a HUGE help. Koichi (our driver) was like another guide...knew the bird locations and could find the birds, was extremely helpful in restaurants and hotels, and an excellent driver. He was so kind and considerate...seeing what needed to be done and how he could help BEFORE being asked. They are a GREAT team!!!!" -- 2022 Traveler
- Discover Japan and all the wonderful winter birding on offer
- Marvel at over 15,000 cranes at the Crane Observation center in Izumi
- Enjoy the world-famous Snow Monkeys bathing in the hot springs of Jigokudani
- Explore historic Japanese sites such as the Zenkoji Temple, founded in the 7th Century
- Stay two nights at a stunning mountain inn, where Blakiston’s Fish-Owl comes to fish at night
- Watch for the once-near extinct, Red-crowned Cranes in Hokkaido
- Search the low-mountains for Japanese Woodpecker and Mountain Hawk-Eagle
Itineraries are guidelines; variations in itinerary may occur to account for weather, road conditions, closures, etc. and to maximize your experience.
Wed., Nov. 29 : Arrivals
Welcome to Japan! Tokyo has two international airports; we have planned this first night near Haneda Airport (HND) with an easy airport hotel. We officially kick off our trip with a welcome dinner tonight.
Please ask your Naturalist Journeys travel specialist to connect you with our travel agent, who is happy to help
you book your flight. We pay her ticketing fee.
Accommodations at a convenient Haneda Airport Hotel (D)
Thurs., Nov. 30 : Morning Birding | Kagoshima | Izumi
This morning we take a short walk near the hotel for an intro to some of the more common bird species in the Tokyo area. Brown-eared Bulbul and White-cheeked Starling are common in the city, and we may see our first Dusky Thrush—a common winter visitor. Depending on the time of our flight to Kagoshima, we may visit a nearby river where we are likely to see Common Pochard, Eurasian Green-winged Teal, Eurasian Wigeon, Great Cormorant, and more. If the day is clear, we may get a view of Mt. Fuji. We then return to the airport for our flight to Kagoshima.
Kagoshima is located at the southern tip of the island of Kyushu. It’s far enough south that even in the middle of winter the weather is normally pleasant, with highs in the mid-50s (but still occasionally gets snow). We stay in the small city of Izumi, about a two-hour drive from Kagoshima. Izumi is famous for the Crane Observation Center and the 15,000 cranes that spend the winter here. The majority are Hooded and White-naped Cranes, but there are always a few other species in the area, possibly including Common, Siberian, Sandhill (from the population that breeds in eastern Siberia), and Demoiselle. In addition to the cranes, there are a huge number of other birds that winter here. Witness massive flocks of waterfowl work back and forth from the coast and the same rice fields the cranes are using. Brush and reeds along the rivers hold Reed, Rustic, Chestnut-eared, and Ochre-rumped Buntings, and we work for Chinese Penduline-Tit. Of course, there are many other regular winter species, as well as some great rarities, making it a really exciting area to bird.
Accommodations in Izumi (B,L,D)
Fri., Dec. 1 & Sat., Dec. 2 : Izumi Crane Center | Local Fields & Wetlands
This is our best birding area on this tour, so we have included plenty of time here to make sure we cover the area well. There are a few other areas nearby that we visit to get more variety in both habitats and species. A short drive from the hotel and we are in the low mountains where we can see Varied, Japanese, and Long-tailed Tits; Pygmy, White-backed, and Japanese Woodpeckers; and Mountain Hawk-Eagle are often soaring nearby. Additionally, we search along some of the rocky rivers for Long-billed Plover, and at a beautiful mountain lake, Mandarin Duck.
One morning we drive north to visit some of the most productive mudflats in Japan for shorebirds and gulls. One of the highlights is the range restricted Saunders’s Gull (among many other species of gulls such as Black-headed, Black-tailed Herring, and Slaty-backed), but some winters there are a few endangered, Black-faced Spoonbill in the area among the other waders.
We also make time to soak in the traditional Japanese architecture and local sites—Izumi-Fumoto is a beautifully well-preserved Samurai residence with historic items surrounded in leafy gardens. And we would be remiss not to indulge in the delicious local foods.
Accommodations in Izumi (B,L,D)
Sun., Dec. 3 : Morning Birding | Flight to Komatsu
Today we leave Izumi on a flight from Kagoshima. We take our time and bird our way to Fukuoka before catching our flight to Komatsu on the island of Honshu.
Accommodations in Komatsu (B,L,D)
Mon., Dec. 4 : Komatsu
Komatsu is a relatively small city on the Sea of Japan side of Honshu. It has a well-deserved reputation for being cold and snowy, but that weather brings with it lots of waterfowl. Along with the more familiar species like Mallard and Northern Pintail, we should be able to find some specialties like Eastern Spot-billed Duck, Falcated Duck, Smew, and of course the gorgeous Baikal Teal. We visit a couple of wetland sites, one with an impressive visitor center and scopes set up to view the waterfowl. The rocky coastline is good for Red-throated, Arctic, and Pacific Loons, sea ducks, and Great and Japanese Cormorants.
Accommodations in Komatsu (B,L,D)
Tues., Dec. 5 : Kanazawa Kenrokuen Japanese Garden | Ride the Bullet Train!
Japanese Gardens hold their beauty year round, and today we enjoy visiting the Kanazawa Kenrokuen gardens. This landscape garden is often listed as one of the top three in Japan, dating from 1871. Our walk through reveals many elements of the garden layout and of course, we keep our binoculars handy for birds that appreciate the green oasis too.
In the afternoon we have our first view of the Japanese Alps as we head into Nagano Prefecture. Our destination is the town of Nakano and we get there via the Bullet Train! Our hotel for the night is a short walk from the station and we dine at a favorite local restaurant.
Accommodations in Nakano (B,L,D)
Wed., Dec. 6 : Jigokudani Snow Monkeys | Zenkoji Temple | Karuizawa
Today is a bit less birding but still a very exciting day. We start with the world famous “Snow Monkeys” of Jigokudani. The Snow Monkeys, or Japanese Macaques, overcome the frigid winters of the Japanese Alps by hanging out in the natural hot springs of Jigokudani (meaning Hell’s Canyon). We have a hike of about a mile and often see mixed flocks of Coal, Varied, Willow, and Japanese Tits, and Goldcrest and Eurasian Siskin on the walk into the canyon. While we enjoy the antics of the Snow Monkeys, we also scan the steep canyon for another exciting mammal—the Japanese Serow (a goat-antelope). In the afternoon we visit one of the most important and popular Buddhist sites in Japan—Zenkoji Temple (founded in the 7th Century).
Accommodations in Nakano (B,L,D
Thurs., Dec. 7 : Karuizawa
This morning we head out early for Karuizawa, a beautiful resort town for people from Tokyo to escape the city. In the winter they come to ski, ice skate, and enjoy the hot springs (Onsen). Birders come here for the chance at what is probably the most difficult bird of the trip—the endemic Copper Pheasant. This gorgeous bird is fairly common in the mountains around Karuizawa but can be extremely difficult to find. Depending on the snow levels, they sometimes forage along roadsides where the snow is less deep. The last few years there has not been as much snow so we normally end up doing some hikes through the forest at beautiful regional park with excellent trails. Other birds of interest here include Japanese Woodpecker, Japanese Grosbeak, Japanese Accentor, Japanese Waxwing, and others.
Accommodations in Karuizawa (B,L,D)
Fri., Dec. 8 : Matsumoto Castle | Karuizawa
After a bit of early morning birding today we visit another cultural site: Matsumoto Castle, one of the most beautiful and well-known castles in Japan. While primarily a cultural day, the castle is surround by a series of moats that hold a good assortment of waterfowl and the gardens are home to Dusky Thrush and other passerine species. We spend some time exploring the grounds and touring the castle and exhibits inside. As we travel back to our hotel for the night we stop and bird at a couple of spots looking for any key species that we have yet to encounter.
Accommodations in Karuizawa (B,L,D)
Sat., Dec. 9 : Karuizawa | Return to Tokyo
This morning we make our way back to Tokyo, stopping at several local parks that have lakes and wetlands where in some years, we have found rare Oriental Stork. Today we wrap up the Honshu portion of our trip. We have the day to visit birding hotspots and our lodgings are back at the Haneda Airport to position for an early flight to Kushiro, Hokkaido the following day
Accommodations in Tokyo at the Haneda Airport (B,L,D)
Sun., Dec. 10 : Kushiro | Red-crowned Cranes | Yoroushi Onsen
This morning we take the earliest flight available to the northernmost island in Japan—Hokkaido. Winter is in full force here and while most birds move much further south, there are some wonderful species that we search for here and it is often the highlight of the trip for many participants. Our first stop is for Red-crowned Cranes. Once almost extinct in Japan, they have made a great recovery and are now common. In the winter most of the cranes are concentrated into a couple of areas where they are fed by locals, so we are guaranteed great views of these magnificent birds.
Once we’ve spent plenty of time with the cranes, we enjoy a local café with feeders where songbirds come in for close-up views, including the delightful “Snow Fairy”, a light-headed form of Long-tailed Tit found here. We stay close to the crane area this evening, perhaps taking in views from a bridge where they come in to roost.
Accommodations in Yoroushi Onsen (B,L,D)
Mon., Dec. 11 : Yoroushi Onsen | Blakiston’s Fish-Owl
After some dawn time with the cranes (optional), we head north to the top lodge of our trip for the next two nights. We stay at a traditional onsen (hot spring) resort. There are feeders that draw in the Hokkaido subspecies of Eurasian Jay and a variety of tits (Coal, Marsh, Willow, and Japanese) and woodpeckers (Pygmy, White-backed, and Great Spotted). The river often has Brown Dipper and, if we’re lucky, Solitary Snipe. But the highlight here is after dark, when Blakiston’s Fish-Owl (the largest living species of owl!) comes to the river or pond only a few feet from the lodge windows. You may even get lucky and see the owl while you enjoy an evening soak in the hot springs. Meals and hospitality are also key to this wonderful experience.
Accommodations in Yoroushi Onsen (B,L,D)
Tues., Dec. 12 : Rausu | Shiretoko Peninsula | Yoroushi Onsen
After breakfast we drive north along the coast. Northeast Hokkaido holds a large population of wintering Steller’s Sea-Eagle and White-tailed Eagle. We drive north to Rauso, where we take a short cruise on which we have incredible views of them sitting on floating ice in the ocean (the ice is not always present so, if not, we watch them fly near the boat as well as from several viewpoints along the coast). Along the coast we also look for sea ducks (including Stejneger’s and Black Scoters and Long-tailed Duck), alcids (such as Pigeon and Spectacled Guillemot, Common, and Thick-billed Murre, and Ancient Murrelet), and loons while we admire the snow-covered mountains of the Shiretoko Peninsula. In the evening we return to the same lodge for another delightful evening and a second chance at Blakiston’s Fish-Owl.
Accommodations in Yoroushi Onsen (B,L,D)
Wed., Dec. 13 : Southeast Hokkaido | Nemuro
This morning we bird around the lodge, looking for specialty birds along the snowy creek. We then work our way to the southeast corner of Hokkaido. We stop in a number of harbors as we head south, using our scopes to view eagles and seabirds. We may see Red Fox, and we should see good numbers of waterfowl including Harlequin Duck and swans. Passerines are scarce here in the winter, but we do keep our eyes open for Snow Bunting and Asian Rosy-Finch.
Accommodations in Nemuro (B,L,D)
Thurs., Dec. 14 : Nemuro Peninsula
Today we have the whole day to explore the Nemuro Peninsula. Nemuro City has done a lot to welcome birdwatchers and we visit several blinds where we can get out of the cold while we scan the bays and shores. Watch for sea ducks, guillemots, murres and gulls, White-tailed Eagle and Steller’s Sea-Eagle, and more. The Kuril Islands, taken from Japan by Russia in World War II, are visible as we reach the tip of the peninsula. This is our best chance to spot several alcid species from two prominent lighthouse points as we explore. Enjoy a celebratory dinner tonight as we reminisce about our grand trip.
Accommodations in Nemuro (B,L,D)
Fri., Dec. 15 : Southeast Hokkaido | Flight to Tokyo
All good things must come to an end, and this morning we make the drive back to Kushiro, as time allows hitting a couple of key locations for species we may still be missing. We arrive at the airport late morning for our flight back to Tokyo, arriving at Haneda airport typically by 2:00 PM. There are some international flights that leave Haneda from 5:00 PM onward; please check with us closer to departure if you’re booking before 8:00 PM so we can confirm our connecting flight. Please note that flights off of Hokkaido are subject to winter storms, fog, and flight delays, so you may want to build in a buffer day to your plans; we can book you an airport hotel if you wish (not included). (B,L,D)
Hooded Crane, Francesco Veronesi via Creative Commons
White-naped Crane by Alastair Rae via Creative Commons
White-backed Woodpecker by Ron Knight via Creative Commons
Varied Tit by Laitche via Creative Commons
Siberian Cranes by Bernard Dupont
Demoiselle Crane by Ken Billington via Creative Commons
Zenkoji Temple by Motokoka via Creative Commons
Red-crowned Cranes by Musicaline via Creative Commons
Long-tailed Tit by Alpsdake via Creative Commons
Japanese Woopecker by Alpsdake via Wikimedia Commons
Japanese Tit by Alpsdake
Japanese Grosbeak by M. Nishimura via Creative Commons
Japanese Serow by Alpsdake via Creative Commons
Arctic Loon by Carley, Curtis.
Goldcrest by Alpsdake via Creative Commons
Izumi by Ty19080914 via Creative Commons
Mountain Hawk-eagle by Mike Prince via Wikimedia Commons
Japanese Macaque by Matt Bubernak on Unsplash
Falcated Duck by Francis C. Franklin via Creative Commons
Copper Pheasant by KKPCW via Creative Commons
Blakiston’s Fish-Owl, by Takashi Muramatsu via Flickr
Cost of the Journey
The cost of the tour: $7390* DBL / $8180*, from Tokyo. *Does not include required internal flights, estimated at $600. This tour requires internal flights that our operator will book for you using the Japan Air Pass system. To book them we need a copy of your passport and your international flights. We want to keep the group together so we hope to have air booked not later than the end of August 2023. Cost of the Tour Includes: Accommodations for 16 nights, meals as specified in the itinerary (B=breakfast, L=lunch, D=dinner), park entrance and other activity fees for activities as described in the itinerary, professional guide services, pre-departure materials and miscellaneous program expenses. Cost does not Include: Round-trip airfare to and from Tokyo, Japan, or internal flights. It does not include items of a personal nature such as laundry, telephone, drinks from the bar; or gratuities for luggage handling or personal services.
Please plan to make air travel plans only after the minimum group size has been met. We will send you a confirmation email as soon as the trip has been confirmed.
Arrival and Departure Airport: Haneda Airport (HND) in Ota City, Japan
Arrival Details: Plan to arrive November 29 by 5:00 PM if you wish to join the group for dinner
Departure Details: December 15 after 5:00 PM
Travel Tips: If you arrive early we suggest booking an early night at our first night tour hotel, the Hotel Mystays Haneda. You can book online and send us your confirmation number, with the goal being you won’t have to switch rooms. If you would like to book a different hotel, there are many options and it’s best to work with your travel agent to find something that best suits your needs. If you’d like to explore Tokyo, there are an endless number of things to see! The Anamori Inari Shrine is located behind the Hotel Mystays Haneda and is an early 19th century Shinto shrine that has dozens of fox statues. Other shrines worth visiting are the Asakusa Shrine, the most famous in Tokyo, and the Meiji Jinjgu Shrine, dedicated to Emperor Meiji and also located in a park with good birding. If you’d like to visit botanical gardens, the Hamarikyu Gardens are nice to walk around and can be good for birding, even in winter. Do you prefer museums? The Sumida Hokusai Museum features exhibits on the life and art of Katsushika Hokusai, recognized as one of Japan’s greatest artists. The Edo Tokyo Museum has exhibits on the history of Tokyo. The Tokyo National Museum is the oldest in Japan and has the largest collection of important cultural artifacts. And finally, if you really want to get an early start on your birding list, head over to Tokyo Port Wild Bird Park, a nature preserve next to Tokyo Bay.
Browse below for trip reports and species lists from past versions of this and other tours from this destination.
Bryan Shirley graduated from the University of Kentucky with a degree in Japanese/International Economics. He lived in Japan for 3 years when he was 20 and fell in love with the language and culture and has been guiding and birding there ever since. Besides guiding in Japan, he regularly leads tours for Japanese birding groups around the US and other countries. When not guiding he has been involved with various DWR and USFWS projects such as relocating Sage Grouse, breeding bird surveys, and bird-related projects for private environmental consulting firms. He also has volunteered his time to serve as president of Utah County Birders and organizes the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Counts for Provo and Payson, Utah where he currently resides. He currently is a member of the Utah Bird Records Committee.
Other trips with Bryan Shirley
Essential Information +
This information is important for being prepared for your journey; we want you to have the best experience possible. If you only read one section, this one is key!
Ahead of your tour
- Make sure your passport will be valid at least six months after the date of your scheduled return to the U.S. No Visas are required for U.S. citizens for stays of this duration, though you must have a return airline ticket. If you are from another country, please contact the Embassy of Japan website for guidelines.
- Please check current CDC recommendations for travel to Japan and consult with your doctor about general travel vaccinations you should have as precaution for travel. See the “Health and Inoculations” section below.
- Travel insurance in case of serious medical emergency is strongly recommended. Full health coverage and repatriation is available through Allianz Travel Insurance.
- Plan your flight reservations arriving into and departing from Haneda Airport (HND). Send a copy of your itinerary to the Naturalist Journeys office, please.
- Soft sided luggage/duffel bags are easiest for packing the vans. Pack essential medications in your carryon luggage, as well as one day of clothing and optics in case of luggage delay.
Arrival into Haneda Airport (HND) in Ota City, Tokyo
Please note: If you are delayed in travel, please refer to your emergency contact list, and contact your ground operator, with a copy to our office. In addition, you may choose to phone or text your guide. Quite a few guides will set up a WhatsApp connection so you can also reach your guide by phone.
Tokyo has two international airports; we have planned this first night near Haneda Airport (HND) with an airport hotel. But, if you prefer to fly into Narita (NRT), our hotel is an easy 1.5-hour transfer ($30USD) away. Please plan to arrive in time to meet the group for dinner on the first day of the tour.
We will coordinate your pick-ups close to your departure with operators and guides once we have all travelers completed travel information. Please make sure we have both your ARRIVAL and DEPARTURE information, so they can plan this. It is imperative that we have your correct TRAVEL information; we appreciate if you email us a copy of your flight reservation. They will check internet for your updated flight information.
A driver will be sent for you and they may come inside to meet you, holding a sign, or they may be just outside the main doors at the curb looking for you. We have asked them to wear binoculars to help identify themselves and you can help them by doing so also. If for any reason you do not find them, there is a tourist office that can help you phone them, or if you can get on the Wi-Fi or cell to check for messages that is great.
Please check the Travel Details tab for additional information and updates for this tour.
Departures from Haneda Airport (HND) in Ota City, Tokyo
The tour will conclude with arrival at Haneda Airport around 2:00 PM. Please plan departures from either Haneda Airport or Narita Airport after 5:00 PM on the last day of the tour, and please check with us closer to departure if you’re booking before 8:00 PM so we can confirm our connecting flight. Note that flights off of Hokkaido are subject to storms, fog, and flight delays, so you may want to build an extra day into your plans. Many flights leave around midnight, but if you prefer to overnight (additional cost) in Tokyo, you can depart at your leisure the next day. The departure fee is now typically built into your airline fare.
Please check the Travel Details tab for additional information and updates for this tour.
Passports, Visas & Documents
You must have a passport that is in good condition and is valid for six months AFTER your scheduled return to the U.S. You should have at least one blank page per stamp. The blank pages need to say “Visas” at the top. Pages marked “Amendments and Endorsements” will not be accepted. If you are from another country, please contact the Japanese embassy website for guidelines. Information for U.S. citizens can be found at:
It is always smart to check for changes 60-90 days before your tour departs but at the time of writing, a tourist visa is not required for stays of this tour's duration. You will need proof of a return ticket. The necessary documents will be distributed by your airline while in flight or provided for you upon arrival. We advise that you bring your eContact list of hotels for use at immigration as well.
As a precaution for lost or misplaced documents you carry on your person during travel, we highly recommend you keep hard and digital backup copies on your phone (either photo or PDF scan), as well as a hard copy left with your emergency contact at home. The recommended important documents to copy include but are not limited to; your passport ID page, travel visa, the front and back of your credit card(s), the airline barcode on your luggage. This will greatly expedite getting new ones if necessary – we hope everyone will keep their primary travel documents close at all times (such as in an under-clothing document pouch) to reduce this risk.
General Health & Inoculations Information - Be Prepared!
We will share your health information with your guide. This information will be kept confidential but is very important as we want to be best prepared in case of medical emergency.
Vaccinations: Bring copies of your current vaccination records with you. Although at the time of writing there are no vaccinations required, the CDC recommends that all travelers be up to date with routine vaccinations and basic travel vaccines (such as Hepatitis A and Typhoid) before traveling to any destination. Please check with your doctor for recommendations at least 4-6 weeks before departing on your trip. Check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) webpage for Traveler's Health for other helpful information or reach them by phone at 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636).
Prescriptions and Allergies: It is a good idea to pack any meds you take regularly in your carry-on luggage. Bring an extra pair of glasses or contact lenses. Bring an adequate supply of any prescription medications you use, a copy of the prescription and a list of generic names of your medicines as “back-up” in case it is necessary to purchase drugs while abroad. You’ll want to keep medications in their original, labeled containers. It is also recommended to carry with you an up-to-date record of known allergies, chronic medical problems and Medic Alerts so that, if necessary, emergency treatment can be carried out without endangering your health.
Common Ailments: We recommend that you bring a travel-sized first aid kit and a supply of standard over-the-counter medications for common ailments (such as upset stomach, headache, motion sickness, diahhrea, minor scrapes, bug bites, etc.).
Weather & Climate
In general, the weather during your stay will range considerably with your location. Expect conditions in the north from cool and cloudy to cold and snowy, with lows in the low-30’s and highs in the upper-50’s, though Tokyo and southern areas could reach the mid-70’s with chance of rain. Check your favorite weather website closer to your departure to better predict what the weather will be on your adventure.
Food & Drink
Tap water is safe to drink everywhere in Japan, and the wide variety and high quality of Japanese cuisine is one of the highlights of any trip to the country.
Bottled water will be available for field trips and drinking water is provided for you to refill a bottle. One of the many ways we strive to do our part for the environment is by trying to reduce our consumption of plastics; if convenient we appreciate you bringing reusable water bottles. Your guide will let you know when bottled water is preferable.
Packing, Clothing & Laundry
Dress is very informal and laundry services are available for a fee at our hotels. While some people will change for dinner, it is usually just to a drier or cleaner version of what they wore during the day.
Please, pack light. We are serious about this – we move around a lot! We know it is challenging with such a wide variety of potential temperatures in the winter, but please do not bring anything more than you must.
TRAVEL TIP: Imagine NOT getting your suitcase. Wear your most important shoes for the field and have one day’s clothing change (including a change of underwear!). And please do not pack any essential medications, or your vital optics, in your checked luggage!
The official currency in Japan is the Yen. We advise you carry a mix of different types of payments, such as cash, an ATM card, and a credit card. For the current exchange rate, please refer to an online converter tool like www.xe.com, or your bank.
When using the ATM to withdrawal cash, keep in mind it might only accept cards from local banks or not allow cash advances on credit cards. Many U.S. banks charge a fee of $1 - $5 each time you use a foreign ATM. Others may charge you a percentage of the amount you withdraw. Check with your bank before departure. You must become familiar with how to use your ATM card and PIN number ahead of the journey.
We suggest you have more than one card available, if possible. You may want to bring more than one brand of card (VISA and Mastercard are commonly accepted; American Express is less common). You can use credit cards at lodges to pay your bar and gift tabs. Not every shop will accept every card. Some smaller shops and restaurants, or taxis require cash, so it is always a good idea to ask before making a purchase. Also, we recommend that you advise your bank or credit card company that you will be traveling abroad to avoid questions, card freezes, or charges. If you have a choice of cards, bring one with no foreign exchange fees.
Traveler’s checks are not widely accepted. They can be difficult to exchange. We do not advise you use them.
Tipping throughout the tour is at your discretion. Some guidelines follow. At larger (mostly city) hotels, tip maids and bar service as you would at home. At eco-lodges, there is typically a staff tip box in a public area; the going rate per person is $6-$10 a day, which is shared among staff for maid service, and general staff service at the lodges. Gratuities for group meals are already included. Your Naturalist Journeys host will take care of smaller tips such field trip services by boat drivers, night drive outings, single activities. Your additional tip is encouraged for birding tour guides and drivers who are with you for several days or the full trip; $10-$15 per day per guest is standard for guide service, and half that for a driver. If you have more than one local guide at a location, they will share the daily amount. We encourage tipping for the local teams hosting you; anything extra for your Naturalist Journeys host is at your discretion.
Cell Phones & Internet Service
If you plan on using your cell phone on this trip, please check with your wireless provider to see if your phone and service will work in your destination country. Options include activating international roaming, purchasing a local SIM card at the airport (newer phones may not accept SIM cards), or simply turning off cellular service and relying on Wi-Fi to make calls and access the internet.
Make sure if you do NOT want to use your cell phone that you turn off cellular data, otherwise you could incur huge charges when you are not on Wi-Fi. Putting your phone in airplane mode if you primarily use it for photos will save the battery as well.
Your hotels and most local restaurants provide Wi-Fi at least in their common areas. Although it is generally a reliable service, it can be affected by adverse weather conditions due to the remote location. If bringing a laptop or tablet, get a good dustcover to protect it at all times.
Please refrain from taking or making cell phone calls in the vehicles when traveling with other passengers, unless it appears to be an emergency. This disrupts other guests, plan on cell phone call use on your own time.
The standard in Japan is the same as in the United States and Canada: 110 volts AC (5060 cycles). Plugs are set up in the same style. Plugs and sockets are of types A (2 prong) and B (3 prong). You will not need a power plug adapter in Japan as power plugs fit. But you might benefit from bringing a 3 to 2 prong adapter in case type 3 sockets are not available. You can find more information at www.power-plugs-sockets.com
Japan is on Japan Standard Time (UTC –7), with no daylight savings time. Check www.timeanddate.com before leaving home for your conversion.
If you have any questions, please contact Naturalist Journeys by email at email@example.com or telephone our office: (520) 558-1146 or toll free: (866) 900-1146. Many thanks for traveling with us and we hope you enjoy your journey!
Pace & Protocols +
Pace of the Tour & What to Expect
You will receive a Schedule-at-a-Glance and list of hotels (our eContact List) a few weeks before your departure. This will serve as an outline for each day and alert you to any recent changes made in the schedule or to our hotels, if needed.
Our journeys are set up to follow the rhythm of nature. Our focus is on birding and nature; we offer full, well-planned field days and often get up early for that magical time around dawn. We generally follow the published itinerary, but we stay flexible to the weather, wildlife opportunities and the interests of the group. Your guide will keep you apprised of the next day’s schedule at each evening meal, noting what to bring and what to prepare for. Questions and/or concerns are welcome.
The pace of our Naturalist Journeys tours is moderate; to fully participate you should be able to get in and out of vehicles several times a day, and walk 1-3 miles over uneven terrain. It is important to participate with a flexible attitude as adjustments may be made in our schedule to make the most of our time in the field or for other purposes at your guide's discretion. We are not a “listing” bird company that drills down on target species, but at times we do wait for those special species unique to the places we visit. During the day, we take time to stop for photos and for educational opportunities to learn about conservation projects, landscapes, and geology. We appreciate other taxa as well as birds, with mammals often the biggest draw but plants and butterflies are also very popular. Our clients often lend their own expertise to the mix.
We like to make meals a fun and memorable part of the experience, too. Breakfasts are often at hotels, and we carry snacks, fruit, and water in the vans each day. Lunches are a mix of picnics in the field (weather dependent) and a chance to dine with locals at small cafes and restaurants. For dinner, we pride ourselves in our homework to keep up with the best choices for dining, choosing restaurants with atmosphere that specialize in local foods. On occasion we keep dinner simple to go back out in the field for sunset wildlife viewing or night walks. In some remote locations, our choices are limited. If you are tired, room service for dinner may be an option you can choose.
Naturalist Journeys International Trips: Guide Role
Naturalist Journeys supports ecotourism and the development of excellent local guides. Once we know our international partners and guides well, we can send out small groups working directly with these trusted partners, adding a Naturalist Journeys guide to assist the local expert when we have a group of 6-7 or more. This helps us keep your costs down while retaining tour quality. The local guide is your main guide. You can expect your Naturalist Journeys guide to be well-researched and often they are experienced in the destination, but their role is not to be primary, it is to help to organize logistics, help you find birds, mammals, and interesting other species in the field, keep reports, help facilitate group interactions, and to keep the trip within Naturalist Journeys' style. Local guides live in the countries we travel to, know the destinations intimately, and are often the strongest force for conservation in their countries. They open many doors for us to have a rich experience.
Smoking is not permitted in any vehicle or in any situation where the group is participating in an activity together, such as a vehicle excursion or a guided walk. Please respect all designated smoking areas at hotels and restaurants.
As a courtesy to each other, we ask that all travelers please rotate seating. On international trips we may all be in one small bus, on some trips we are in vans, particularly the roomy Sprinter Vans when available. Some areas require us to be in smaller 4-wheel drive or safari vehicles. Rotation allows you to sit with different drivers and alternate front and back seating.
Photo Release & Sharing
We take many group photos and will share photos with the group. And after your tour, we will organize a chance to share photos via Dropbox or Google Photos. Please note that this is our policy and if you prefer to be excluded, we need to know ahead of your tour.
By registering for this tour, you agree to grant to Naturalist Journeys and its authorized representatives’ permission to record on photography film and/or video, pictures of my participation in the tour. You further agree that any or all of the material photographed may be used, in any form, as part of any future publications, brochure, or other printed materials used to promote Naturalist Journeys, and further that such use shall be without payment of fees, royalties, special credit or other compensation.
You are traveling in remote areas. Naturalist Journeys strongly recommends you have full medical and evacuation insurance from a company such as Allianz, for all international travel. If you do not have medical coverage or evacuation coverage on your existing travel insurance policy or for some reason elected not to take that out, we advise getting an evacuation plan with Global Rescue, World Nomads, Medjet, Allianz (they can do evacuation only) or a similar company. These plans are typically $300-$400 for a year for multiple destinations. This coverage may be a part of a larger Travel Insurance policy but can also be purchased on its own.
Please contact Naturalist Journeys by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone our office: (520) 558-1146 or toll free: (866) 900-1146 if you have any questions. Many thanks for traveling with us and we hope you enjoy your journey.
Packing List +
Please pack light!
Soft luggage is much easier for us to pack than a more rigid hard sided piece, so if you have the choice, please use your soft luggage. Be sure to have your name and address on the inside of the bag, as well as on the luggage tag on the handle. It is our hope that you can pack in one checked suitcase that does not exceed 45 pounds. Be sure to pack your personal medication, airline tickets, passport, binoculars, camera, and other essential items in your carry-on bag. You will want a day pack for field trips, so this is an ideal carry-on. Please reconfirm your airline’s baggage weight and size restrictions about a week or so before departure.
In general, the weather during your stay will range considerably with your location but expect conditions in the north from cool and cloudy to cold and snowy, with lows in the low-30’s and highs in the upper-50’s, though Tokyo and southern areas could reach the mid-70’s with chance of rain. Check your favorite weather website closer to your departure to better predict what the weather will be on your adventure.
Dress is comfortable and informal throughout the trip. Dressing in layers is the best way to be comfortable. Please prepare for cold days in the field by bringing warm coats and sturdy, waterproof boots. At the request of our guide, we require all participants to bring YakTrax or similar ice-protection to place on footwear, for safety. Also, choose clothing you don’t mind getting dirty or muddy and things that are comfortable and easy to launder.
Clothing & Gear
- Long pants, 2-3 pair, choose warm fabrics (jeans are fine for use on the ship)
- Thermal underclothing (athletic tights work well under jeans)
- Long sleeved shirts, 2-3
- Comfortable, casual clothes for evening (a cleaner version of your field clothes)
- Personal underclothing and pajamas
- Socks, various weights for different conditions
- Comfortable walking/hiking shoes, consider if these will work in wet conditions
- Sturdy, warm, and waterproof hiking boots with good tread
- High quality outerwear that can double as wind and rain protection, best is coat and pants
- Fleece vest, windproof is great
- Woolen or polar fleece sweater
- Warm jacket that can layer with others above
- Hat with broad brim for sun, and warm cap for evenings
- Mittens or gloves
- Neck scarf
- Yaktrax or similar ice cleats that slip on boots and shoes
- Comfortable clothes for evening (a cleaner version of your field clothes or a skirt, etc.)
- Bathing suit (optional, but you might really enjoy the hot springs!)
Equipment & Miscellaneous
- Airline tickets or e-ticket verification
- Passport, visa (if required), health and travel insurance info, current vaccinations, money & credit cards.
- A secure pouch to carry the items above on your person (such as a secure, under-clothing money pouch)
- As a backup: copies of all the above (phone and/or paper) packed in a separate location than on your person, plus a set given to your emergency contact at home as a backup. For passport, copy of the ID and entry stamp pages.
- Small daypack or fanny pack for carrying your field gear
- Umbrella – compact and not brightly colored
- Walking stick – we find that many travelers appreciate a walking stick on trails, sporting goods stores carry collapsible models that pack easily in your suitcase (optional)
- Small flashlight with fresh batteries
- Alarm clock
- Sunscreen/lip balm
- Sunglasses with neck strap
- Toiletry articles
- Spotting scope and tripod (optional)
- Camera and extra batteries, memory cards, lens cleaning supplies and your instruction manual (optional)
- Water bottle (or plan to refill one bought on location)
- Notebook or journal and pen (optional)
- Field guides (optional)
- Laundry soap if you plan to do hand washing (TIP: laundry “sheets” work perfectly!)
- Earplugs – in urban and even rural areas barking dogs and traffic noise can be annoying
- Rechargeable power bank (optional)
WE DO NOT RECOMMEND TRAVELING WITH PRECIOUS OR VALUABLE JEWELRY – don’t tempt anyone and don’t bring things you’d regret losing - your mind will be at ease!
Medical & First Aid Items
- Health Insurance information
- Vaccination records
- Personal medications (and copy of vital prescriptions)
- Motion sickness preventatives if likely to be needed on bus, van drives, etc.
- Personal first aid kit and medications for general ailments
- Copy of eyeglass prescription, medical prescriptions and any medical alerts
- Extra pair of eyeglasses or contacts
- Band-aids, moleskin to protect against blisters
Suggested Reading List +
There are many titles of interest for Japan; the following are a few that we have enjoyed that can get you started.
Merlin App – Japan Pack. A phone-based birding app from Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology. Before departing the U.S., download the app for free, then from within the app, download the “pack” for Japan.
Japanese Birds. APP for Apple/Android. Enwit Inc. Full version ($28.99) or Lite ($4.99)
Birds of Japan (Helm Field Guides)
Birds of Japan (Lynx & Birdlife Intl. Field Guides)
History & Culture
There is a good selection of books available for sale at visitors’ centers, and your guide will also have a selection of reference books and materials for participants to share. As an Amazon Associate, Naturalist Journeys earns from qualifying purchases, and may get commissions for purchases made through links on this page at no added cost to you.
Useful Links +
Nemuro, Hokkaido, Japan
Shinkansen (Japan’s “Bullet Train” line)
Nature, Wildlife & Biology
Birding Japan Overview
Birding Sites: Japan Nature Guides
Birding in Japan Blog (overview with photos)
Blakiston’s Fish-Owl - eBird
Japanese Snow Monkeys of Jigokudani in Nagano (video)
Kanazawa Kenroku-en Gardens
Endemic Animals of Japan
Conservation, Parks & Reserves
Saving the Red-Crowned Crane
“Searching for Elusive Blakiston’s Fish-Owls in the Ancient Forests of Primorye” – Interesting Audubon Article by Jonathan C. Slaght (who has dedicated his life to the preservation of these fascinating birds)
“3 Japanese organizations dedicated to conservation” – Article in Zenbird
Japan wildlife Conservation Society
The Nature Conservation Society of Japan
Convention on Biological Diversity – Japan
Geology & Geography
Overview of Geology of Japanese Archipelago
Geography of Japan
History & Culture
Brief History of Japan
Overview of Japanese Culture
Izumi-Fumoto Samurai Residences
Helpful Travel Websites
20 Essential Japanese Phrases for Travelers (6-minute video)
Haneda Tokyo International Airport (HND)
National Passport Information Center
U.S. Department of State International Travel Information - Japan
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - Japan
Canada Travel Advice and Advisories - Japan
Travel Health Pro (UK) - Japan
Foreign Exchange Rates
Electricity and Plugs - Japan
Date, Time, and Holidays - Japan
Photo credits: Banners: Snow Monkey, Photo by Steven Diaz on Unsplash; Urai Owl, Bryan Shirley; Red-crowned Cranes, Bryan Shirley; Jigokudani by Sugerman Joe on Unsplash; Balkal Teal by Pallav Pranjal via Creative Commons; Smew by Matti Virtalavia Creative Commons; Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker by Greg Peterson via Creative Commons; Reed Bunting by Ken Billington via Creative Commons; Chinese Penduline-tit by Jerry Gunner via Creative Commons. Thumbnails: Blakiston's Fish-Owl, Bryn Shirley; Swans, Bryan Shirley, Mandarin Duck, Bryan Shirley; Matsumoto Castle, by Markus Winkler on Unsplash; Cranes, via Unsplash; Sakura-jima volcano, from Kagoshima hills, by Amandine P. on Unsplash; Snow Monkeys, via Unsplash; Steller's Sea Eagle, Bryan Shirley; Eastern Spot-billed Duck, Katsura Miyamoto via Flickr; Mandarin Duck, by Isaac Chou on Unsplash; Snow Monkey, Steven Diaz on Unsplash; Black-faced Spoonbill, Bernard Spragg via Flickr; Dusky Thrush by Harum Koh on Flickr.