Join us on this summertime journey to Hokkaido, the most active season on Japan’s wildest and second largest island. Enjoy wildflowers and an impressive dawn chorus as we visit five of the astounding seven national parks on Hokkaido. This South Carolina-sized volcanic island is covered with magnificent mountains, peat-moor wetlands, deciduous forests, rivers, marshes, and clear lakes. It is also an important agricultural area, home to expansive and bird-friendly rice paddies and grain crops.

Japan's northernmost prefecture is also home to the country’s most complete array of bird and mammal species, including half of its birds, and predators like foxes, and the largest population of Ussuri Brown Bear outside of Russia. Iconic birds of Hokkaido include Red-crowned Crane, Steller’s Sea Eagle, White-Tailed Eagle, and Blakiston’s Fish-Owl. Sperm and Orca Whales are among the many sea mammals and birds we see on nearshore cruises.

During our winter trips, temperatures below zero are common and snow and ice dominate the scenery. But summer is fresh and bright! Hokkaido transforms into a different world full of wildflowers and singing and nesting birds. We enjoy cultural delights here as well, including authentic regional cuisine, hot-spring onsen accommodations, and one day spent in a village of the Ainu, Hokkaido’s indigenous people.

Our dynamic guide team from Japan, Bryan and Koichi, can’t wait to share Hokkaido with you!

  • “A good mix of nature and culture…Great that Bryan could explain the intricacies of Japanese life to us-would be difficult to negotiate without bilingual guides. Bryan made each person feel like he/she was his main focus. Really appreciated he and Koichi helping to make our son's trip special (the only one in the group below 40).” — Doris Gertler, 2023 Traveler
  • “Fantastic! I can't imagine a better itinerary for winter. The landscapes were breathtaking: volcanoes, fallow fields, rolling with snow-covered forests, running Red Foxes, and
  • crazy deer. Highlights: Blakiston’s Fish-Owl, ‘We can see Russia from here’ seabirds, including Red-faced Cormorant, and Sunrise with Red-crowned Cranes. Go-go-go...rigorous, but worth it.” — Katherine Regester, 2023 Traveler
  • “It would be hard to say enough good things about Bryan Shirley. He knows his birds and where to find them; he takes good care of his group members; he makes sure that everyone has seen the bird; he's friendly with the group and with the locals; and his knowledge of Japanese is extensive.” — Daphne Byron, 2023 Traveler

Tour Highlights

  • Discover Japan’s wild side on an itinerary based entirely on Hokkaido!
  • Experience the wilds of Northern Japan in five national parks
  • Spend two nights on Rebun Island — nicknamed “island of flowers” due to the abundance of wildflowers, including many types unique to Rebun and Hokkaido
  • Catch prime time for northern breeding birds like Siberian Rubythroat, Japanese Robin, Long-tailed Rosefinch, and many more
  • View Red-crowned Cranes with chicks in Kushiro Shitsugen National Park
  • Enjoy two scenic boat cruises along the Shiretoko Peninsula to look for Hokkaido Brown Bears, Spectacled Guillemot, Sperm Whale, Orca, and of course the amazing scenery!
  • Spend two nights at a traditional Japanese Onsen (hot spring) hotel with a good chance of Blakiston’s Fish Owl feeding just outside the lodge windows
  • Visit an Ainu village to learn about the indigenous Hokkaido culture and watch a traditional dance presentation

Trip Itinerary

Itineraries are guidelines; variations in itinerary may occur to account for weather, road conditions, closures, etc. and to maximize your experience.

Tues., June 18 : Welcome to Japan!


Tokyo has two international airports — we recommend you come in at Haneda as our internal flight tomorrow is from Haneda and we stay tonight at a hotel near Haneda Airport. Our tour officially starts tonight with a welcome dinner.
Accommodations at a Haneda Airport Hotel (D)

Wed., June 19 : Fly to Hokkaido | Ferry to Rebun Island


This morning we take a walk to the nearby river for our first Japan birds. Eastern Spot-billed Duck, Gray Heron, Great-crested Grebe, Little Tern, and others breed along the river. Gray-cheeked Starling and Large-billed Crow are good representatives of common Tokyo birds and along the river we have a chance at other goodies like Oriental Greenfinch, Brown-eared Bulbul, and Oriental Reed Warbler. Local gardens brighten our pathways as we walk.

Our flight to Wakkanai is about two hours; our flight lands on the very north tip of Hokkaido where our driver/local guide greets us. Depending on the ferry departure times, we may have a bit of time for some exploring in the area before our crossing. Our final destination of Rebun Island is about 1.5 hours by ferry from Wakkanai. From the ferry we have great views of Mt. Rishiri, a beautiful extinct volcano on the neighboring island. Of course, from the ferry we keep an eye out for Spectacled Murrelet, Rhinoceros Auklet, and any other exciting wildlife during our passage.
Accommodations on Rebun Island (B,L,D)

Thurs., June 20 : Exploring Spectacular Rebun Island


Today we have all day to explore and enjoy the spectacular Rebun Island. Part of Rishiri-Rebun Sarobetsu National Park, the island is home to around 300 species of flowers, many of which are only found here. The island even has the well-deserved nickname “Island of Flowers”. Today is also our first day of full birding and we have a lot of exciting species here. Rebun is near the northern breeding limit of Japanese Robin. They are always easy to hear and tricky to see, but with patience we should be able to get good looks at this beautiful skulker. Pacific Swifts, Japanese Cormorant, Siberian Rubythroat, Amur Stonechat, and the Asian race of Eurasian Bullfinch are a few of the other birds to keep us busy. There are several nice walking trails to choose from here and after the long travel days it it’s nice to spend most of the day outside enjoying this spectacular place!
Accommodations on Rebun Island (B,L,D)

Fri., June 21 : Ferry Trip | Sarobetsu Plain Birding & Flowers


This morning we have a bit of time for some final birding on Rebun before we take the ferry back to mainland Hokkaido. Upon arrival in Wakkanai, we visit the Sarobetsu Wetlands. The Sarobetsu Wetlands are included in the Rishiri/Rebun/Sarobetsu National Park. The wetlands are actually a moor of peat that is 10-15 feet deep. There is a nice boardwalk here where we can view the flowers and birds without getting our feet wet! Yellow-breasted Bunting once was common here but has had a tragic decline in numbers in the last 30 years. We would need to be very lucky to see one, but there are a few reported here every year. More likely birds along the boardwalk include Black-browed Reed Warbler, Chestnut-eared Bunting, Reed Bunting, and both Sakhalin and Middendorf’s Grasshopper Warblers. Latham’s Snipe are common around Hokkaido, and we should see them performing their display flights around the marsh.

In the afternoon we have about a four-hour drive to Asahikawa where our next adventure awaits. Our accommodations are in a small village that serves as a base for exploring Daisetsuzan National Park — our destination for tomorrow. For those that wish, enjoy an opportunity for a relaxing soak as part of our stay at the onsen.
Accommodations at Asahidake Onsen (B,L,D)

Sat., June 22 : Daisetsu National Park | Mount Asahidake


Boasting over 2000 square km and 16 peaks over 2000 meters, Daisetuzan National Park offers some of the most rugged scenery in all of Japan. We start the day with a gondola ride up Asahidake, the highest mountain in Hokkaido. The Ainu name for Asahidake translates to “playground of the gods” and the scenery definitely is inspiring.

The 10-minute gondola ride takes us to 1600 meters elevation (appx 5250 feet) where there are a number of trails to explore the area. Snow often lingers into late summer, but by June most has melted and the area is covered with alpine flowers. Pika enjoy the warm temperatures and fresh food, and this is one of the best places in Hokkaido for finding high elevation bird species like Pine Grosbeak, Japanese Accentor, and Red-flanked Bluetail. We do a short, relatively easy hike to a small lake to look for birds and enjoy the alpine scenery. From there if the weather is nice those interested in a bit more strenuous hike can continue up to the summit of Asahidake while others may opt for a more leisurely walk back to the gondola or a return to have a soak or siesta at the hotel.
Accommodations at Asahidake Onsen (B,L,D)

Sun., June 23 : Morning Birding | Ainu Village in Akan


This morning we bird a bit around the hotel for some birds not found in the higher parts of the national park. The forests of Hokkaido are home to six species of woodpecker: Black, Gray-headed, Great Spotted, White-backed, Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker, and Lesser Spotted. Other birds we hope to see here include the near endemic Brown-headed Thrush and the well-named Narcissus Flycatcher.

We have another drive today to get to our next area, but we break it up with birding stops along the way. Our next destination is Akan Mashu, another stunning national park known for crystal clear lakes surrounded by volcanic mountains.

Besides the scenery and wildlife, this area is home to some of the few remaining examples of the indigenous Ainu people, the original inhabitants of Hokkaido. Today we visit a museum to learn about their culture and have some time to check out the shops showcasing the Ainu woodcarving and art. In the evening we enjoy a traditional Ainu dance performance.
Accommodations in Akan (B,L,D)

Mon., June 24 : Mt. Mokoto | Utoro


Today we take a birding hike on Mt. Mokoto, one of the most scenic mountains in Akan Masshu National Park. Both Oriental and Common Cuckoos call throughout our hike, and with luck we could see a Northern Hawk-Cuckoo as well. In spite of not being very high, Mt. Mokoto is a great place to look for Eurasian Nutcracker. The views from the top are incredible with Lake Kussharo on one side and the Okhotsk Sea visible to the north.
After our hike we travel along the Okhotsk Sea to Utoro, our home for the next two nights.
Accommodations in Utoro (B,L,D)

Tues., June 25 : Shiretoko National Park


Northeastern Hokkaido has a long peninsula jutting out into the Okhotsk Sea. This peninsula is known as Shiretoko and is a national park as well as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The park includes most of the peninsula and the surrounding marine environment. UNESCO describes Shiretoko as “one of the richest integrated ecosystems in the world”. Shiretoko is surrounded by sea ice in the winter, which plays an important role in supplying nutrient rich waters that form the base for the marine ecosystem and sustains the key terrestrial species like Brown Bear and Blakiston’s Fish-Owl. Most of the peninsula is roadless, so today we cruise along the north shoreline of the peninsula. Hokkaido Brown Bear, second in size only to Kodiak Brown Bear, are common here and are often seen foraging along the shoreline. Spectacled Guillemot breed along the rocky cliffs. Orca, Steller’s Sea Lion, Harbor Seal, and Sea Otter are in the area and could be seen with luck.

After our boat trip we explore some of the areas accessible by road and take a short hike through the forest to a waterfall. Brown Dipper live along the river here and Mountain Hawk-Eagle is often seen soaring over the ridges. It is definitely one of our most memorable days in Japan.
Accommodations in Utoro (B,L,D)

Wed., June 26 : Shiretoko | Blakiston’s Fish Owl


This morning we cross the Shiretoko pass and then descend on the south side of the peninsula to another fishing village called Rausu where we take off on another boat cruise. This side of the peninsula tends to have more Orca present, and Sperm Whale are common. We should see a few new sea birds as well. Streaked Shearwater are common and although Short-tailed Albatross only breed in southern Japan, non-breeding sub-adults are frequently seen here in the summer.

After we get off the boat we continue south along the coast birding and sightseeing along the way. Eventually we make our way to our hotel for the night, and it is one of the most exciting places we stay during the trip. It is a traditional “onsen” or hot spring hotel and we make sure that we arrive in time for those who want to soak in the pools. There is also a bird feeder that give us point blank photo ops of the more common birds of the area, but the real excitement here starts at dark … there is a pair of Blakiston’s Fish Owls that fish along the river and in the hotel’s fishpond every night!
Accommodations at Yoroushi Onsen (B,L,D)

Thurs., June 27 : Morning Birding at Yoroushi | Notsuke Peninsula


Hopefully the owl didn’t make us wait up too late last night, but today we plan on a very leisurely morning. There is more time to enjoy the hot springs or watch the bird feeders, plus the breakfast here is fabulous!

Today we drive back out to the coast and visit Notsuke Peninsula, a 28-km long sand pit sticking out into the Nemuro Strait. The disputed island of Kunashiri on the east of the strait and the Shiretoko Mountains to the north, the scenery is quite stunning. There should be lots of wildflowers in bloom and the ocean and marshes always have birds to keep us excited.

This evening we enjoy another fabulous meal at Yoroushi and another chance for the Fish-Owl as well.
Accommodations at Yoroushi Onsen (B,L,D)

Fri., June 28 : Kushiro Shitsugen National Park


Today is our last full day in Japan and it should be another great day as we visit our fifth national park of the trip: Kushiro Shitsugen. Shitsugen means wetland and Kushiro Shitsugen is the largest marsh in Japan. The Kushiro River snakes its way south from Lake Kussharo though the wetlands for over 200 km. We have a guided canoe trip down the river and should be able to get good looks at the endangered Red-crowned Crane that breed here. Latham’s Snipe are common in the marshes and Crested Kingfisher fly up and down the river searching for prey. There are also a few places to explore the marsh on foot including a nice walk along a boardwalk into the marsh. A nearby forest offers a few different species including a great chance to find Ural Owl roosting in the large trees.
Accommodations in Kushiro (B,L,D)

Sat., June 29 : Flight to Tokyo | End of Tour


Depending on flight times we may have time to enjoy one last morning walk before we head to the Kushiro airport for our flight back to Tokyo. We plan on arriving at Haneda airport no later than NOON so that we can catch our international flights later this evening. Please make departures out after 4:00 PM.

  • Birding Japan, Bird watching Japan, Hokkaido, Asian Birds, Naturalist Journeys, Wildlife Tour, Wildlife Photography, Ecotourism, Specialty Birds, Endemic Birds, Birding Hotspot

    Kushiro Shitsugen National Park Scenic by Takumi Koichi

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    Hokkaido Flower Fields

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    Japanese Grosbeak

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    Eurasian Nutcracker

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    Shiretoko Peninsula near Utoro

  • White-backed Woodpecker by Ron Knight via Creative Commons, Japan tour, Japanese nature tour, snow monkeys, Japan birding, Japan Birding & nature, Naturalist Journeys

    White-backed Woodpecker by Ron Knight via Creative Commons

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    Shiretoko Pass

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    Siberian Rubythroat

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    Falcated Duck

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    Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker

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    Orca Whales by Takumi Koichi

  • Japanese Tit by Alpsdake via WIkimedia Commons, Japanese nature tour, snow monkeys, Japan birding, Japan Birding & nature, Naturalist Journeys

    Japanese Tit by Alpsdake

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    Red-crowned Crane in Kushiro Shitsugen National Park

  • Mountain Hawk-eagle by Mike Prince via Wikimedia Commons, Japan tour, Japanese nature tour, snow monkeys, Japan birding, Japan Birding & nature, Naturalist Journeys

    Mountain Hawk-eagle by Mike Prince via Wikimedia Commons

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    Ainu House, Hokkaido

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    Dall's Porpoise, Shiretoko Peninsula

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    Rebun Island Coast

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    Kushiro Shitsugen National Park

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    Rhinoceros Auklet

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    Sika Deer

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    Cormorants at Shiretoko Peninsula

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    Kushiro River Canoe by Takumi Koichi

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    Daisetsu Flowers by Takumi Koichi

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    Sarobetsu Flower Garden by Takumi Koichi

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    Spotted Seal by Takumi Koichi

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    Japanese Raccoon Dog (Tanuki) by Takumi Koichi

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    Narcissus Flycatcher by Takumi Koichi

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    Lake Mashu by Takumi Koichi

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    Amur Stonechat by Takumi Koichi

Cost of the Journey

The cost of the tour: $6990 DBL / $7975 SGL from Tokyo. Cost does not include required internal flights.

Cost of the Tour Includes: Accommodations for 11 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 (estimated at around $300 per person and will be added to your invoice). 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.

Travel Details

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 June 18 by 5:00 PM if you wish to join the group for dinner
Departure Details: Plan June 29 flights after 4:00 PM
If you would prefer to overnight (additional cost) in Tokyo June 29, you can depart at your leisure on June 30.

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 19 th 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.

Japan

  • Bryan Shirley

    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

  • Peg Abbott

    Peg Abbott is the owner and lead guide of Naturalist Journeys, LLC. She has been designing, guiding, and organizing natural history tours for more than 25 years, working for the National Audubon Society and other organizations before launching Naturalist Journeys, LLC in 1998. Her work has taken her from Alaska to Africa and Argentina, as well as many other locations around the world. She has conducted research on several bird and mammal species and keeps a close interest in Yellowstone and Mexican wolf reintroduction projects. Her interests include all aspects of natural history and geology. After 20 years in and around the Yellowstone area, Peg relocated in 2003 to the birding mecca of Portal, AZ.

    Photo credit: Carol Simon

    Other trips with Peg Abbott

Map for NEW! Wild Japan: Summer In Hokkaido

Essential Information +

This information is important for being prepared for your journey; we want you to have Read more

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 back up call 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 away. Please plan to arrive in time to meet the group for dinner on the first day of the tour.

There is a shuttle you can take from and back to the airport, but most clients just use a taxi and it is about $15-20.

Please email us a copy of your flight reservations so we have both your ARRIVAL and DEPARTURE information.

Please check the Travel Details tab for additional information and updates for this tour.

Departures from Haneda Airport (HND) in Ota City, Tokyo

Please plan departures after 4:00 PM on the last day of the tour. 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 Center for Disease Control (CDC) website 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

Hokkaido has a wide range of climates but during June, you can expect comfortably cool to pleasant temperatures in the 50s and 60s during the day, in some locations into the 70s with moderate rainfall, and some periods of clouds and fog. 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!

Spending Money

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. If you plan to exchange cash in country, bring large U.S. bills ($50 or $100) in good condition (no rips or tears) that will give you the better rate when exchanging to local currency.

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.

Gratuities

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.

Electricity

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

Time

Japan is on Japan Standard Time (UTC –7), with no daylight savings time. Check www.timeanddate.com before leaving home for your conversion.

Questions?

If you have any questions, please contact Naturalist Journeys by email at clientservices@naturalistjourneys.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 Read more

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

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.

Transportation

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.

Travel Insurance

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 RescueWorld 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.

Questions?

Please contact Naturalist Journeys by email at clientservices@naturalistjourneys.com 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 Read more

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.

Hokkaido has a wide range of climates but during June, you can expect comfortably cool to pleasant temperatures in the 50s and 60s during the day, in some locations into the 70s with moderate rainfall, and some periods of clouds and fog. 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. Also, choose clothing you don’t mind getting dirty or muddy and things that are comfortable and easy to wear.

Clothing & Gear

  • Long pants, 2-3 pair
  • 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
  • Hat with broad brim for sun, and warm cap for cooler times
  • 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
  • Binoculars
  • 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 Read more

There are many titles of interest for Japan; the following are a few that we have enjoyed that can get you started.

Top Picks

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.

Lonely Planet Japan

Field Guides

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)

Photographic Guide to the Birds of Japan and North-East Asia

Japan Birds

Natural History

Japan: The Natural History of an Asian Archipelago

History & Culture

A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present

A Concise History of Japan

Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan

Phrasebook: Lonely Planet Japanese Phrasebook & Dictionary

Memoir/Non-Fiction

At Home in Japan: A Foreign Woman's Journey of Discovery

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 +

Learn more about your destination at these external websites, carefully researched for you. Read more

General

Tokyo

Explore Tokyo

Hokkaido

Rebun Island

Notsuke Peninsula

Nature, Wildlife & Biology

Birding Japan Overview

Birding in Japan Blog (overview with photos)

Endemic Animals of Japan

Blakiston’s Fish-Owl - eBird

Red-Crowned Crane

Siberian Rubythroat

Japanese Robin

Oriental Cuckoo

Bears in Hokkaido

Sarobetsu Wetland Site Information Sheet - EEAFP

Conservation, Parks & Reserves

“3 Japanese organizations dedicated to conservation” – Article in Zenbird

Rishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu National Park

Daisetsuzan National Park

Akan Mashu National Park

Mt. Mokoto Trail Map-Brochure

Shiretoko National Park and UNESCO site

Kushiro-Shitsugen National Park

Geology & Geography

“How Hokkaido Came To Be” – Article, Hokkaido Magazine

Geography of Hokkaido

Geography of Japan

History & Culture

Brief History of Japan

Japanese Culture – Encyclopedic Overview

Ainu Culture

Matsumoto Castle

Izumi-Fumoto Samurai Residences

Zenkoji Temple

Japanese Cuisine

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

ATM Locator

Electricity and Plugs - Japan

Date, Time, and Holidays - Japan


Photo credits: BANNERS: Hokkaido Summer Flower Fields (NJ Stock), Blue-and-white Flycatcher (NJ Stock), Red-crowned Cranes (NJ Stock), Smew (NJ Stock), Lavender Field (NJ Stock), Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker (NJ Stock), Baikal Teal (NJ Stock) THUMBNAILS: Red-flanked Bluetail (NJ Stock), Red-crowned Crane (NJ Stock), Japanese Robin (NJ Stock), Blakiston’s Fish-Owl (NJ Stock), Eastern Spot-billed Duck (NJ Stock), Long-tailed Rosefinch (NJ Stock), Hokkaido Brown Bear (NJ Stock), Reed Bunting (NJ Stock)

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