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NEW! Ultimate Japan

A Wonderful Far Eastern Winter Wildlife Adventure

2025 Dates
  • 03 Dec - 19 Dec 2025
Duration17 Days
2025 Price
£9495 pp
£745 single supplement. Deposit £1500

pre-flight airport hotel and lounge are inc.

Max Group Size12

Secure your place with an initial low deposit of £500pp! Second deposit payable 12 months prior to departure. 

Japan is a fascinating destination – from the islands in the subarctic north to those in the tropical south. Much of the country has safe, sprawling, modern cities around the coastal plains whilst inland there are huge tracts of heavily-forested mountains bordered by traditional rice fields and agriculture, whilst Hokkaido – the northernmost island – is sparsely populated and full of lakes, forests and mountainous areas, with frozen, rough seas crashing into the east coast through the winter months. All corners of the country are linked by efficient, well-designed infrastructure which assists with travel between the major centres and main wildlife areas.

This new-look holiday includes all the classic winter birding highlights from easternmost Asia with some extra time in the city of Tokyo to enjoy the juxtaposition of extremely modern and extremely old architecture side-by-side, some cultural landmarks, and some city birding as well. We visit three of the main islands – Hokkaido, Honshu (the main island), and Kyushu, and aim to see as many East Asian specialities as we can as well as any mammals we chance upon.

This very comprehensive tour will take you to all the key birding destinations to see several species of crane, including the dancing and displaying Red-crowned Crane, the enigmatic Blakiston’s Fish Owl, the gigantic Steller’s Sea Eagle (possibly on ice-floes if the weather is particularly cold in the north), the rare and localised Ryukyu Minivet, Japanese Grosbeak, Saunders’s Gull and Black-faced Spoonbill; and the endemic Copper Pheasant, Japanese Woodpecker, Japanese Accentor and Japanese Wagtail. There is also a wide variety of eastern buntings (Grey, Meadow, Rustic, Chestnut-eared, Masked) and thrushes (Pale, Dusky, White’s), a decent range of raptors, some great views of Pacific and Arctic gulls (Slaty-backed, Glaucous-winged, Vega), auks (Rhinoceros Auklet, Ancient Murrelet, Spectacled Guillemot), ducks (Harlequin, White-winged Scoter, Baikal and Falcated Teals) and East Asian passerines (Daurian Redstart, Bull-headed Shrike, Varied Tit, Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker, Japanese Bush Warbler, Pallas’ and Long-tailed Rosefinch).

We will visit the Japanese Alps, where the Japanese Macaque has learned the benefits of the onsen (natural hot spring), and we will approach wild macaques enjoying their own soaking experience in a geothermally heated pool. At close range they appear to pose for our photographs and endlessly entertain us with their antics - the reality is that they are merely going about their daily business, while we enjoy watching and photographing them! We have a chance of sighting two more of Japan’s endemic mammals - the Japanese Serow and the Japanese Squirrel. Other mammals we may see are the Red Fox, Sika Deer (‘sika’ means ‘deer’ in Japanese), and Japanese Raccoon Dog.

Once we have travelled through the stunning and varied countryside, enjoyed the understated delights of the local cuisine, witnessed the beauty of religious shrines and temples, heard traditional music played on medieval instruments, and been swamped by the busy street life and flashing neon signs of the cities, it will be a wrench to leave this incredible land, so bring an extra SD card and battery for the camera, as Japan will create memories of a lifetime!

Enjoy your complimentary pre-flight overnight hotel before your holiday begins. Full details from our office! Read more about our Pre-flight Service here!

DAY 1. Wednesday 3rd December 2025
After relaxing in our complimentary VIP Airport Lounge, we take an overnight flight from London to Tokyo.

DAY 2. Thursday 4th December 2025: Arrival in Japan
Transfer to our comfortable hotel in Haneda Airport. Overnight at Haneda Excel Tokyu Hotel or similar for two nights.

DAY 3. Friday 5th December 2025: Tokyo
A full-day birding and sightseeing in Tokyo. A great introduction to the history, culture and modern life of Japan as well as a chance to see some common species including Varied Tit, Daurian Redstart, Asian Azure-winged Magpie, Brown-eared Bulbul, Oriental Turtle Dove and Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker. We aim to visit some city parks, visit some Shinto shrines, get the incredible view from the top of the iconic Tokyo Tower, and scan the tidal mudflats along the coast whilst enjoying the traditional, wooden buildings and tranquility of ancient culture and the hustle, bustle and neon lights of one of the world’s most lively cities!

DAY 4. Saturday 6th December 2025: Flight South
In the morning we will fly to Kagoshima on the island of Kyushu, the southernmost of the four main islands of Japan. By the afternoon we will be in search of buntings, pipits and thrushes in the Takae fields, just southeast of the mouth of the River Sendaigawa. Meadow, Rustic, Chestnut-eared and Masked Bunting; Buff-bellied and Red-throated Pipit; Daurian Jackdaw; Dusky, Pale and White’s Thrush can be expected here. We will also look for raptors such as Japanese Buzzard, Eastern Marsh and Hen Harrier. Overnight stay in the Hotel Wing International, Izumi or similar for two nights.

DAY 5. Sunday 7th December 2025: Cranes!
Before breakfast and in the afternoon we will visit the Arasaki Crane Reserve, where over 12,000 cranes gather each winter. The most common species here are Hooded and White-naped Crane. Amongst them, we may find small numbers of Common and Sandhill Crane. There is even a slim possibility of rarities such as Demoiselle and Siberian Crane. The rest of the day will be spent exploring the local farmland and waterbodies, where we will look for Crested Kingfisher, White-bellied Green Pigeon, Chinese Penduline Tit, Japanese Green Pheasant, Japanese Quail, Ruddy Crake, Bull-headed Shrike, Meadow and Elegant Buntings, Japanese Bush Warbler, Russet Sparrow, White-cheeked Starling, Large-billed Crow, and Eastern Rook.

DAY 6. Monday 8th December: River Mouths and Ramsar Sites
After a final morning enjoying the crane spectacular, we will drive northwards for a couple of hours to the Kumagawa, checking out the river mouth, and various designated sites on the north shore of the Ariake Sea. Targets in this region are the rare Saunders’s and other gulls such as Vega, Pallas’, Heuglin’s and Black-tailed, and plenty of wintering shorebirds, including the endangered Black-faced Spoonbill and vulnerable Far Eastern Curlew. Overnight at the Hotel Route-Inn, Saga or similar.

DAY 7. Tuesday 9th December 2025: Flight North
Morning birding at the wetlands south of the city for a last look at the waders, gulls and passerines of Kyushu before transferring to Fukuoka Airport for an internal flight to Komatsu on the west coast of Honshu. On arrival, we will drive to some local areas to look for waterfowl (including Baikal Teal and Greater White-fronted and Bean Geese) and other overwintering species. Overnight in Komatsu Green Hotel or similar.

DAY 8. Wednesday 10th December 2025: Drive East
Early morning birding in the Komatsu area for winter birds, geese and ducks, then a four-hour drive across country, witnessing many aspects of rural Japan – from the densely-wooded mountains to the traditional wooden houses surrounding ricefields - to Kambayashi Onsen. Overnight in the Hotel Senjukaku or similar.

DAY 9. Thursday 11th December 2025: Snow Monkeys!
After breakfast, we walk to the world-famous Jigokudani Monkey Park to see the Japanese Macaques relaxing in some geothermally heated hot springs (onsens). At close range they appear to pose for our photographs and endlessly entertain us with their antics; the reality is that they are merely going about their daily business, while we enjoy watching and photographing them! The steep-sided valley is flanked with trees and amongst these forests we have a chance of sighting two of Japan’s endemic mammals - the Japanese Serow and the Japanese Squirrel, while overhead we may find Golden Eagle and Eurasian Goshawk. After monkeying about, we drive cross-country stopping at inland lakes to seek the scarce Baikal Teal, Falcated Duck, and Smew, and at stony rivers to look for the scarce (and camouflaged) Long-billed Plover, endemic Japanese Wagtail, and the always-impressive Crested Kingfisher before arriving in the winter birding hotspot of Karuizawa in the foothills of the Japanese Alps. Overnight in the Hotel Marroad or similar for two nights.

DAY 10. Friday 12th December 2025: Karuizawa
Karuizawa supports some superb possibilities among Japanese and Asian speciality birds. We will be on the quest this morning for such specialties as Japanese Pygmy and Japanese Woodpeckers, Japanese Grosbeak, Hawfinch, Brown Dipper, Red-flanked Bluetail, Oriental Greenfinch, Asian Azure-winged Magpie and the gorgeous Copper Pheasant. Though uncommon in December, Pallas’s and Long-tailed Rosefinch are possible as well.

DAY 11. Saturday 13th December 2025: Back To The Big City
We may have time for some final birding in the winter forests around Karuizawa before we return to Tokyo, driving through the heavily populated Kanto Region. On the way, we may drop in at Ura-Myogi, which is famous for its outstandingly beautiful mountain and forest scenery. Here we will be on the lookout for Brown Dipper and the endemic Japanese Accentor. With luck, we may encounter the mighty Japanese Hawk Eagle. Overnight at Haneda Excel Tokyu Hotel or similar.

DAY 12. Sunday 14th December 2025: Hokkaido
We take a morning flight to Kushiro Airport, in the east of Hokkaido – the northernmost of Japan’s main four islands. The temperature is likely to drop, and the landscape changes, and we will spend the rest of the day in the company of the classic dancing Red-crowned Cranes, Sika Deer, and have the possibility of seeing Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, the white-headed Northern race of Long-tailed Tit, Ural Owl, Asian Rosy Finch, or Whooper Swan before heading to our hotel. Overnight in the Hotel Taito, Tsurui.

DAY 13. Monday 15th December 2025: Steller’s & Blakiston’s
We shall enjoy more Red-crowned Cranes and their hauntingly-beautiful calls before breakfast, then drive to Cape Kiritappu for coastal birding and to look for Sea Otters.  The Kiritappu Peninsula is a favoured locality for birds of prey in winter, including both Steller’s and White-tailed Sea Eagle along with Black-eared Kite, Japanese Buzzard and occasionally Rough-legged Buzzard, Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owl. We will also look for Pelagic and Red-faced Cormorants, and hope to see some northern gulls, including Glaucous, Glaucous-winged and Slaty-backed as well as flocks of Asian Rosy Finches stumbling about in the windy grassland. We then spend two nights at Yuyado Daiichi, from where we mount a night-time vigil for the globally rare Blakiston’s Fish Owl. No more than thirty breeding pairs of this gigantic owl survive on Hokkaido, but with a bit of good fortune, we will see this rare denizen of the northern forests.

DAY 14. Tuesday 16th December 2025: Volcanic Scenery
This day depends on the weather, and may see us head to another part of the coast, but the plan is to visit several volcanic lakes and sulphur springs and the surroundings forests, where there is a range of woodpeckers, Northern Raven, Northern Nutcracker, Brandt’s Jay, as well as more eagles and Whooper Swans in steaming pools. In the evening, we will look for Blakiston’s Fish Owl again.

DAY 15. Wednesday 17th December 2025: The Wild North
Today we head to the very north east of the entire country, and will enjoy spectacular views of numerous Steller’s and White-tailed Sea Eagles at the Notsuke Peninsula, Lake Furen, and in various harbours. We could encounter almost anything today. Gorgeously patterned Harlequin Duck are common along the coastline, and are joined by Black and White-winged Scoter and Long-tailed Duck further offshore. Gulls are abundant too, and there is a good variety of sea birds are possible, such as Spectacled Guillemot, Ancient Murrelet, and other auks and cormorants and as well as grebes and divers, including Pacific Diver. As we travel, we will constantly be looking for herds of Sika Deer and patrolling Red Foxes. Overnight in the Nemuro Grand Hotel or similar.

DAY 16. Thursday 18th December 2025: Sayonara
After breakfast, we spend a little time watching eagles on the iced-over lakes and general birding in the far north before driving back to Kushiro Airport where we transfer to Haneda before transferring onto our overnight flight back to London.

DAY 17. Friday 19th December 2025: Back Home
Arrive in London.

Please note: all itineraries are given as a guide only. Actual holiday content may vary according to the judgement of your guide, and elements beyond our control (eg weather)

Please note: all itineraries are given as a guide only. Actual holiday content may vary according to the judgement of your guide, and elements beyond our control (eg weather).

What's included in your holiday price:

  • Return scheduled flight from London – Tokyo, all internal flights, airport taxes, baggage and hand luggage up to airline included limit.
  • Ground transportation in comfortable, air conditioned microbuses or coaches, plus public transport costs in Tokyo, toll roads, etc.
  • All entrance fees to tourist attractions, reserves, etc.
  • En suite accommodation and meals as specified.
  • The services of Heatherlea leader and local guides/drivers. 
  • The Heatherlea Pre-Flight Service offers everything you need at the airport, including hotels, car parking, airport lounges, regional flights, and upgrades. Let Heatherlea take the strain! Pre-flight airport hotel and lounge included free of charge subject to terms and conditions. Read More...

Free Field Guide! 'Birds of Japan' by Mark Brazil, published by Helm 2018 is included in your holiday price. One copy per room booked.

What's not included in your holiday price:

  • Travel to and from departure airport before and after holiday, any baggage above airline included limit.
  • Incidental tips, expenses of a personal nature, including drinks and personal insurance.

More holiday information:

Accommodation: Hotels are a mixture of Western and traditional Japanese styles, and standards are very good. Most rooms are en suite. Many hotels and inns in Kyushu and Hokkaido have natural hot springs – offering a traditional Japanese experience. Depending on the final accommodation, some meals may be taken at Japanese low tables and some nights may be on traditional futons (thin mattresses) on tatami flooring - highly comfortable and highly authentic! N.B. Single occupancy may not be available at some accommodation.
Food: A powerful cultural experience! Food penetrates all aspects of life in Japan, and our accommodation generally serve Japanese dinners though western options may be available at some locations. Most hotels also offer a mixture of western and Japanese style breakfasts. Lunches will consist of both the standard Japanese on-the-go convenience store fare and in local hostelries - as usual on Heatherlea holidays, we will work hard to make sure that you are comfortable and well-fed! Food is healthy and freshly-prepared. Please note, the availability of options for restricted diets, eg gluten-free, vegetarian or vegan, is minimal in Japan. Please contact our office before booking if you have any concerns.
Walking: Walking will be in a relaxed pace, mostly on flat ground, except at Karuizawa and Jigokudani, where there will be some short hills to negotiate. Some ground conditions in these areas may be icy or muddy. Generally speaking, there are no very long walks, and our bus or a nature centre will be close by.
Weather and clothing: Japanese winters can be similar to those in the UK - cold and wet. The island of Hokkaido in the far north of Japan and the higher elevation locations on Honshu can be quite cold, so please bring plenty of adequate warm clothing layers, including a waterproof/windproof jacket, gloves, hat and an outer layer to wear over trousers, like rain/wind trousers for those areas. There will be the opportunity to use an onsen - these establishments are generally single-sex and do not permit the wearing of swimwear, although onsen-towels are available to preserve your dignity as you head to and from the pools!
Insects: There are unlikely to be any biting insects during this tour.
Travel: There are four domestic flights, short hops on public transport (in Tokyo), journeys in our personal microbuses, and on our own larger coaches. Driving distances between locations on the tour vary, and are mostly between 1 and 3 hours.
Visa: United Kingdom citizens will need a passport valid for at least six months from date of departure. An entry Visa to Japan is not required for UK citizens, though please check for other nationalities.
Flights: Flights from a London airport.
Photos: Although most of the holiday is catered towards general birding and wildlife viewing, there are excellent photographic opportunities when watching the cranes, the macaques, the fish owl, and hopefully the eagles - not to mention the culture and landscape!

Your Leader: 
Mike Coleman originally joined Heatherlea in 2002, although he began leading wildlife tours and undertaking invertebrate, mammal and bird surveys as a teenager before forging a career in language and education which enabled him to broaden his travels in search of wildlife experiences. He lived in Japan for six years, speaks basic Japanese, and is thoroughly looking forward to returning to some of his favourite places! Mike will be joined by local cultural guides.

Mike Coleman


Why choose Heatherlea for your birding and wildlife holiday?

Our overseas holidays are planned with care to offer great birding and wildlife, led by capable Leaders who really look after you. Every holiday is run the 'Heatherlea Way', and we hope our Overseas Adventures remind you of the quality and care so many of you enjoy in Scotland. That means rewarding and exciting days in the field, and good quality accommodation and meals, with a real flavour of the country we are visiting. Heatherlea always seek to include the personal touches that make all the difference.

Heatherlea holidays are not ‘dawn to dusk’ expeditions. Our less-intensive approach is ideal for those who want to relax whilst experiencing the best wildlife watching, and wherever possible we organise early or late activity on an optional basis. We also take sensible breaks when in very hot places and regular comfort breaks on every holiday whenever possible. All itineraries are planned carefully around the best wildlife opportunities, and you won’t miss out on memorable wildlife, whilst enjoying relaxed, informal days that are great fun.

The really important part of any wildlife holiday is the experience for you, our valued customer. Heatherlea invest in many things to offer you the best possible service;

  • We have been organising birding and wildlife holidays for over 30 seasons, and have a highly experienced and capable office team. We also offer a telephone and email service outside normal office hours.
  • Heatherlea overseas holidays have a maximum of 12 clients per trip, putting the emphasis on personal service, and helping you get the best possible experience.
  • Our holidays often include things which others might invite you to pay yourself, for instance Departure Taxes and tips to hotels.
  • All elements of our holidays are sold under our own licence, ATOL 6113. Under ‘Flight-Plus’ legislation it is a legal requirement of any tour operator to hold an ATOL licence for the supply of any overseas holiday where a flight is involved, if that holiday includes either overseas accommodation and/or car hire. It can be a criminal offence for an operator to book flights as part of a package without an ATOL licence. Heatherlea also hold full Tour Operator Insurance for your added protection.
  • Heatherlea is your complete wildlife holiday provider. Our ‘Back Office’ team can organise all your pre-flight and other travel needs. Our specialists will help you book the right services, at the best price. Book holiday extensions through us, and your ATOL protection is extended further. We don’t charge extra for this service.
  • Heatherlea is a limited company, registered in Scotland, and registered to pay VAT (applies to all holidays within the European Union).

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The Mountview Hotel, Nethybridge,
PH25 3EB Scotland

T: +44(0)1479 821248