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Cranes, Japan

Winter in Hokkaido

16-day tailor-made holiday from £6,270 pp


Short description

Discover the wildlife and stunning geography of Japan’s second largest island on this luxury holiday


  • Explore volcano-forged national parks and rugged coastlines on ice-breaking cruises, husky dog sled trips and guided searches for the elusive Japanese crane
  • Experience modern, bullet train Japan with exclusive tours of Tokyo and the unique international heritage of Hokkaido’s cities
  • Ward off the cold with private onsen soaks and freshly caught seafood in fine dining dinners and local markets

In Brief

  • 2 Nights Tokyo
  • 2 Nights Tsuru
  • 2 Nights Utoro
  • 2 Nights Abashiri
  • 2 Nights Asahikawa
  • 2 Nights Sapporo
  • 1 Night Hakodate
  • 1 Night Tokyo


Recommended for:
City | Natural world | Wildlife

As Japan’s northern frontier, Hokkaido’s 30,000 square miles of volcanic peaks, earthquake-troubled rifts and icy coastline host just five percent of the country’s population. It’s a world away from Honshu’s cram. Indeed, its icy straits and snow-clad mountains have more in common with its Russian neighbour than Tokyo’s lights. On this two-week journey you’ll explore it all on ice-breaking cruises, husky dog sled trips and guided national park searches for the elusive Japanese crane. Along the way you’ll stay in pretty coastal fishing towns, famed for their hot spring onsen contrast to winter temperatures. However, that’s not to say you’ll miss out on Japan’s futurism. After exploring Tokyo, guided tours of Hokkaido’s cities will map out an international influence engendered by unique, once-denied trade routes. And, no trip would be complete without a dash on the world-famous bullet train. 

Day by day itinerary

Day 1
Depart UK

After enjoying included airport lounge access, your trip will start with an overnight flight to Tokyo, arriving on day two.

Day 2

A shuttle bus will bring you to your central hotel – watch as Tokyo’s skyline looms as you make your way along its elevated highways. On your first day, relax in your designer hotel or step foot out of its front door to one of Japan’s oldest shopping streets, marked by the stunning vermillion-lacquered Kaminarimon Gate. At the street’s end, you’ll find Sensoji, Tokyo’s oldest temple, complete with multiple bright red tiers. Alternatively, swap the past for the future with Shinjuku’s skyscrapers and lively neon nightlife.

Stay: Gate Hotel Kaminarimon, Tokyo (Superior)

Meals: B

Day 3

Today you’ll be met by a guide who’ll tailor a tour of the Japanese capital to suit your interests. Making use of your preloaded pass, you’ll see for yourself how efficient the Tokyo subway system is. Take time out in the moated gardens of its imperial castle or with Yoyogi Park’s Meiji Restoration shrines after exploring Akihabara’s electronic arcades and the Tsukiji fish markets. Along the way, your guide will be able to recommend the best yatai street vendors or maybe an intimate izakaya pub to stop and have a quick drink in. And, while there’s no set itinerary, we’ve included tickets to the Tokyo Skytree. As the tallest freestanding tower in the world, it offers unparalleled views over the city and – on a good day – out to Mt. Fuji. 

Stay: Gate Hotel Kaminarimon, Tokyo (Superior)

Meals: B

Days 4-5

A taxi will bring you to Haneda Airport where you’ll catch a flight to Kushiro in southeastern Hokkaido. As a port gateway to the region, be sure to take some time to explore the bustling Washo Fish Market where you can try a katte-don bowl of rice, topped with your choice of fresh fish. You’ll then pick up your hire car to make the hour’s drive north to Tsurui, your first taste of rural Japan. This quiet village is beautifully positioned, surrounded by the wintery beauty of the Kushiro Shitsugen Wetlands, a 183 square mile slice of unspoilt wilderness. The next day, you’ll set out to explore it all accompanied by a local park ranger and award-winning wildlife photographer, Mr Ando. He’ll meet you at your hotel and drive you out to hidden riverside spots where you’ll hope to spot the iconic Japanese red-crowned crane, one of the world’s rarest birds. Each evening your lodge will serve up local cuisine made from fresh, seasonal ingredients.

Stay: Hotel Taito (Superior))

Meals: B D

Days 6-7

Continue north, driving the two hours to Utoro, a small town on the western shores of the Shiretoko Peninsula. It’s a fishing village, now better known for its hot spring onsen, which you can experience at your resort hotel. It’s the perfect way to relax after filling up with locally caught salmon and crabs at the included seafood buffet. The next day, a relaxed cape cruise will bring you around the tip of the peninsula to catch sights of monumental drift ice, waterfalls and unique rock formations, shaped for all the world as grand elephants and lions. There’s also plenty of bird and sea life to spot and, in February, Utoro is treated to a laser show recreation of the Northern Lights.

Stay: Shiretoko Prince Hotel Kazanamiki (Superior) 

Meals: B D

Days 8-9

Follow the coast west to Abashiri in northeastern Hokkaido. As the largest town on the Okhotsk Coast, you’ll find pretty lakes, primeval flower gardens and – in winter – dramatic ice flows. Perhaps summit Mt. Tento for impressive views of it all or simply relax in your hotel’s private onsen after indulging in yet more of that delicious seafood. The next day, you’ll hit the waters on an ice breaker cruise on the Okhotsk Sea, carving a watery path in the vast floating fields of white, spotting sea eagles congregating on the icy floes. Back on land, perhaps learn more about the region’s history at the penal colony museum or the Ice Flow Museum. 

Stay: Hokuten No Oka, Abashiri (Superior)

Meals: B D

Days 10-11

Swapping car for train you’ll leave the coast behind for Asahikawa in central Hokkaido. Bordering the Daisetsuzan National Park, it’s an ideal gateway to explore the region’s parklands, mountains and rivers, steeped in Ainu myth and legend. Be sure to try the local delicacy – noodles served in soy sauce broth and topped with green onions, pork, bamboo shoots and eggs, simply known as Asahikawa Ramen. The next day, you’ll move out into the countryside for a dog sledding experience. After being matched to a team – choose between sedate ambles or 30kph rushes – an instructor will show you the ropes before you take the reins to race around the hard packed trail.

Stay: Asahikawa Grand Hotel (Superior) 

Meals: B

Days 12-13

Your next express train jaunt will bring you to the island’s capital, Sapporo. After getting lost in Tokyo’s rabbit warrens, Sapporo’s open parks and wide boulevards will show you a more European side to Japan, complete with café culture. While you’ll have some time to explore on your first day here, we’ve included a private guide on the second. Once again, your local expert will adapt a tour to your interests. You might want to take a stroll through Odori Park – a giant green street that bisects the city in two and is home to tower observation decks – before sampling the local brew at the Sapporo Beer Museum. While it vies with other brands to be Japan’s most popular, it’s certainly its oldest, having first been brewed here in 1877. You’ll also find botanic gardens, mountains with city views and entire Meiji era villages faithfully reconstructed.

Stay: Iya Onsen Hotel, Iya Valley (Superior)

Meals: B

Day 14

Today, a coastal express train will take you – via scenic Lake Onuma – to Hakodate on the island’s south coast. Despite being a powerful port, you’ll find Hokkaido’s third largest city just as charming as Sapporo. As one of the first cities in Japan to open up to foreign traders, 19th century merchant houses take their architectural notes from Europe, China and Russia and its pentagonal fort eschews Japanese castle curves in favour of Western battlements. And, with the connecting ropeway just a few minutes’ walk from your hotel, be sure to summit Mt. Hakodate for stunning night-time views across the entire city.

Stay: Villa Concordia Resort & Spa, Hakodate (Superior)

Meals: B

Day 15

Return to the Japanese capital by way of Shinkansen bullet train sprint. Travelling at speeds of up to 200mph, the journey will take just over four hours, ducking under the Tsugaru Strait that separates the two islands. Spend your last night in Japan at leisure, perhaps with a warm sake in Golden Gai’s intimate five seater bars tucked away behind Shinjuku’s bustle. 

Stay: Gate Hotel Kaminarimon, Tokyo (Superior)

Meals: B

Day 16

A private transfer will bring you back to Tokyo’s Narita Airport, where you’ll board your flight back to the UK, arriving the same day.

Meals: B



Any element of this itinerary can be adjusted to suit your needs. Just contact us to find out more.

Accommodation rating: Superior

16-day tailor-made holiday
from £6,270 pp

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