You’ll find answers to a range of commonly asked questions below. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, contact us directly via email or simply give us a bell - We’re here to help!
What happens if the weather is bad during a tour?
While we try to organise everything, mother nature is out of our control. If the weather is too bad for us to safely do our planned activities, such as a typhoon or sudden storm, we will travel to the next inn in our support vehicle. Along the way we will still stop at local restaurants and visit indoor facilities, so you can still experience the charm of the area while travelling safely and comfortably.
I would like to travel in autumn. Is Hokkaido prone to typhoons?
Although typhoons can and do strike Hokkaido, on the whole it is not common and Hokkaido is considered a fairly low-risk area for typhoons. If they hit mainland Japan first, the mountainous terrain tends to cause the storm to lose momentum and all that may reach Hokkaido is a patch of bad weather and some residual high winds. The core of a typhoon also requires warm, moist air and up in our northern land, the air tends to be cooler and drier, meaning that typhoons tend to expire over the ocean before they reach us. So while we can’t rule it out, you are unlikely to have a typhoon disrupt your visit.
However, typhoons can affect flights and trains, particularly the Shinkansen. Even if a typhoon is not on course for Hokkaido, it may cause your flight or train to be delayed or cancelled. Check with your airline or the railway provider if a typhoon is forecast.
What is the weather like in Hokkaido?
Hokkaido is a vast region spanning different altitudes, climates and biomes. It is quite hard to say for certain what the weather will be like where you are going, so it is better instead to look at the weather in a specific region in the specific month that your tour will be visiting.
However, there are some general patterns that apply to the region as a whole which we have outlined for you here!
Winter - While the mountains are usually covered in snow by November, the first snows usually fall on lowland areas by the start of December. By the start of January, all of Hokkaido is covered in snow. Across all of Hokkaido, temperatures are below zero and may fall as low as -20C or lower in some areas. Snowfall blankets most regions, thicker on the mountains and in central and northern regions where the air is drier. There is less heavy snow on the coastlines, but increased humidity can make these regions feel quite a bit more chilly than inland. Winter in Hokkaido is generally quite cloudy and overcast-- despite what you may have seen in promotional images, sunny days are something of a rarity.
Spring - The thaw tends to come between early March and mid-April, depending on the region. Although snow still falls, it no longer settles on the ground except for in areas of high altitude (it is possible to enjoy winter sports on the mountains even in March!) By May, most of the snow has disappeared from low-lying areas, leaves begin to bud and flowers start to bloom. The weather is mostly clear and pleasantly cool during the day, perfect for cycling and walking in lowland areas. However, snow is still piled up thickly on the mountain trails and nights can still dip below zero.
Summer - June marks the start of summer on the coast and low-lying areas, where bright green forests burst into life. Wildlife activity is at a peak from June through to July, with whales visiting the east coast and brown bears and their cubs roaming the forests. However, at high altitude, June is still considered spring! On smaller mountains, the snows recede from the trails and are gone by mid-June. At higher altitudes, notably the Daisetsuzan National Park, the snows remain on the trails right into July, finally receding from around the second half of the month. Alpine flowers begin to bloom from around late June and hit their peak in July. By August, the snows have completely gone from all of Hokkaido's mountains and the hiking season hits its peak during the first half of the month. Hokkaido is not as hot as other parts of Japan, but the central and southern areas in recent years have seen days above 30C. Coastal areas, the north and the east however tend to hover around 26C - 28C. Of course, temperatures are much colder at altitude-- below 10C in some cases, such as Mt. Asahidake. This is why we ask our clients to bring warm layers, gloves and hats for their hike, even in summer!
Autumn - At high altitudes, summer is short and by late August, there are signs of autumn appearing in the mountains. Early autumn flowers herald the start of the changing seasons. By early September, the first signs of autumn foliage can be seen on the peaks of Daisetsuzan National Park. On the other hand, at ground level, the heat of summer has abated and the mornings and evenings return to being pleasantly cool, making for great outdoor activity conditions. Late September sees the peak autumn foliage at Daisetsuzan National Park, the first autumn foliage in Japan, which then sweeps down the mountains in a grand circle, enveloping the rest of Hokkaido as it goes. By mid-October, low-lying areas are also enjoying autumn foliage and the snows begin to crest Hokkaido's mountains. By the end of November, the mountains are covered in snow and the autumn foliage has finished, leaving a landscape waiting for the magical winter. Autumn weather is pretty changeable in Hokkaido, with sudden showers all over the region. By November, the clouds characteristic of winter tend to become more and more common until, one day, the precipitation falls not as rain but as snow. And so, the cycle begins again!
We're a family travelling with kids. Can we join your tour?
So far we've hosted children as young as 14. Teenagers who are active and can handle the activities included in the tour at the average pace of an adult will be able to join groups with other travellers. Families with younger children (who need the hiking / cycling distance or pace to be adjusted for them) should have their tour organised and arranged as a private group tour. We believe our Japan's Far East 8 Day Wildlife & Adventure Tour is the most family-friendly itinerary, in which children aged 6 or above can take part in canoeing and cruises without any modification.
Can you cater to vegetarians / vegans on your tours?
While vegetarianism and veganism are catching on in larger urban areas, across much of Japan it is still unheard of. Outside of main cities, there are very few pure vegetarian or vegan restaurants available and many Japanese do not have a clear understanding of what exactly qualifies a food as being truly vegan or vegetarian.
If you are travelling to Hokkaido as a vegan or vegetarian, you will have to accept that you may not be able to experience the full scope of Japanese food as your other travellers might. With advance notice and clear direction, some restaurants and accommodations are happy to cater to your requirements so please let us know your needs at the time of booking, but some facilities may choose to simply remove dishes from your meal instead of making a substitute. The main challenge is “dashi”, a meat or fish-based broth that is very commonly added to Japanese dishes. This can be hard to remove from Japanese cooking (it’s a bit like asking a European chef not to add salt and pepper!) as it is integral to a number of dishes.
See our Vegan & Vegetarian in Hokkaido blog to learn more.
Can you cater to religious dietary requirements on your tours?
The good news is that Japan has a past as a strictly Buddhist country, during which time eating meat was prohibited for centuries. As such, the country is quite understanding of religious dietary requirements! Meat served in Japan is seldom shechitah or halal, but it is quite easy to follow a pescetarian diet (eating fish, but not meat) for the duration of your stay in Japan. As always, let us know of your requirements in as much detail as you can in advance.
Muslim visitors should be aware that mirin and cooking alcohol are commonly added to dishes. However, in some cases it can be substituted. Please let us know in advance if your religion prohibits you from all alcohol, even when it is used in cooking.
I have a food allergy, will I have trouble finding food that is safe to eat?
With advance instruction, this is not a problem in the case of most allergies and like many other countries, Japanese law requires all allergens to be listed on food packaging.
Those with a very sensitive gluten intolerance or a serious soy allergy should be aware that soy sauce (with trace elements of gluten and made from soybeans) is in almost every dish and can be hard to remove or substitute.
Please give us as much detail as you can about your allergy or intolerance at the time of booking, including the severity of your allergy and whether or not you can tolerate trace elements.
Is tipping expected in Japan?
Tipping is not a part of Japanese culture and is not expected. Most jobs pay a high enough wage that workers can make a living without tips and service charges are often included as standard at restaurants, bars and so on (but this being Japan, you of course don’t pay a service charge and get nothing in return– you might get a little extra side dish called “otōshi” or some free bar snacks!) However, if you do wish to tip, feel free to do so. Nobody is going to mind the extra cash (even if you may have to reassure them several times that it’s okay to keep the money)!
What type of accommodation do you use?
We provide a variety of local accommodation from traditional Japanese inns called ryokan and guest houses to hotels. Depending on the location of the tours and itinerary, we do our best to choose accommodation that suits the tour’s travel style. You can read some more detailed information about types of accommodation here, but the basics are below.
It is also important to be aware that Japan does not have a “star” grading system as hotels in Western countries do. Do keep this in mind when it comes to ryokan and minshuku (see below), as they cannot really be compared with Western-style hotels or equated with anything in the “star” system.
A ryokan (旅館) is a traditional Japanese inn and it is the epitome of Japanese hospitality and cuisine. They are often located in natural surroundings and feature Japanese style rooms with tatami mats with paper partitions and futons. Each ryokan prides itself on its cuisine, featuring seasonal local ingredients. We usually enjoy these meals together as a group and they consist of a number of different courses, with a great variety of dishes. Many ryokan also have on-site natural hot springs for their guests to enjoy during their stay. If you’re after an authentic experience in Japan, we recommend staying at a ryokan for a night or two!
A minshuku (民宿) is another type of accommodation we often use on our tours. Frequently translated as a guesthouse, in many cases, a minshuku is a house of the owners who operate an accommodation business on a smaller scale. In Hokkaido, many minshuku have natural hot springs, and provide guests with bathrooms for communal use. Since the minshuku facilities are smaller and the service is all delivered by the friendly owners themselves, they make for the perfect opportunity to interact with the local people and travellers staying overnight.
Since the majority of our adventures take place in rural regions of Hokkaido, we cannot offer en-suites every night throughout our tours. There will be times when we will stay in accommodation that has a shared shower or toilet as described above. In such cases we will make a clear note of it in our trip notes to you.
Do I need travel insurance?
Absolutely! This is a must for all travellers joining our tours. Please make sure you have valid travel insurance, covering the kind of activities you are undertaking during our tour, cancellations, loss of personal belongings, and any unforeseen circumstances while travelling. We will require the details of your travel insurance provider such as the name, policy number and phone number prior to the commencement of the tour.
If you're a Japanese citizen and on Japan's national health insurance scheme, we can mitigate our insurance requirement, although we still strongly recommend that you have flight cancellations and related expenses covered by some kind of insurance. Often your credit card provider can offer this coverage.
Is it safe to walk alone at night?
Japan has a very low crime rate and street muggings or attacks are a rare occurrence. With that being said, they can happen, usually on poorly lit side streets in urban areas. Young foreign women can sometimes become targets for stalkers, too. So, even though Japan is a safe country on the whole, please use your common sense when walking alone at night and keep your wits about you. Keep your valuables well out of sight and stick to well-lit and populated roads if you can.
What is your maximum group size?
We cap our tours at 10 people. We find value in maintaining friendly, small-group settings. Travelling in smaller groups also allows us to reduce the social and environmental impacts of our travels, as well provide us with the flexibility to use smaller facilities, which often give us more interesting insights and unique experiences.
Can you organise a custom tour?
As of 2023, we can accept a custom tour if your group has 6 people or more, and the itinerary is for 4 nights (5 days) or more. As we take pride and specialise in sharing Hokkaido’s great outdoors through guided hiking, cycling and nature tours, we may turn down requests for tours outside our specialty (such as general sightseeing or ski packages). When we are unable to help, we will do our best to redirect to another operator or agent who is specialised in the kind of tour you have in mind.
How do I book a tour?
We will send you a link to our online sign up form, where we ask for the travel information of all the members travelling with you.
Once we receive this, we will send you an invoice for your tour deposit, which is JPY 50,000 per person. We will confirm your booking upon receipt of your deposit payment.
The deposit is treated as a part of the tour price. Payment of the balance will be reminded by email, which is generally 5 weeks prior to the tour departure date.
We can accept payment via wire-transfer from local banks in a number of countries including but not limited to the US, UK, Australia, and Singapore. Payment will be made in your own currency via Wise (Wise’s transaction fees will apply).
For credit card payment, we use Flywire, which will incur an additional transaction fee of 1.5%.
By paying for a deposit or full amount, you confirm that you have read, understand and agree to these Terms and Conditions.
How far ahead should I book?
Japan remains a popular travel destination and it is not unusual for accommodation in peak seasons to be booked out up to a year in advance. So, the sooner the better! Generally speaking, we ask for you to book 10 - 12 months in advance if you are looking at a custom departure. For scheduled departures, we make our dates available from up to a year in advance. If we feel that your date is too close for us to realistically put a trip together to the standard we pride ourselves on, we will let you know at the time of enquiry and will do our best to suggest alternative travel dates.
How do I make a payment?
When confirming your booking, we will ask you to make payment via Flywire or Wise. We use Flywire to accept credit card and local bank transfer payments, and we also use Wise to accept local bank transfer payments. Wise will convert the JPY price of the tour into AUD, CAD, EUR, GBP, NZD, SEK, SGD, and USD (if you wish to pay us in JPY, please jump to “Can I make a wire transfer to your bank account in Japan?”) For Wise transactions, the fee will be converted into JPY using the exchange rate of the day. Once converted, however, the fee will be locked under that exchange rate for five days to give you time to make payment. So, you don’t need to worry about daily fluctuations in exchange rates! Please note that for either payment method, additional service charges will apply (1.5% in the case of Flywire and 200 JPY in the case of Wise).
Unfortunately we do not accept payment via other online transfers such as YouTrip or PayPal.
What Is Your Cancellation Policy?
Our general cancellation policy is shown as below.
Cancelled more than 21 days prior to departure: Zero fees
Cancelled between 20 days and 8 days prior to departure: 20% of the Tour Price
Cancelled between 7 days and 2 days prior to departure: 30% of the Tour Price
Cancelled 1 day prior to departure: 40% of the Tour Price
Cancelled on the day of departure: 50% of the Tour Price
No refunds will be given after the tour has commenced
In addition, refunds will be given if travel becomes impossible due to government-imposed restriction of movement.
For further details, we recommend you read our refund and cancellation policy in more detail on our Terms and Conditions page. Feel free to contact us at [email protected] if you have any additional questions.
Can I make a wire transfer to your bank account in Japan?
If you wish to make payment in JPY, you may do so to our Japanese bank account via an international transfer, for which we must add a ¥2,000 service charge per payment to the tour price.
I am a solo traveler, can I share a room with someone else?
Our tours are priced on a twin share basis and those travelling by themselves will need to pay an additional supplement for use of a single room. If you are happy to share a room with another guest - of the same gender - then let us know at the time of booking. If we match you with another solo traveller then we can discount the single supplement for both of you.
Is it possible to share a triple room?
Although we will ask your accommodation about this at the time of booking, please note that it may not always be possible. Hotels in Japan charge per-person as opposed to per-room. As such, we are unable to offer a lower rate on our overnight tours if you are sharing a triple room.
Are there any dangerous animals in Hokkaido?
Hokkaido’s animals are not dangerous by nature. They stay well out of sight for the most part and are much more likely to run away from humans than pick a fight! However, always remember that the forests and mountains are their homes and we are simply guests there. Reacting the wrong way around wild animals can cause situations to turn south quickly so always listen to the direction of your guide.
More so than animals, during the summer you are likely to come across a lot of bothersome insects. Mosquitoes and gnats are found in the forest and in lakeside areas and their bites can become quite swollen and are very itchy! Luckily you can use insect repellent to keep them at bay. Some mosquitoes may carry Japanese encephalitis, but cases are fortunately very rare. Deer ticks lurking in the undergrowth are of greater concern, however, as they are vectors of tick-borne encephalitis and Lyme disease. To avoid ticks, please wear clothing that covers your arms and legs (ideally pale colours, as they will allow you to see the ticks and brush them off). If you do find a tick attached to your body during your tour, please alert your guide at once and do not attempt to remove it yourself.
A larger insect that we often encounter on tours in the autumn is the Japanese Giant Hornet. It has a potent sting and, unfortunately, a short temper! Their venom can cause anaphylactic shock, even in individuals who are not allergic to bee or wasp stings. If you have an existing allergy, Japanese Giant Hornet venom can bring on a reaction so please bring your epi-pen with you on a hike.
Luckily, hornets do not expend their energy on anything that they deem is not a threat to them or their nests. So, if one should happen to buzz uncomfortably close to you, don’t panic— it is most likely just checking you out. Stay very still and quiet (easier said than done, we know!) and they will soon leave you alone. You can deter hornets by not wearing dark clothing (including hats) or strong-smelling perfume, sunscreen, shampoo etc.
Pit vipers are around during the summer, sometimes sunning themselves on trails or hiding out in the undergrowth. The good news is that they don’t tend to strike unless you get really, really close– within 30cm, in fact! If you spot one, give it plenty of room to make its escape and you won’t have any problems.
Another unlikely dangerous animal is the red fox. Foxes carry a parasite called echinococcus which is harmful to humans and can contaminate streams. Water must be treated by boiling or using a reliable filter before drinking.
You may have also heard that Hokkaido is home to brown bears. Fortunately, they are docile creatures by nature and they are easy to avoid if you take the right precautions. See the next section for more information.
Is it safe to hike in bear country?
The answer to this question depends entirely on how you behave in their territory. Hokkaido is home to the Brown Bear (Ursus arctos), in Japanese we call it higuma, and it can grow to more than 2 metres in height and weigh up to 300kg. While the thought of meeting such a huge wild animal can be frightening, in reality it is a rare and special experience to see them in their natural habitat.
Recent studies have shown that their numbers have been increasing over the past 20 years and they are, from time to time, sighted in towns and villages located near the mountains. Of course, the population of these magnificent animals is mainly concentrated in the mountains, so there’s a much higher chance of hikers and nature lovers catching sight of one while in their territory.
However, the reality is that you are very unlikely to see a bear on tour. On average, our guides see bears from the hiking trail only once or twice a season so it’s really special when we see one. They are shy creatures and they don’t like to get into conflict unless it is completely unavoidable. When a group of people are walking in their habitat, chatting and making noise, bears generally will distance themselves from us and we won’t even notice their presence. A lot of solo hikers will call out and clap on the trail to let bears know that they are there, allowing bears plenty of time to give the hiker a wide berth.
Bears have a keen sense of smell, so leaving food scraps and trash on the trail is a really bad idea. That’s how they learn that we humans carry easy food with us.
In the very unlikely event that you do come across a bear behaving threateningly, resist the urge to panic and run away. If you are with a guide, follow the instructions of your guide to the letter. All of our guides carry bear spray that they know how to use in the very rare event that a situation takes a turn for the worse.
Can I drink stream water in Hokkaido?
All stream water in Hokkaido must be treated before consumption. This is due to the eggs of the echinococcus parasite (sometimes known as “flatworms”) which are spread in the stool of wild foxes. Humans can be host to this parasite, and its larvae can cause very painful cysts to erupt on the body’s vital organs many years after infection. This can be fatal if not treated with invasive surgery.
Stream water must be boiled or filtered for at least 7 minutes to be sure it is safe to consume. Read more about why this is important here.
What is a mobile toilet bag?
Out in the mountains, there is no plumbing which of course means no toilets. You may not find any toilets at all other than at the trailhead and the hike's end point.
As so much of Hokkaido is covered by National Parks, you of course can’t just do your business in the middle of the mountains or the forests, either!
Instead, along the trail you will need to do what you need to do into a mobile toilet bag, which you must take with you from the very start of the hike (they are not provided anywhere along the route– you have to bring your own). These are sealable bags with a coagulating agent that will allow you to carry your… ah, emissions, as you would do normal trash. Sometimes, privacy tents or huts are provided but at other times, your only option may be to duck out of sight behind a boulder or a bush! You can throw toilet bags away at a designated collection point at the end of your hike.
See more about mobile toilet bags here.
What should I know about onsen?
“Onsen” is the Japanese word for “hot spring”-- natural hot springs in particular. As a land dotted with countless active and inactive volcanoes, Hokkaido has no shortage of them! It is very likely that you will be able to experience this wonderful aspect of Japanese culture during your trip, either at a ryokan, a minshuku or possibly out in the wild! The big thing to remember is that onsens do require nude, communal bathing. This might seem nerve-wracking at first, but once you get used to it, you’ll be bathing like a local in no time. For more onsen tips, check out our guide to onsen culture here.
I have tattoos. Will I be able to go into onsen?
Some cultural background– tattoos have historically been associated with criminals in Japan. This has led to a culture where bathers sporting tattoos are sometimes turned away from onsen.
However, the truth is that most Japanese only really apply this rule to other Japanese people. Thanks to Japan’s growing popularity as a tourism destination, most Japanese understand that tattoos have different meanings in foreign cultures and will often apply exceptions for foreigners who wish to use an onsen. Above all else, if you are a paying guest at an onsen’s accommodation facilities, staff are very unlikely to deny you entry to the baths! Still, if you have tattoos, the best thing to do is let us know as soon as you can, especially if your tattoos are large or cover a lot of your body (particularly the chest, back, neck and arms). We can check the “unofficial policy” on tattoos with your accommodation in advance.