Japan's Far East 7 Day Wild Winter Tour

View of Lake Kussharo from Bihoro Pass in winter

A winter odyssey in Japan’s eastern frontier, touring through two national parks in eastern Hokkaido. Be mesmerised by the extraordinary snow-kissed landscapes, the unique wildlife experiences, and the warmth of hot springs.

Hokkaido’s far east region is often described as the last unexplored frontier of Japan. This region is popular for wildlife and outdoor lovers in the summer. It is also renowned internationally in winter as a bird-watching destination.

On this tour, we will visit some of Hokkaido’s beautiful national parks: Akan–Mashu and Kushiro Shitsugen National Park. We take in beautiful winter landscapes while hiking at our favourite locations, such as the outer rim of a caldera lake crater with marvellous views.

You don’t have to be an experienced skier or snowboarder to enjoy Hokkaido’s famous snowy winter. We will use snowshoes to hike through the snowy landscape, allowing anyone to enjoy Hokkaido’s winter scenery.

Tour Highlights

Explore the serene beauty of Akan–Mashu National Park in its winter dress

Observe the wildlife including the Whooper Swans, winter visitors who make the warm water of Lake Kussharo their favourite home.

Take in the contrast between active volcanoes and caldera lakes

Experience a volcanic landscape - from deep blue caldera lakes to active sulphur vents.

Observe the Red-crowned Cranes performing synchronised dances

Visit a Red-crowned Crane sanctuary in Tsurui to observe Japan’s most symbolic bird.

Discover the wildlife on the Notsuke Peninsula, registered as a Ramsar site

Discover a variety of wildlife on the Notsuke Peninsula, registered as a Ramsar site.


Day 1

The group assembles in Abashiri City

We will meet at our hotel at 6:00 pm near JR Abashiri Station in Abashiri, the largest city on Hokkaido’s eastern Sea of Okhotsk coast. Once everyone is gathered, we will set off for dinner in downtown Abashiri. Over dinner, We will get to know each other and introduce the program for our upcoming adventure. For those who aren’t used to walking on icy roads, we will introduce you to the penguin-walking technique!

Stay Hotel in Abashiri
Day 2

Explore Lake Kussharo, Akan–Mashu National Park

We will have breakfast at our hotel and drive just over 1 hour to Lake Kussharo, one of the caldera lakes forming Akan-Mashu National Park. We will explore some sections of the lakeshore and will walk through old-growth forest, taking in the view across the lake towards Nakajima Island and Mt. Mokoto. Along the way we will discover natural hot springs and warm patches of ground, heated by volcanic activity. Whooper Swans congregate in these spots during winter to try and stay warm - we will spend some time watching the swans before heading to a relaxed late lunch in a local cafe.

We will then spend the afternoon exploring Kawayu Onsen, the local town. Kawayu means "hot-spring river" in Japanese and true to its name, the town has a hot river running through it. We can stop by the local foot bath to soak our feet and also head to the visitor centre to learn more about the National Park. 

Our accommodation is located across the road from the lake. There are several bird feeders on the veranda and the surrounding trees and you will be able to observe woodland birds and squirrels coming to feed at breakfast. Enjoy bathing in the hot spring spa on site.

Walk for 3 hours
Stay Lodge at Lake Kussharo
Day 3

Explore Mt. Iozan and Lake Mashu, Akan–Mashu National Park

After breakfast at our hotel, we set off for an active volcano, Mt. Iozan. Depending on snow cover, we will either walk or snowshoe through old forest and low shrubland before reaching the barren foot of the mountain. The Ainu call the peak Atosanupuri , which means "bare mountain". The Japanese name, "Iozan" means “Sulphur Mountain” and once we reach the base of the peak, we can see bright yellow sulphur deposits around steaming vents.

We travel on to the Lake Mashu viewpoint. Lake Mashu sits deep in a volcanic caldera and provides a stunning view of deep blue water lapping at the bottom of the cliffs. We will hopefully catch sight of some wildlife, as well as Mt. Mashu across the lake. After discovering some local omiyage (souvenirs),  we will drive to a local restaurant for lunch.

If we want to walk off lunch, we can stretch our legs in a local park home to ducks, swans and occasionally Red-crowned Cranes, before driving to our accommodation. We will stay at Yoroushi Onsen, which has not only excellent hot springs but also a river running by the lodge where one or two Blakiston’s Fish Owls sometimes come to feed at night.

Walk for 2 hours
Stay Ryokan at Yoroushi Onsen
Day 4

Explore Notsuke Peninsula, a Ramsar site

Notsuke Peninsula is Japan’s largest sand spit extending over 26 km into the Sea of Okhotsk. Registered by the Ramsar Convention, the peninsula is of ecological significance to the migrating birds and wildlife of Hokkaido. 

After breakfast at our accommodation in Yoroushi Onsen, we will drive for over an hour to the Notsuke Peninsula. We will explore the area on foot and hopefully see some of Hokkaido's iconic land mammals such as Japanese Deer and Red Foxes.

After the walk, we will return to our hotel at Yoroushi Onsen where we can again relax in the river side hot-springs and have another chance of seeing the rare Blackiston’s Fish Owl. 

Walk for 3 hours
Stay Ryokan at Yoroushi Onsen
Day 5

Visit the Red-crowned Crane Sanctuary in Tsurui

This morning we will head back inland and slowly make our way to Tsurui. The drive passes through rolling farmland, with scenery similar to the famous hills of Biei (often described as the Tuscany of Japan!). If time allows, we will stop off for an early lunch just outside Tsurui.

Tsurui is famous for its role in the recovery of the Red-crowned Crane population. The number of cranes has rebounded to almost 2000 after dropping to less than 20 in the early 1900s. The Tsurui Ito Red-crowned Crane Sanctuary has played a big part in this by feeding the cranes over winter, when their natural food sources are scarce. We will spend some time at the Sanctuary watching the cranes feed and socialise. 

Tsurui isn't just about cranes– after the sanctuary we will head out to explore the surrounding area and try to track down eagles feeding along the rivers and owls sleeping in the forest. We will return to Tsurui in time to catch the cranes flying back to their evening roost before heading to our hotel.

Walk for 2 hours
Stay Hotel in Tsurui
Day 6

Explore Kushiro-Shitsugen National Park

If you do not mind getting up early, we’d like to take you to a place called Otowa Bridge before sunrise (about 6:30 am) to see the cranes along the Setsuri River. The river is a popular nesting site for the Red-crowned Cranes and the bridge provides a spectacular view of the birds as they awake and depart for their daytime feeding sites. . 

We return to our hotel for breakfast and leave for Lake Toro, where we will wrap up warm and enjoy a canoeing adventure through the Kushiro wetland. Taking to the water in sub-zero temperatures may seem unusual, but it gives us a unique perspective of the winter landscape. The trees lining the river bank are beautifully covered in snow and ice, offering unique photography opportunities from the water. 

This particular location is a habitat for Common Kingfishers and Crested Kingfishers. After 1.5 hours of canoeing, we will warm up in a nearby cafe for lunch. On our way to Kushiro, we’ll stop by a wetland observatory to take in the vastness of Kushiro Shitsugen and wrap up our journey. We will celebrate the completion of our tour over dinner in downtown Kushiro.

Canoe for 1.5 hours
Stay Hotel in Kushiro
Day 7

Farewells in Kushiro

The tour finishes after breakfast today. We will drive you to Kushiro Airport or JR Kushiro Station in the morning. From Kushiro Airport (KUH), there are direct flights to Sapporo New Chitose (CTS), Tokyo Haneda (HND), and Osaka Kansai (KIX).

Dates & Prices

+¥45,000pp for single room

Travel Style

This tour includes a series of active experiences that while easygoing will still allow you to experience the great outdoors and work up a bit of a sweat! We will be outdoors in subzero temperatures for up to 4 hours at a time before returning to the van and travelling to the next stop. While it is cold outside, it will be warm in the van and indoors. This makes it easy to warm back up, but makes good layering important - make sure you check the packing list. Your luggage will stay in our van, freeing you up to enjoy the day’s adventure with only a light day pack. There is also a focus on the region’s wildlife and you will have multiple chances to catch a glimpse at some of Hokkaido’s incredible migratory winter creatures.