2021 Snow Spectacular Tour of Japan
This trip through Japan’s spectacular winter landscape has it all; snow monkeys, dancing red-crested cranes, the Sapporo Snow Festival, even an icebreaker ride.
The 2021 Snow Spectacular Tour of Japan takes you on a unique 15-day journey through the heart of the Japan Alps in central Japan and to the remote wilderness of Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido. The tour reveals the spectacular beauty of Japan during winter-time through an amazing selection of experiences.
Along the way, you will visit the thatched-roof farmhouses of a UNESCO-listed village, plough through floating drift ice on board an icebreaker in Hokkaido’s northern seas. Imagine participating in wonderful snow festivals including Japan’s internationally renowned Sapporo Snow Festival.
The tour also allows you to witness the rare sight of Japan’s protected red-crested cranes in their natural environment and wild snow monkeys bathing in hot spring baths. You stay in authentic traditional Japanese inns and appreciate the best of Japan’s hot spring onsen hospitality and local food culture. This tour lets you encounter first-hand the sublime beauty of Japan covered in snow and is suitable for travellers who love the outdoors and travelling through the sheer beauty of wintry landscapes.
Places visited: Tokyo, Shibu Onsen, Matsumoto, Hirayu Onsen, Shin-Hotaka mountain, Shirakawago, Takayama, Abashiri, Lake Akan, Kushiro, Sapporo and Otaru
Group size: Min 6, Max 8
Transport: Bullet train, express & commuter trains, minivan and taxi and flight from Nagoya to Memanbetsu
Accommodation: Four star hotels and equivalent Japanese style inns
Fitness level: Average (please refer to FAQ)
Tour type: Signature
Experience the old and ultra-modern in Tokyo
See wild snow monkeys soaking in hot spring baths
Be inspired by the majestic snow sculptures of the Sapporo Snow Festival
Take an icebreaker cruise through drift ice in the Sea of Okhotsk
Take a snowshoe walk along Lake Akan in Hokkaido
See the farmhouses of UNESCO-listed Shirakawa-go village magically covered in snow
Catch a cable car to the breathtaking scenery at the top of the Japan Alps
See red-crested cranes dance in the wild in snowy Hokkaido
Day 1: Arrival in Tokyo
Welcome to Japan! On arrival at one of Tokyo’s international airports, you will be met by a member of the Journey to the East team and escorted to your hotel. After a good night’s sleep, you will be ready to start the first full day of your 2021 Snow Spectacular Tour of Japan.
Day 2: Tokyo
After orientation with your guide, you begin your exploration of Tokyo and its many faces. Today you will head to the Harajuku area. Your first stop is Meiji Shrine, located in the heart of Tokyo’s fashion district. Surrounded by a forest of evergreen trees and stroll gardens, this impressive Shinto shrine complex provides a peaceful oasis in an otherwise bustling city.
We then walk from the shrine along the fashionable tree-lined boulevard of Omotesando. Here the contrasts are stunning as the world’s super-brands sit comfortably alongside edgy Japanese designers, avant-garde architecture, and Harajuku’s teen pop-culture.
In the afternoon you will visit Nezu Museum of Art for an exquisite Japanese and Asian arts and garden. On the way back to your hotel, we will show you the famous Shibuya crossing filled with urban buzz.
Tonight our welcome dinner is held at a restaurant with great night views serving modern Japanese degustation cuisine.
Day 3: Tokyo (Free day)
After breakfast, you have the opportunity to explore the vibrant capital on your own. You may like to visit many museums and gardens, shopping for Japan's famous high-standard craft, or just wandering Tokyo’s fascinating local backstreets. For those returning to Japan (or have specific interests), be sure talk to the Journey to the East team. We will be more than happy to help you make this day unique and special for you.
Day 4: Shibu Onsen
This morning we ride the impressive bullet train – the shinkansen, it is time to head for the wilderness of Japan. The next destination is Nagano Prefecture, the heartland of the Japan Alps and blanketed in snow at this time of year.
We are headed to Yudanaka on the 'Snow Monkey Express' to visit the Snow Monkey Park. Walking along a winding path for 30 to 60 minutes (depending on snow conditions) we come to the natural hot spring bath where wild monkeys come to bathe in the hot thermal waters to get warm.
Tonight you will stay in the small mountain hot springs village of Shibu Onsen, to experience your own onsen bath. Our guide will talk you through the ritual of the Japanese bath and explain why a visit to an onsen remains one of the nation’s most popular pastimes.
Dinner will be traditional kaiseki, a multi-course banquet featuring seasonal foods and regional specialities. Your room will be a traditional tatami-mat room where you can experience sleeping on comfortable futon floor bedding – Japanese ryokan hospitality at its absolute finest!
Day 5: Matsumoto
Following an authentic Japanese-style breakfast – a nutritious mix of grilled fish, miso soup, tofu, rice, and pickles! - you then head by local train to Matsumoto. Surrounded by snow-covered mountains, Matsumoto is a home to the impressive Matsumoto Castle, Japan’s oldest wooden castle and one of the nation’s four castles designated as National Treasures. Still in impeccable original condition, you will have the chance to explore its wooden interior and climb to the top of its distinctive black-and-white turret.
After visiting the Matsumoto Castle, we stroll around the lovely alpine city and stay overnight.
Day 6: Shin-Hotaka
A ride on the Shin-Hotaka Ropeway (cable car) , one of the world’s longest ropeways is on the cards today. From the viewing platform, 2,200 metres above sea level there is a spectacular, uninterrupted view of Japan’s pristine northern alps. Here you will have an opportunity to explore the summit's short walking circuit.
In the late afternoon, we travel by private minivan to Hirayu Onsen to stay in another onsen village deep in the mountains to enjoy the natural hot springs and beautiful environment. Our accommodation also has outside baths where you can soak and relax surrounded by nature. Enjoy a restorative soak after an active day outside and heartwarming country-style dinner.
Day 7: Takayama and Shirakawa-go
A private minivan takes us to The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Shirakawa-go, in the heart of the rugged Hida region. This exquisite rural village features the traditional thatched-roof farmhouses unique to Japan’s alpine regions. With their steeply-slanted roofs built to withstand heavy snowfalls, they resemble “hands clasped together in prayer” (hence their name, gassho-tsukuri). A walk through the village allows us to experience the magic of the farmhouses in the snow, and learn more about the construction of these houses and the traditional life of the villagers.
We then travel to our next destination, Takayama. A compact, atmospheric town surrounded by mountains, Takayama is known for its beautifully preserved streets of timber merchant houses dating from the late 17th century.
Day 8: Takayama
In the morning, we will have a guided tour of Takayama including morning market and the elaborately decorated Takayama Festival Floats Exhibition Hall. In the afternoon, explore Takayama at your leisure. You may like to visit Takayama Jinya (once the prefectural office for the Tokugawa shogunate in feudal times), or wander the impossibly photogenic narrow streets of the old merchant district.
Some of the original wooden buildings have been made into small museums or converted into boutique sake breweries and rustic cafes. Takayama is also famous for Hida beef and you may like to visit one of the local restaurants serving this succulent local marbled beef. Our guide is naturally happy to provide sightseeing advice and restaurant recommendations if needed.
Day 9: Hokkaido Transfer
After a few days exploring the central Japanese alps, we take a train trip, down a scenic river valley all covered in snow, to the eastern seaboard city of Nagoya. Here we transfer to a domestic flight to Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido.
With large tracts of pristine wilderness, Hokkaido is a popular destination for those who love its vast, open landscapes and extensive wildlife.
We fly into the little seaside town of Abashiri in Hokkaido for our own adventure. Our private minivan will take us to our hotel to begin our travels through the hauntingly beautiful country side of snow laden Hokkaido.
Day 10: Abashiri
We are in the town of Abashiri on Hokkaido’s northeastern coast. Buffeted by strong arctic winds coming down from Russia across the Sea of Okhotsk, it's a captivatingly beautiful and rugged part of the world. We board an icebreaker to break the drift ice that builds up off the coast of Abashiri.
Back on land, we visit an Ainu (indigenous peoples of Hokkaido) Museum. In the afternoon, our minivan takes us to Lake Akan. The Akan National Park is an extensive park complex features deep gorges and icy lakes, craggy volcanic peaks, and dense cypress forests. We stay at a traditional onsen hotel on the shores of Lake Akan, located in the middle of the park. The hotel has a number of onsen baths, some located outside providing exquisite views of the lake and the surrounding countryside.
Day 11: Lake Akan
Today we pause to take a breath and relax at our hotel and around the lake. We will have a guided snowshoe walk in the morning, and you can choose how you’d like to best enjoy Lake Akan’s wintry wonderland for the rest of the day. You may like to go ice-fishing, take a ride across the frozen lake in a snowmobile, or simply experience walking across the lake’s huge expanse. Our hotel’s hot spring baths will be a great way to relax after a day spent outside exploring the lake.
After dinner tonight, you will go to a local theater for a traditional Ainu dance show.
Day 12: Kushiro
This morning, we leave Lake Akan and travel by a private minivan to Kushiro Shitsugen National Park. It is a huge wetlands area, which was designated a protected area in 1987, to protect the then dwindling populations of tancho-zaru, Japan’s beautiful red-crested white crane. Here we visit the crane sanctuary to see this elegant bird in its natural environment and to learn more about ongoing conservation efforts and breeding programs.
In the afternoon, an express train takes us westwards through the stunning views of the centre of Hokkaido's snow covered land to the city of Sapporo, the host of internationally famous Snow Festival.
As a relatively new city that developed in the late 19th century as the country modernised, Sapporo was able to apply some of the new urban planning concepts popular at the time. It has unusually wide boulevards and large public parks. Sapporo today is a welcoming and cosmopolitan city with a lively food scene, fashionable shopping malls, and stylish cafes.
Day 13: Sapporo
Our guide takes us on a walking tour of central Sapporo this morning. We stop to have a look at the historic Clock Tower, built in 1878. Wander past other early brick buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries on our way to Odori Koen, the 1.5km-long stretch of public park in the city’s heart. The Odori Koen is the main venue for the Snow Festival and you have the afternoon and evening free to savour more of the festival atmosphere or explore Sapporo’s attractive streetscape and try some of its great restaurants.
The Sapporo Snow Festival is one of the most popular events in Japan. Huge sculptures are carved in packed snow and displayed along the city’s central boulevard, attracting highly skilled participants from Japan and all over the world. Apart from the sculptures, the city turns on musical performances (delivered from stages made of ice), builds ice bars serving mulled wine and sake cocktails, and creates snow activities for families and kids. It’s a buoyant, vibrant festival atmosphere set against a beautiful snowy backdrop.
Day 14: Sapporo and Otaru
You will have a morning to enjoy the Sapporo's festive atmosphere and great shopping. Then your guide will take you on a afternoon guided tour of the nearby picturesque town of Otaru. Once a vibrant trading centre where the indigenous Ainu people, Japanese, Chinese, and Russian traders mingled to exchange goods, Otaru retains many of the grand stone and brick buildings from its late 19th century boom times.
Many of the warehouses from its trading past have been converted into attractive museums and cafes along its canals. Today we wander down Otaru’s iconic central canal with its Victorian-era street lamps. As the sun sets, the area is lit up for the Otaru Snow Path Light Festival and we enjoy the romantic atmosphere of its cobbled streets, street lamps, and canal illuminated by ice lanterns and candles. Returning to Sapporo, it is our last night and our farewell dinner in this wintry wonderland awaits us.
Day 15: Sapporo and Bon-Voyage
This morning you will check out of your hotel after breakfast and your 2021 Snow Spectacular Tour of Japan concludes. You can return to Tokyo by train or air to fly home, or perhaps linger in Sapporo for a little longer to enjoy the Snow Festival and visit more of the Sapporo attractions such as Sapporo Brewery. Ask Journey to the East to help you plan your personal tour extension.
Please note that there may be slight changes to the itinerary described above to accommodate changes in train timetables and climatic conditions, opening hours, and hotel and restaurant availability.
All photographs on this web site are representative and are not a commitment to what may be on view on the day.
- 14 nights accommodation with daily breakfast
- Lunches & dinners as specified
- All public and private transport for the group itinerary
- Flight from Nagoya to Memambetsu airport (Abashiri)
- Airport meet & greet and hotel transfer by public transport on arrival
- Locally licensed English speaking tour guides
- Cultural activities and entry fees included in itinerary
- Luggage transfers (1 piece per person)
- International and domestic airfares (unless otherwise stated)
- Travel insurance
- Alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages
- Tips and gratuities (not routinely expected in Japan)
- Transport when not travelling with the group
- Personal expenses (laundry, internet, telephone, coin lockers etc.)
- Visa (if required)
Had a fabulous time with a great group of people. I loved the country, the culture, the people and everything about the tour – hope to do another tour with JTTE – maybe Hokkaido or Kyushu next time
Vivien Hewitt, Western Australia
This was my first trip with JTTE and already I am looking at the program for next year thinking about another one. I liked the fact that it was a small group, the organisation was spot on and the food everywhere was outstanding.
Dee Mason – NSW Australia