After a good sleep at the Hyatt, we check in at DFW at 7:15am for our flight to Tokyo. “Ellen, DON’T LIFT THAT HEAVY BAG!” Too late, she doesn’t pay much attention to me anyway. Ellen can barely straighten up or walk. Waiting for the egg McMuffins I notice a lady with an XpresSpa tag, so I haul Ellen there to get a massage. It helps, as does some Tylenol.

Fortunately we got biz class upgrades to Tokyo so hopefully Ellen will be OK.

1
Hilton Tokyo

Tokyo Hilton

Ellen’s back is a little better but her gut is off. She is sleeping all morning. I went for a walk in nearby Shinjuku Chuo Park to see Niagra Falls, but they were frozen.

2
Kan-etsu Expressway, Kasahata, Kawagoe-shi, Saitama-ken 350-1175, Japan

Off to Nagano and the monkey park at 6:30 this morning- about 4 hours on the bus. Mount Fuji was visible from the expressway for awhile - sorry about the wires.

Rest stops in Japan are wild shopping malls.

Rugged terrain as we get closer to Nagano.

Lunch was a fabulous cook it yourself sukiyaki meal. Oh BTW our trip is being videotaped for Japanese TV.

The monkey park is a 1.6km uphill hike, but worth it.

Sharp-eyed Ellen spotted a serow, though st first we thought it was a wolf or a dog. Actually the serow is a Japanese antelope that looks like a werewolf.

3
6845 Hirao, Yamanouchi-machi, Shimotakai-gun, Nagano-ken 381-0401, Japan

Fresh snow made for a slippery 1.6km hike up to the monkey park again this morning. \240A lot of visitors but a lot more monkies of all sizes. They swam and soaked in the hot springs, jumped across the river, and squabbled like ... monkeys.

That’s Ellen on all fours behind the monkey.

The monkeys are in town as well... even right outside our room.

Our room is in Kokuya, a 400 year old ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) owned by a 13th generation matriarchal family.

Where’s the bed? On the floor. They bring out a mat and covers for the night.

4
Nagano

Today we explored Shibu Onsen, the area around the Kokuya ryokan, then onto the bus for Haneda. The expressway is an engineering marvel of tunnels and bridges through some very rugged terrain.

5
2-1 Tsuruoka, Kushiro-shi, Hokkaidō 084-0926, Japan

We’re off to Kushiro in eastern Hokkaido- an hour and a quarter flight from Tokyo Haneda Airport. Our flight to Kushiro was filled with skiers, photographers and a few businessmen.

After retrieving our bags we pulled out our warm outer layers and tripods, then hopped on another nice bus. We each had two seats. In a few minutes we arrived at the International Crane Center... and we weren’t disappointed- lots of cranes!

It is pretty cold here: 13F and expected to get much colder tomorrow.

We stopped at a convenience store. Ellen looked around and said, “Gwen would love Japan!”

Tonight we stay at the charming Hotel Taito in Tsurui village.

6
Japan, γ€’085-1200 Hokkaidō, Akan-gun, Tsurui-mura, Setsurigenya Kita 7 Sen Higashi, 道道243号線

First thing 4am we went to a bridge, placed tripods to save places, then as the sun rose shot the dancing cranes and the fly outs.

Spent most of the day back at the Crane Center and evening at the crane field.

We also saw a Ural owl at a “secret” location.

7
Kitafukurou

Another early morning rising at 4:00 in order to get places on a bridge where we could see the cranes waking up in the river. \240This morning there was hoar frost on the trees - very beautiful!

We left Tsurui and drove to Kussharo Lake to photograph whooper swans. \240It is fed by hot springs on one side, so there is open water for the swans.

8
Akan International Crane Centre

Snow this morning - so back to the Crane Center to photograph the cranes in the snow. \240Beautiful!

Ellen had a “no fish” dinner tonight.

9
Notsuke Peninsula

Went to the Notsuke Peninsula, a skinny piece of land on eastern Hokkaido. We saw northern red fox and Hokkaido deer.

The land just to the northeast is the first Kuril island, now part of Russia.

10
Rausu

6:30 am cast off from the port town of Rausu to photograph Steller sea eagles and white tailed eagles.

We even got to see a pod of killer whales.

All that before breakfast!

We looked for owls without luck then went back to Notsuke peninsula for foxes and deer.

11
1-2 Fujimichō, Rausu-chō, Menashi-gun, Hokkaidō 086-1831, Japan

Second day of eagle cruise. It was really cold, especially at 6:30 am!

Above we are just leaving Rausu port. Below are some of the Steller eagles looking for fish to be thrown from our ship.

Also, we attended a Shinto ceremony for safe travels.

12
106-1 Kyōeichō, Rausu-chō, Menashi-gun, Hokkaidō 086-1816, Japan

Third and final day of eagle cruising from the Rausu fishing port.

We saw hundreds of Steller sea eagles like this, and also white tailed eagles grabbing fish from the water with their talons.

After our cruise we drove across the northeast arm of Hokkaido to Shari and our hotel at Shiretoko. Along the way we did a little landscape photography and saw bunch of amateur ice divers - actually ice dippers since they never immersed their heads. Sea ice is moving slowly.

Our room in the Shiretoko Daiichi Hotel was very nice - by far the best of the trip.

13
Shiretoko Daiichi Hotel

The Shiretoko Daiichi Hotel had a full size Viking ship in the dining room. The dinner buffet had everything from sushi, sashimi, all kind of Japanese food, hot dogs, pasta, western food, candy booths, chocolate fondue fountain, cotton candy - each with a special booth.. you can see the side of the ship below.

Here we are checking out

Before heading for the Memanbetsu Airport and our flight to Haneda we had a nice walk in the Shiretoko National Park. Did not see much wildlife there but it was beautiful in the fresh snow.

A frozen waterfall dumped into the expanse of sea ice.

Our last talk from Martin Bailey, our great photo tour leader.