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WINGS Birding Tours – Information

Japan in Winter

Tour Information

Note: The information presented below has been extracted from our formal General Information for this tour.  It covers topics we feel potential registrants may wish to consider before booking space.    The complete General Information for this tour will be sent to all tour registrants and of course supplemental information, if needed, is available from the WINGS office.

ENTERING JAPAN: A passport valid for your length of stay in Japan and with at least one blank page for an entry stamp is required of United States citizens wishing to enter Japan. U.S. citizens are not required to have a visa for stays of less than 90 days. 

Citizens of other countries should check with their consulate/embassy for instructions. 

COUNTRY INFORMATION: You can review the U.S. Department of State Country Specific Travel Information at  http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country/japan.html and the CIA World Facebook background notes on Japan at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ja.html

PACE OF THE TOUR: Our birding normally begins relatively late, about 8 am, due to late sunrises and very cold early mornings when bird activity is also very low. We’ll then bird mostly in the warmer and brighter parts of the day, with quick, on the run lunches from convenience stores, which have a big variety of excellent products (not at all like convenience stores in other countries!). Bird activity usually drops off markedly by 3:00 pm. There are some drives of three to four hours, and five internal flights. Most of the driving is on well-surfaced roads but going can be slow in bad weather. This tour is not strenuous. The longest walk will be at Jigokudani and Karuizawa; both of about an hour on possibly snowy trails. There are some modest inclines and several sets of steps as it is a hilly area. Otherwise our walking is fairly easy, on flat terrain with plenty of stops for birding, and we’ll often bird close to the vehicle. It is however very cold and snowy in the north and often in the central Honshu area, as well, with minimum temperatures of about -10C (15F), and sometimes lower.  

HEALTH: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all travelers be up to date on routine vaccinations. These include measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, and your yearly flu shot. No vaccinations are required unless you are coming directly (within five days of departure) from an area with cholera and/or yellow fever. 

They further recommend that most travelers have protection against Hepatitis A. Please contact your doctor well in advance of your tour’s departure as some medications must be initiated weeks before the period of possible exposure. 

The most current information about travelers’ health recommendations can be found on the CDC’s Travel Health website at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/japan

Weather:  It might be very cold, especially in Hokkaido. Be sure to have warm clothing including boots, hat and gloves. A pair of traction devices for your boots is strongly recommended as conditions can sometimes be very icy especially in parking lots and the like. 

Smoking:  Smoking is prohibited in the vehicles or when the group is gathered for meals, checklists, etc. If you are sharing a room with a nonsmoker, please do not smoke in the room. If you smoke in the field, do so well away and downwind from the group. If any location where the group is gathered has a stricter policy than the WINGS policy, that stricter policy will prevail.

Miscellaneous: In this ultra modern, first world country, all water including tap water is potable and you can safely consume salads, fresh fruit and vegetables. 

CLIMATE: At the time of our visit, it will be cool to very cold, especially along the coast. There will be snow and ice in Hokkaido where the average minimum temperature at this time of year is -10 C (15 F) and the average maxima -3C (25 F). Elsewhere the maxima and minima are somewhat higher, Kyushu in the south being the warmest with an average top temperature of 12C (53F). 

ACCOMMODATIONS: Accommodation varies from Western-style hotels to more traditional Japanese inns. Be prepared for smaller rooms than one finds in North America. Bathrooms are generally very small. In some of our inns, bathrooms are shared, although in nearly all cases privacy is possible. In Japan one removes one’s shoes when entering houses, traditional hotels (not Western hotels), temples and many other places. Slippers are often provided but most are too small for western feet, especially men’s feet.  

Several of our accommodations have natural hot springs, although swimsuits are NOT to be worn in these. 

Internet access: Wi-Fi access in our various accommodations is variable. We will find it at most our hotels and lodges but we are unlikely to find it at Yoroushi and Tsurui.  Japan operates on a very different cellular technology than US or Canadian carriers and you will be unable to purchase a pre paid SIM card on arrival. Your phone may be incompatible with the local system, so please check with your local carrier. 

FOOD: The food in Japan is often memorable. It is varied, fresh, and delicious, and the presentation is often delightful. You’ll find yourself wanting to photograph many of your meals! One of the specialties of Japan, and especially in Hokkaido, is the seafood.  If you don’t like fish however, there are other choices. Vegetarian options are somewhat limited but by no means out of the question, although this is a strange concept to most Japanese so please be patient and understanding. Most meals are served with a meat and a seafood dish, as well as miso soup and a salad. We’ll experience a mix of Japanese and western style meals throughout. Lunches will often be eaten on the run as daylight birding time is limited and we’ll buy tasty sandwiches or heated lunchboxes (bento) of your choice at local convenience stores. Hearty breakfasts usually consist of coffee, toast, and varied small salads but sometimes are more traditional. 

Food Allergies / Requirements: We cannot guarantee that all food allergies and choices can be accommodated at every destination. Participants with significant food allergies or special dietary requirements should bring appropriate foods with them for those times when their needs cannot be met. Announced meal times are always approximate depending on how the day unfolds. Participants who need to eat according to a fixed schedule should bring supplemental food. Please contact the WINGS office if you have any questions.

TRANSPORTATION:  We’ll be traveling in a 10 seat, air-conditioned mini-bus throughout, driven by your leader. Participants should be able to ride in any seat in tour vehicles and are expected to change seats with others daily.

Updated: 14 March 2017