Japan - The Complete Tour!

Main Tour - Sunday Nov 12th to Wednesday Nov 29th - 2017
Extension - Wednesday Nov 29th to Monday 4th Dec - 2017

This very unique and comprehensive 18 day birding tour of Japan is designed to see as many of the islands endemic and special birds all within one very detailed tour itinerary. Quite different from most Japanese birding Stellers-Sea-Eagle-by-Pete Morris (Birdquest)trips we will be going at a time of year when we can combine the winter specialities with many of the endemics. The highlights are many and varied, such as the dancing Hooded and White-naped Cranes of Arasaki, Steller’s Eagles and hordes of seabirds, and winter ducks on Hokkaido. We will be visiting many of Japans outlying islands such as  Ishigaki-Jima, Okinawa, Amani-Oshima, for all the Ryuku Island endemics, and then Miyakejima for the Izu specialities. Such mythical birds as Okinawa Rail, Amami Woodcock and a host of others will make this a very  special tour indeed. A ferry trip allows us great opportunities for alcids and seabirds, while our stay at Nemuro and Rausu will give us opportunities to see the highly sought after Blakiston’s Fish-Owl, Red-crowned Cranes and of course the incredible Steller’s Sea-Eagles. To top it off we have also added a 6 day extension to the mainland where we aim to add more endemics and specialities including Japanese Accentor, Baikal Teal, the very difficult Copper Pheasant and the famous Snow Monkeys (Japanese Macaques) of Jigokudani. It’s with great delight that we have used the expert knowledge of our friends at Birdquest to set up this amazing itinerary which combines the sought after island endemics as well as the start of all those winter specialities and possibilities for all sorts of migrants. Their years of experience in running numerous successful tours to this country will see us in good hands and our guide Dave Farrow (Birdquest) has led many tours to this fascinating country. Japan is a very expensive country to visit and we are very happy that our tour cost represents great value when you see how just much is included. Join us in one of Zootheras most comprehensive and thorough tours, as we visit the incredible Japan.


  • Okinawa Rail
  • Steller's Sea Eagle
  • Okinawa Woodpecker      
  • Ryukyu Scops-Owl     
  • Amami Woodcock
  • Ryukyu Robin
  • Lidth's Jay
  • Izu Islands Thrush
  • Ryukyu Serpernt Eagle
  • Ishigaki Tit                              
  • Saunder's Gull
  • Japanese Waxwing
  • Malayan Night-Heron
  • Baikal teal
  • Ruddy Kingfisher
  • Japanese Grosbeak
  • Blakiston's Fish-Owl
  • Copper Pheasant 
  • White-naped Crane
  • Japanese Murrelet                 
  • Black-faced Spoonbill
  • Japanese Green Pheasant
  • Ryukyu Minivet
  • Red-crowned Crane
  • Japanese Marsh Warbler
  • Short-tailed Albatross
  • Japanese Robin 
  • Stejneger's Scoter
  • Falcated Duck
  • Crested Kingfisher
  • Japanese Scops-Owl
  • Japanese Macaque (Snow Monkey)

Our Tour Itinerary: 

Day 1   Arrive Tokyo, Japan – Tokyo - Okinawa – Ishigaki - 12th Nov
We plan on arriving into Japan via Tokyo, Haneda airport early morning on the 12th Nov and then flying to Naha
on the island of Okinawa where we connect with another flight to Ishigaki-jima one of the southern most of the Ryukyu Islands. Most birdwatching companies do not visit this lush tropical island yet it is home to one rare endemic and several rare endemics subspecies which will be the focus of our 2 day stay. Night Ishigaki.

Day 2   Ishigaki
We have a full day today to search out the special birds of this wonderful island. Our main target species will be the rare and endemic Ryukyu Serpent Eagle in its only stronghold in Japan. Formally a race of Crested Serpent Eagle it now represents a full species and as such worthy of a visit to this fascinating island. After finding this superb bird we will go in search of the Ishigaki Tit which is probably a good split from Japanese Tit, plus Ryukyu Green Pigeon. Other birds that will keep us busy include Cinnamon Bittern, Pacific Reef, Intermediate and possibly Chinese Egrets, Chinese Spot-billed Duck, White-breasted Waterhen, Watercock, the difficult Slaty-legged Crake and hopefully the elusive Malayan Night Heron. Shorebirds could include a variety of species such as Greater Sand and Mongolian Plovers, Red-necked Stint, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Grey-tailed Tattler, Terek Sandpiper and maybe Oriental Pratincole, while we also have chances to see both Greater Crested and Little Terns. Back to the land birds and we will search out Chinese (or Light-vented) Bulbul, the endemic Ryukyu Minivet, Pacific Swallow, the stunning Ruddy Kingfisher and Large-billed Crow, the latter a small and interesting race and a possible future split. In the evening we will go in search of Ryukyu Scops Owl as well as Northern Boobook. Night Ishigaki

Day 3   Ishigaki-jima – Okinawa 
After a final morning birding on Ishigaki-jima we will take an early afternoon flight to Okinawa, the largest of the Ryukyu islands. Covered in sub-tropical forest we will drive almost the whole length of the island to Yamburu about a 3 hour journey. Here, we will begin searching for one of Japan’s most spectacular endemics, the Okinawa Rail. Only discovered in 1981, we have an excellent chance of seeing this unique species. If we can’t find them during the day, we will venture out at night with spotlights where with luck we could find this very attractive bird roosting up on bare tree branches. Whilst out at night both Ryukyu Scops-Owl and the rare Japanese Scops-Owls will also be sought. Night Ada

Day 4   Okinawa Okinawa-Rail-by-Pete-Morris (Birdquest)
As well as the Okinawa Rail, the remaining sub-tropical forests around Yanbaru hold the very rare and localized endemic Pryer’s (or Okinawa) Woodpecker, one of the rarest woodpeckers in the world. There should also be a nice selection of other sought after birds which include the delightful endemic Okinawa Robin (best treated as separate from Amami Robin – the two combined are known as Ryukyu Robin), plus Ryukyu Minivet, the endemic subspecies of Varied Tit, Ryukyu Green Pigeon (a split from Whistling), the uncommon Japanese Woodpigeon, Grey-faced Buzzard and the superb looking Ruddy Kingfisher. Areas of freshwater could hold Cinnamon Bittern and stunning Mandarin Ducks. In the evening, depending how well we did yesterday we will again go in search of the Okinawa Rail and both Ryukyu and Japanese Scops-Owls. 
Overnight Ada

Day 5   Okinawa – Amami-Oshima 
After some final birding we will take a flight to Amami-Oshima (in the middle of the Ryukyu chain of islands). Here we will be staying in the town of Naze, for two nights. Another very lush forest island, one of our principle targets here will be the endemic and secretive Amami Woodcock, yet another bird that is easier looked for at night. Tonight will be our first opportunity to search for this enigmatic bird and after dinner we will drive along some of the many forestry roads where we hope for a successful encounter. In addition to the woodcock we also have a good chance to find Ryukyu Scops-Owl and the endemic Amami Black Rabbit and Amami Spiny Rat, the former a relict forest rabbit that is now only found on this island. Night Naze

Day 6   Amani-Oshima 
The greenest of the Ryukyu Islands, Amami-Oshima hosts a wide variety of localized, rare and endemic reptiles and mammals. Our attention will be Amami-Woodcock-by-Pete-Morris (Birdquest)primarily on the birds and the rather striking and fairly common endemic Lidth’s Jay will be high on our list. Areas of forest will be searched for to find Amami Woodpecker (currently treated as a large, dark race of White-backed Woodpecker, as well as the attractive endemic Amami Robin, and Ryukyu Flycatcher. As with most Zoothera thrushes the Amami Thrush will not be easy to find although we will give it a good shot. This secretive bird closely related to Scaly Thrush has population of just 100 or so individuals. Along the rocky headlands we will search the attractive coastal scenery for easier birds such as Striated Heron and Common Kingfisher. Overnight Naze

Day 7   Amani-Oshima - Kagoshima 
This morning we will fly to Kagoshima, at the southern end of the island of Kyushu. Here we will drive through picturesque countryside to the delightful Mi-ike which forms part of the Kirishima-Yaku National Park. Our stay will allow us ample time to search this attractive volcanic area with its fabulous hot springs. Here amongst superb habitat such as broadleaf evergreen forest, lakes and fast flowing streams, surrounded by cedars and cypresses we will search of one of Japan’s most spectacular endemic species, the cryptic Copper Pheasant, a seriously difficult bird to find, so we will need a little luck. There should be plenty of other bird species to keep us busy as we walk along the forest tracks and check out the lake. Eastern Spot-billed Duck, Japanese Wagtail, Red-flanked Bluetail, Japanese Green Pigeon, Crested Kingfisher, White-backed Woodpecker, Elegant Bunting, and with luck the shy Grey Bunting.
Overnight Mi-ike

Days 8 - 10   Arasaki 
This morning we will leave Mi-ike and drive through the cultivated lowlands to Arasaki for a three nights stay. On the way, we will call in at a large area of mudflats where we can check through the masses of gulls for our target species the rare Saunder's Gull.

Amami-Robin-by-Pete-Morris-(Birdquest)There is usually a small flock in the area amongst the bigger and commoner gulls such as Black-tailed Gull, Kamchatka Gull (split from Common), Heuglin’s Gull, Vega Gull, Slaty-backed Gull and with luck, Mongolian Gull (split from Caspian). We also have a chance of finding Pallas’s (or Great Black-headed) Gull in Japans only regular site for this species. The big attraction of Arasaki is its huge winter gathering of cranes and although not at their peak numbers of over 10,000 we should still find huge flocks of Hooded Cranes and lesser numbers of the elegant White-naped Cranes, truly one of the world’s great birding spectacles. We will be staying in the heart of the reserve and gatherings of cranes which may also include a few Common and Sandhill Cranes can be seen directly outside the guesthouse in which we will be staying. The sight and sound of these birds as they come to feed on the maize and fish put out for them by the reserve warden is an unforgettable experience. This will be your opportunity to get close up photos of Japans famous dancing cranes. The odd rarity sometimes occurs and we may be lucky to find a Demoiselle or even Siberian Crane. The Arasaki area holds a huge diversity of habitats and as such it offers one of the richest places for winter birding in Japan. Amongst rice fields, rivers, mudflats, canals, reedbeds, scrub, and woodland we will search for a wealth of wildfowl that could include the very smart Mandarin Duck, plus species like Chinese Penduline Tit, Russet Sparrow, Buff-bellied and Olive-backed Pipit, Black-faced Bunting (of the yellow-bellied form, personata), Chestnut-eared and Common Reed Buntings, Bull-headed Shrike, Daurian Jackdaw, White-cheeked Starling, Dusky and Pale Thrushes, Japanese Quail (if we are lucky), Japanese Bush Warbler, Japanese (or Eastern) Buzzard (split from Common), Eastern Marsh Harrier, Asian House Martin, the elusive Brown-cheeked (or Eastern Water) Rail or Ruddy-breasted Crake, Red-throated Pipit, and in recent years a regularly returning vagrant Greater Spotted Eagle. 3 nights at Arasaki

Day 11   Kagoshima – Tokyo – Ferry to Hachijo 
After some early morning birding around Arasaki to say goodbye to the fabulous cranes or check for any species we may have missed we will fly to Tokyo where we will then take an overnight ferry to Hachijojima. Night in twin cabins aboard ferry.

Day 12   Hachijojima - Miyake 
The great thing about Japanese ferries are that they are large and very stable vessels giving us great opportunities to sea-watch. On board facilities are more in keeping with a cruise liner making for a very Japanese-Robin-by-Pete-Morris (Birdquest)comfortable journey. As we approach harbour in the early morning, seabird watching from deck could find us Streaked Shearwaters, Short-tailed Shearwater and with a lot of luck possibly Tristram’s Storm-Petrel, or even an albatross! Arrival at Hachijojima will be about 0915 after which we will stay on board and return to Miyake-jima, an island,in the Izu chain closer to Tokyo, continuing our seabirding. On this leg, we’ll have a good chance of both Black-footed and Laysan Albatrosses, and with luck, the impressive Short-tailed Albatross. We may also encounter other species such as Providence Petrel, Japanese Murrelet or Pomarine Skua. Miyake is part of the island complex of Izu which lies to the south of Tokyo, the area is highly volcanic and has suffered destruction of habitat from eruptions in the past decade. Several fragmented and protected areas of forest still exist and it is here that we can find most of the island specialities. The endemic Izu Islands Thrush will be our main target bird, but other birds should include Izu Tit a split from Varied Tit, the Izu race of Japanese Robin, Japanese White-Eye, Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker, the introduced Chinese Bamboo Partridge, Japanese Woodpigeon and Grey-faced Buzzard, and in the evening we have the chance for Northern Boobook. Overnight at a local minshuku - Miyake

Day 13   Miyake - Ferry – Tokyo 
Short-tailed-Albatross-by-Steve BirdAfter a final morning birding this fascinating island we will head back to the harbour and take the ferry back to Tokyo. Most of the day will be spent aboard the ferry looking for seabirds. We will again have more chances for species such as Black-footed and possibly Short-tailed Albatross, Tristram’s Storm Petrel, Streaked Shearwater, and we may even get Japanese Murrelet or Rhinoceros Auklet. We will arrive back in harbour at about 20.30, where we then transfer to Haneda.
Note: The ferry sails to/from the islands every day but if the weather is bad it will be cancelled. Flights to/from Hachijojima are available at approx 18,000 yen (£105.00) per person if it becomes necessary. Overnight near Haneda airport, Tokyo

Day 14   Tokyo – Kushiro – Nemuro 
Today we take a flight to Kushiro from where we drive to Nemuro on the east coast of Hokkaido for overnight. Hokkaido is a scenically stunning part of Japan with mountainous snow covered tundra, and ice fields giving it the just name of Japan’s Alaska. Coastal stops along the way to our accommodation could find us a variety of seabirds depending on sea conditions and weather. If conditions are favourable we could find Stejneger’s and Black Scoter, Harlequin Duck, Red-faced Cormorant, Ancient Murrelet, Spectacled Guillemot, Pigeon Guillemot, Glaucous, Glaucous-winged, Slaty-backed and Black-tailed Gulls. We may even get our first sightings of the impressive and much sought after Steller’s Sea Eagles alongside White-tailed Eagles. Asian Rosy Finch will also be sought and depending on time we may check out a few areas of woodland. There should be groups of magnificent Red-crowned Cranes around and we hope to get good views of these huge birds. Overnight Nemuro.

Blakistons-Fish-Owl-by-Pete Morris (Birdquest)Day 15   Nemuro - Rausu 
Nemuro hosts some of the most exciting and varied winter birding in Japan and we should be in time to witness the start of this spectacular season. This morning around Nemuro we will check the forested roads to Lake Furen for Black and White-backed Woodpeckers, Long-tailed Rosefinch, Black-faced Bunting, Hazel Grouse and more regular birds such as Hawfinch, Marsh Tit, and around the lake a scattering of White-tailed Eagles and Whooper Swans. We will then continue on our journey to Rausu. Tonight will be our first chance to look for one of Japans most impressive residents the enormous Blakiston’s Fish-Owl. The birds do not have watches and can turn up at anytime of night so this could be a long vigil, but a once in a lifetime experience so well worth it. Overnight at a minshuku in Rausu.

Day 16   Rausu 
Today hopefully after the success of seeing the Fish Owl we will go birding around the Rausu area where we can expect to get many great views of Steller’s Sea Eagles, surely a highlight of our visit. Brown Dippers are often present by the accommodation, and we will explore the coast, seeing plenty of seabirds, including attractive Harlequin Ducks, flocks of scoter and numerous gulls. Tonight we can again keep watch for the Blakiston's Fish Owl if by any chance we missed it the previous night. Overnight at a minshuku in Rausu

Day 17   Kushiro – Tokyo – Narita 
This morning we will drive back to Kushiro, making a few strategic stops along the way, including a couple of possible roost sites for Ural Owl. Later we will visit the feeding area for the superb Red-crowned Cranes, with luck watching them fighting over fish with White-tailed Eagles and Red Foxes. We’ll then make the short drive to Kushiro Airport and take a flight to Tokyo. Overnight Tokyo.

Red-crowned-Crane-by-Pete-Morris (Birdquest)

Day 18   Tokyo - End of Main Tour - 29th Dec
Our main tour ends today, but if you wish you can then go on our extension. See below. Otherwise you will be transferred to Tokyo, Narita airport for your return international flight.


Day 18   Narita - Karuizawa - 29th Dec
Today we will make a short visit to the east of Tokyo where we will bird several small lakes and reed fringed marshes. Here we will search specifically for the very localised Japanese Marsh Warbler, small numbers of which overwinter, but it must be stated that this is a skulking warbler and may well be hard to see. Japanese Reed Buntings should prove a little easier and other species could include Great Bittern, Oriental Turtle Dove, Japanese Skylark, White-cheeked Starling, Grey-capped (Oriental) Greenfinch, Black-eared Kite, Eastern Marsh Harrier and Bull-headed Shrike. We will then head inland and drive west to the beautiful temperate woodlands in the foothills of what is known as the Japanese Alps. Here we will seek many of its resident birds, and along the way we may well see the endemic Green Pheasant, Azure-winged Magpie and White-cheeked Starling as well as Oriental and Large-billed Crows. Overnight Karuizawa

Days 19 - 20   Karuizawa 
These two days will be used to seek out all of the special birds of this beautiful and fascinating area. Following
woodland trails past fast tumbling streams we will concentrate our efforts to try and locate one of Japans most difficult birds the elusive Copper Pheasant. We will need some luck as this species is still hunted and as such very wary and not easily seen. There will be plenty of other species to keep us busy with Japanese Green Woodpecker, Long-tailed and with luck the erratic Pallas’s Rosefinches, Japanese Pygmy and Japanese Green Woodpeckers, Japanese Grosbeak, Red-flanked Bluetail, Brown Dipper, Hawfinch, Pale and Dusky Thrushes, Varied Tit, the stunning but unpredictable Japanese Waxwing, plus Brambling, Grey-bellied Bullfinch and Chinese Hwamei. A nearby lake and surrounding fields will produce a few different species and we could soon pick up buntings such as the superb Elegant, Rustic and Meadow Buntings, Black-backed and Japanese Wagtails, Daurian Redstart, White-cheeked Starling and some commoner ducks which should include gorgeous Smew. Along the rocky shores of the nearby streams we can also search for the superb Long-billed Plover. We will also try to find Ural Owl. With a little luck on our side we will also go in search of Japanese Accentor, where we may also find Japanese Green Pigeon, or Crested Kingfisher. 
Nights Karuizawa

Japanese-Macaque-by-Pete-Morris (Birdquest)Day 21   Karuizawa – Komatsu 
Today we head to Jigokudani the world-renowned place to see Japans famous Snow Monkeys. More correctly named they are Japanese Macaques and we will be able to enjoy these very photogenic creatures lounging around up to their chests in the hot natural springs. It’s obviously a bit of a tourist attraction but well worth a visit and a very unique mammal experience. There will be a few birds around and Alpine Accentor is not out of the question. After our encounter with the wonderful Snow Monkeys we will then move on to Komatsu for an overnight.

Day 22   Komatsu – Tokyo  
This morning we will be searching various wetland areas where our main target is the small number of Baikal Teal that regularly winter in this area. The stunning Falcated Duck could also be found alongside Bewick’s Swans,
Tundra and Taiga Bean Geese, and with luck both Grey-headed Lapwings and Long-billed Plover may be in the area. Other possibilities include Azure-winged Magpie, Blue Rock Thrush of the philippensis race and Japanese Wagtail. Who knows what migrants could be waiting to be found here and along sheltered coastal spots. A good look along the coastline here could find us Pelagic and Temminck’s Cormorants, Black-tailed and Slaty-backed Gulls, and on the sea we could see Pacific Diver, Ancient Murrelet and have outside chances for Long-billed Murrelet. After searching the Komatsu region, we will then fly to Tokyo and overnight at Narita.

Day 23   End of Tour - 4th Dec
Our exciting extension ends today in Narita, Tokyo, and if we have any time we can always pop out and look for Brown-headed Thrush if we still need it, before transferring to Narita Airport for our international departure.


Leaders: Steve Bird, Gina Nichol & Dave Farrow(Birdquest)

Tour Price: £6995.00 per person (Price change due to unprecedented strengthening of Japanese Yen) see below
Ruddy-Kingfisher-by-Pete-Morris (Birdquest)

Extension £1995.00 per person

Flight Cost: £700.00 Approx

Single supplement:
Main Tour: £455 (excluding 2 nights Arasaki, the night on the ferry and 2 nights Rausu):

Extension: £235 per person

Note that this tour is very tightly priced and the cost is based on minimum of 8 person going.
If there is just 6 or 7 then a small group fee may have to be levied. At present the YEN is favourable enabling us to hold this excellent price. As long as this doesnt change too much before the tour runs then we will be able to maintain this price.

Unavoidable increase in this tour cost:
Since the pricing of our Japan tour there has now seen a unprecedented strengthening in the Yen since Sept 2015. When we priced this tour it was at Yen 186 to the pound, as it sits now the Yen is at 137 to the Pound. This means it takes 35.8% more pounds to buy the same amount of Yen as at the time the Japan tour was costed (at 186). Based on the exchange rate of Yen 137 to the Pound and even after absorbing whatever we possibly can, we will still need to increase the Sterling rates  in order to compensate for this huge loss to us and to prevent the cancellation of this tour. Rather than wait to see what happens we believe letting you know the situation now allows plenty of time to deal with this. Unlike some companies who will only advise you of an increase when they send you their final invoice which is generally after you have booked flights and too late to do anything about it, we wanted to be upfront so as you know the situation that all travel companies are facing.

Deposit: £650.00

Included in cost: All accommodation (see below), all meals from dinner on 12th Nov to breakfast on 29th Nov, or the 4th Dec (if doing the extension), all transportation mostly by minibus driven by the leaders, 8 domestic flights within Japan, 2 Ferry crossings (one overnight with Twin-berth Cabins, all park and reserve entrance fees, tips (except main guide Dave Farrow), and services of all leaders and local guides.

Not included: International flight, (approx £650 - £750). Insurance, drinks, tips, and items of a personal nature.

General information:
This is an unusual tour for Zoothera which is why we have enlisted the help of Birdquest in the setting up and running of this comprehensive and unique itinerary. Having led tours here since 1987 we believe that no-body knows these islands better and with their help and previous experience we are set for an outstanding tour. The cost of this tour actually represents very good value when you consider the amount of domestic flights x8, ferry crossings and logistics involved in such a detailed itinerary. Lidths-Jay-by-Pete-Morris-(Birdquest)Road transport will be by minibus’s driven by the leaders and roads conditions are generally good. Note that bottled water is not provided on this tour as water is safe to drink everywhere in Japan. All tips are included and we ask only that you tip our expert guide Dave Farrow.

Our hotels and lodges vary in quality but all are within easy reach of the areas we wish to bird. The western-style and Japanese-style hotels are mostly of a reasonably standard. At Miyake-jima and Mi-ike, we will be staying in Japanese-style guesthouses (minshukus). The minshukus will be clean and comfortable, but it should be appreciated that minshuku are quite simple and you will be sleeping on Japanese-style futons rather than conventional beds and bathroom facilities are shared. Accommodation on the overnight ferry to Miyake-jima is in twin-berth cabins. And at Rausu, the minshuku is very small, so there may be several people in each room and bathroom facilities are again shared. Please note that en-suite accommodation is just about impossible to obtain in country areas in Japan (just about everywhere we go!)

Tour Code:
This is a standard Zoothera tour with early mornings and some night-time birding. Note that most owls, Okinawa Rail and Amami Woodcock all have to be looked for at night. The Blakiston’s Fish Owl may involve a long wait so you need to be prepared for this. The weather conditions for the Ferry crossing are unpredictable and if rough this ferry could be cancelled. Please be equipped for cold conditions. We have already seen a lot of interest in this tour so if interested we suggest booking up as soon as possible especially considering the good value and the fact that this is probably a once only trip with Zoothera.



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