Wildlife in the Land of the Ainu, with Dr. Mark Brazil
May 09 – 20, 2023


Join Dr. Mark Brazil, Naturalist guide and leader, and Mayumi Brazil, Culturalist, to discover Hokkaido: Japan’s Land of the Ainu. In the context of modern Japan, explore Hokkaido, learning about the lost world of the indigenous Ainu people, their animistic beliefs and their deities. Visit five of Hokkaido’s famous national parks while in search of the most important wildlife gods of the Ainu: red-crowned crane, brown bear, Blakiston’s fish owl, and salmon. Travel through the wild montane and volcanic scenery of this lesser-known northern island of Japan with visits to Ainu museums and cultural centers, learning about their lifestyles, textiles and history. Experience authentic stays at hot spring hotels and inns.

Special Trip Leaders: Dr. Mark Brazil, author, naturalist and expedition leader, and Mayumi Brazil, Culturalist, are full-time leaders on this departure.

Brief Itinerary:
Day 01 (09 May 2023): Arrival at Chitose Airport, Sapporo, Hokkaido
Day 02 (10 May): Upopoy National Ainu Museum and Lake Shikotsu. Overnight Lake Shikotsu.
Day 03 (11 May): Shikotsu–Tōya National Park, with the Volcano Museum. Overnight Lake Shikotsu.
Day 04 (12 May): Lake Shikotsu to Abashiri via Arte Piazza Bibai. Overnight Abashiri.
Day 05 (13 May): Abashiri Quasi National Park. Overnight Abashiri.
Day 06 (14 May): Abashiri Quasi N.Park; the Okhotsk Coast & Shiretoko Peninsula. Overnight Rausu.
Day 07 (15 May): Shiretoko National Park. Overnight Rausu.
Day 08 (16 May): Akan–Mashu National Park. Overnight Sunayu.
Day 09 (17 May): Akan–Mashu National Park. Overnight Sunayu.
Day 10 (18 May): Akan–Mashu National Park. Overnight Yōroushi.
Day 11 (19 May): Kushiro Shitsugen National Park. Overnight Yōroushi.
Day 12 (20 May): To Kushiro Airport via Kushiro Shitsugen National Park for your early afternoon flights to Tokyo, Haned.

Wildlife in the Land of the Ainu, with Dr. Mark Brazil
May 09 – 20, 2023

Day-by-Day Itinerary:

Day 1: Arrival at Chitose Airport, Sapporo, Hokkaido
Arrive at Hokkaidō’s gateway New Chitose Airport this afternoon. On arrival you will be met and transferred to the ANA Crowne Plaza Hotel in Chitose City. Gather to meet your leaders at 18:30 this evening, for welcome drinks, a briefing concerning plans for the days ahead, and your welcome dinner.

Day 2: Upopoy National Ainu Museum and Lake Shikotsu
This morning we will visit the Upopoy National Ainu Museum and Park to gain our first insights into the culture and art of Japan’s only indigenous people, and to begin learning about the natural environment in which they lived. After lunch we continue to the spectacular crater lake of Shikotsu, rimmed with volcanoes, there we will take a walk to watch the common forest birds and check in at our accommodation for the next two nights. Today we will have our first opportunity to relax and regenerate in a mineral spring (onsen). Dinner and overnight at a hot spring hotel beside Lake Shikotsu.

Day 3: Shikotsu–Tōya National Park, with the Volcano Museum
Today, we explore the Shikotsu-T National Park driving first to the south end of Lake Tōya to visit the fascinating volcano museum, then taking the ropeway up Mt Usu to view Showa Shinzan (a volcano that erupted out of a farmer’s field!) and the scenic panorama of the enormous Tōya Caldera. The montane scenery of this active volcanic part of west Hokkaidō is particularly attractive. Returning to Lake Shikotsu we may hike through a local forest towards Mt Monbetsu or simply relax by the lake in the hotspring. Dinner and overnight at a hotspring hotel beside Lake Shikotsu.

Day 04: Lake Shikotsu to Abashiri via Arte Piazza Bibai
Today, we cross Hokkaidō from west to east enjoying some of the island’s mountainous scenery along the way. We break our journey in Bibai at an art park and enjoy wandering around the outdoor art installations of famous sculptor Yasuda Kan. If the weather permits we may eat a picnic lunch in the park. Dinner and overnight at Abashiri.

Day 05: Abashiri Quasi National Park.
After breakfast this morning, we begin our visit to Hokkaidō’s Sea of Okhotsk coast and the Abashiri Quasi NP with a whale-watching excursion in search of various cetaceans and seabirds. Once back onshore we will visit the Hokkaidō Museum of Northern Peoples, to learn more of the relationships between the Ainu and other peoples of northeast Asia, and the shallow coastal lagoon of Tōfutsu-ko for some late afternoon birdwatching. Dinner and overnight at Abashiri.

Day 06: Abashiri Quasi National Park; the Okhotsk Coast and Shiretoko Peninsula
This morning we continue building on our experiences of the Sea of Okhotsk coast with nature walks beside Lake Abashiri and at Cape Notoro, a headland overlooking the Sea of Okhotsk, before continuing our journey east towards the Shiretoko Peninsula and the Shiretoko National Park. This evening we will take the opportunity for our first excursion to look for the rare and endangered Blakiston’s Fish Owl, an Ainu deity. Several pairs breed on the Shiretoko Peninsula, and while seeing them may prove difficult, hearing their deep sonorous duet is more likely. Dinner and overnight in Rausu.

Day 07: Shiretoko National Park
Today, we spend our time in the Shiretoko National Park and World Heritage Site, on the Rausu side of the Shiretoko Peninsula. We will visit local vantage points to admire the view across the Nemuro Strait, and join a whale-watching boat (weather dependent) to go out into the channel in search of seabirds and cetaceans (dolphins, Orca, Baird’s Beaked Whale and Minke Whale are all possible). After lunch at a local restaurant we will take a boat along the peninsula (also weather dependent) in search of Brown Bears (another Ainu deity) foraging near the shore, and to look for White-tailed Eagles overhead. If the weather doesn’t permit the boat trips we will explore southwards down Hokkaidō’s east coast to Notsuke Peninsula, a low-lying series of sand spits created by longshore drift, where we will search for the iconic Red-crowned Crane (Ainu deity of the wetlands), summer birds, Red Foxes and Japanese Deer. Returning to Rausu, we have a second chance this evening to look for fish owls. Dinner and overnight in Rausu.

Day 08: Shiretoko National Park to Akan–Mashu National Park
Depending on our activities on Wednesday we will either take boat trips today or explore the east coast of Hokkaidō and Notsuke Peninsula before turning inland towards the enormous crater lake of Kussharo-ko (Lake Kussharo) in the Akan–Mashu National Park. Along the way, if the weather is clear, we will visit the Kaiyo-dai viewpoint for its panoramic perspective of eastern Hokkaidō. Our accommodation tonight is in a small family run pension in the woods near Lake Kussharo. Here, not only is there a more typical hot spring, but also one out in the woods created from a giant wooden miso barrel. Walks in the local area allow us to find more of the common resident and summer birds of Hokkaidō. On each of our two evenings in the area we plan special opportunities, to attend a concert of modern Ainu music, and to meet a member of the local Ainu association to learn more about Ainu life, arts and crafts. Dinner and overnight at Sunayu.

Day 09: Akan–Mashu National Park
Today, we visit Lake Akan, dominated by the beautiful O-Akan and Me-Akan volcanoes. We will visit volcanic mud springs known as bokke and take a boat ride on the lake to a museum dedicated to one of the strangest icons of Hokkaidō, and an important feature in Ainu myths, the extraordinary spherical green lake algae known as Marimo. Afterwards we will try an Ainu meal at a local restaurant in the community at Akan. Returning to Lake Kussharo, we may walk the southernmost peninsula known as Wakoto-hanto in search of the Asiatic Chipmunk and visit a local wood-carver in his studio to learn about Ainu carving. Time permitting we will call in at the small village Ainu museum in Kotan. Dinner and overnight at Sunayu.

Day 10: Akan–Mashu National Park
The birds, including several woodpecker species, and Eurasian Red Squirrels, that sometimes frequent the feeders at our accommodation, may distract us during breakfast. After breakfast we will visit the most beautiful lake of all in Hokkaidō, Lake Mashu, set in a deep caldera, with viewpoints on the rim offering spectacular views, after which we will see the dramatic sulphuroles and fumaroles on the flank of Mt Iwō near Kawayu Onsen. We continue to our final accommodation in Hokkaidō, a delightful hot spring inn beside a rushing river. Here we will be able to relax or take a forest nature walk beside the river, before keeping watch for the local pair of Blakiston’s Fish Owls this evening. Dinner and overnight at Yōroushi.

Day 11: Kushiro Shitsugen National Park.
Today, we explore Kushiro Shitsugen National Park, the largest protected wetland area in Japan, with lakes, rivers and reedbeds providing crucial habitat for the Red-crowned Crane or Sarurun Kamuy the Ainu god of the marshes. We will take an excursion by canoe (open Canadian canoes) to experience the wetland and to seek out the wildlife of the area, especially the cranes in their breeding haunts. Time permitting we may visit the Kushiro City Museum to view its well laid out series of exhibits that show the region, the Ainu people, the history and natural history of Hokkaidō. On our way back to our accommodation we aim to visit one of the shallow lagoons on the east side of the marsh and a viewpoint that gives a commanding view of the whole wetland area. Final farewell dinner and overnight at Yōroushi.

Day 12: To Kushiro Airport via Kushiro Shitsugen National Park for your early afternoon flights to Tokyo Haneda or Sapporo.
This morning before breakfast we will have an opportunity for our final nature walk in the forest near our accommodation looking for any river and forest birds we may have missed so far. We will then drive to Kushiro Airport for flights to Tokyo Haneda (NH 742 13:45–15:30, or JL 542 15:15–17:00) or Sapporo New Chitose (NH 4874 14:35–15:20), and bid Farewell to Mark & Mayumi.

Additional Information:
Mark and Mayumi will be on hand throughout the tour to explain and discuss all aspects of Japanese culture, history and natural history with you. The natural scenery, landscapes and natural history of Hokkaidō form the main theme of this tour and provide a tremendous backdrop, against which you will learn about the history and environment of the local Ainu people and the wildlife that inspired and supported them.

In addition to daily doses of incidental modern culture, visit five of Hokkaidō’s famous national and quasi national parks, look for the most important and iconic wildlife gods of the Ainu — Red-crowned Crane, Brown Bear, and Blakiston’s Fish Owl — , enjoy the wild montane and volcanic scenery of this lesser-known northern island of Japan, visit Ainu museums and cultural centres learning about their lifestyles, textiles and history, stay in hot spring hotels and inns, and visit a local wood carver in his workshop.

Accommodations are all of a good to high standard; mostly small, family run, friendly, comfortable and very clean. Most of them have their own hot springs (onsen). Some rooms will be Japanese style with futon; others will have beds. All rooms have en suite toilets and wash basins, some also have en suite showers. Rooms will be on a twin-use basis. Japanese hot spring baths are deemed to be highly therapeutic and are a wonderful way to start or end (or both!) a day. Baths are gender segregated; bathing is naked.

You will be treated to a very wide range of typical Japanese and local Hokkaidō dishes. Seafood is an important component of the Japanese diet and especially so in Hokkaidō, but so many other ingredients are used that even if seafood is not for you, there will always be plenty to eat. Meals in Japanese accommodations are set, there are no menus, and breakfast and dinner are included at each of the accommodations. The tremendous diversity of food here is generally a great surprise to guests. Accommodations cannot cater to dietary restrictions, vegan or kosher diets, though they may be able to accommodate simple vegetarians. On many of our days we purchase the makings of a picnic and eat on the way between locations or at scenic spots.

Please note the itinerary described is subject to change.

Please bring with you a sense of adventure and fun to experience Japan’s very different culture, a pair of binoculars with which to watch its wonderful wildlife, a camera and notebook with which to record your sightings, and Mark and Mayumi will share with you why they feel Hokkaidō is the long-overlooked “very best of Japan.”

Wildlife in the Land of the Ainu, with Dr. Mark Brazil
May 09 – 20, 2023

2023 Rates:

May 09-20, 2023

2023 Rates:

$12,925.00 approx per person sharing based on 6 guests

$14,225.00 approx per person sharing based on 5 guests

$15,995.00 approx per person sharing based on 4 guests

$19,285.00 approx per person sharing based on 3 guests


Plus and additional $1,920.00 approx per person for Single Accommodations

• This trip will operate with a minimum of 2 guests and a maximum of 6.
• We can accommodate 1 single traveller but would require 2 additional travellers for this trip to operate with Dr Mark Brazil as the Leader.
• USD Rates are approximate until the time of booking.
• Please note rates are subject to change without prior notice due to circumstances beyond our control; i.e. fuel increases, currency fluctuations, etc.


2 leaders:
Expedition Leader: Dr. Mark Brazil;
Interpreter and Culturalist: Mayumi Brazil
– Transfers and road travel in a Toyota HiAce HI roof van
– All Guiding & Touring
– All entrance fees, activity & enhancement fees
– Welcome Drinks
– All meals when with the group
– Gratuities for your guides

Not Included:

All International and domestic airfares & any departure tax
– Visas if required en route or for Japan
– Travel and health insurance
– Covid-19 testing and entry requirements into Japan
– Any other items of a personal nature, such as drinks, laundry, telephone and postage

Deposit & Payments

In order to reserve your spot on this itinerary, a 25% per person deposit is required. This itinerary is subject to the availability of all services at the time of making a reservation. No space is being held at this time. Please contact Expedition Easy for the full terms and conditions that apply. We are happy to answer questions and discuss your trip.


To reserve space on a trip on the Expedition Easy website, please contact Expedition Easy by telephone at 1-800-617-2319 or e-mail [email protected].

Wildlife in the Land of the Ainu, with Dr. Mark Brazil
May 09 – 20, 2023

Trip Leaders

Dr. Mark Brazil, Author, Naturalist and Expedition Leader

Mark developed his fascination with the natural world, especially birds, during his boyhood in the landlocked English county of Worcestershire. He then pursued his academic interests in biology during studies in England and Scotland, while exploring the coasts and mountains of Britain in search of birds. Mark earned his Ph.D. from Stirling University, Scotland, for his work on avian ecology and behavior in Iceland. Ornithological research, natural history consultancy for TV companies, and guiding naturalists and wildlife photographers have taken him to all continents, but his particular passion is Asia in all its diversity. Fascinated by island biology, he is a leading authority on the natural history of Japan, where he worked as a professor of biodiversity and conservation at Rakuno Gakuen University near Sapporo. In addition to being a field naturalist, he is a columnist, author, and editor. His books include Wild Asia: Spirit of a Continent, The Birds of Japan (the definitive text of bird biology and distribution in the Japanese archipelago), the monograph The Whooper Swan, A Field Guide to the Birds of East Asia, The Nature of Japan: From Dancing Cranes to Flying Fish, and most recently, Field Guide to the Birds of Japan. Mark first visited Japan in 1980, he returned almost annually, then moved from New Zealand in 1998 to live in Hokkaido. Japan’s northern island has been his home base ever since. Mark spends part of each year travelling, exploring, hiking, skiing and snowshoeing in Hokkaido. Mark’s Hokkaido journeys have allowed him to experience many of the island’s wildlife highlights, to appreciate the fantastic cuisine, to learn about the indigenous Ainu people and their culture, and more recently to appreciate the diversity of arts and crafts practiced in this fantastic northern region. Mark particularly enjoys sharing Hokkaido’s delights with like-minded travelers and naturalists.

Mayumi Brazil, Culturalist
Mayumi was born and educated in Hokkaido, Japan’s northern island. She studied Japanese Literature at college, but is also interested in film and contemporary culture. She has traveled in North America, Europe, South Asia, East Asia, South America, East Africa, New Zealand and Australia, and enjoys cross-cultural experiences and explaining her own culture to others. Mayumi is a nationally licensed tour guide and trained reflexologist too. Her hobbies include: mountain hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country and downhill skiing, and nature watching. She has worked on board expedition cruise ships for various companies around Japan and South Korea (for Zegrahm Expeditions in 2010-2018, A&K in 2009 & 2016, Noble Caledonia in 2010, Natural Habitat Adventures in 2011, Orion expeditions in 2011 & 2012, Silversea Cruises in 2014) as demonstrator/lecturer. Since 2009, she has worked as a fixer and an interpreter, traveling throughout Japan with families and groups of photographers, sight-seekers and naturalists. Mayumi has traveled very widely throughout Japan multiple times. She currently lives in Teshikaga, Hokkaido with her husband Dr. Mark Brazil.

May 09 - 20, 2023