Wildlife in the Land of the Ainu, with Dr. Mark Brazil
June 06 – 22, 2019


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.

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

Brief Itinerary:
Day 1: Arrival at Chitose Airport, Sapporo, Hokkaido
Day 2: Lake Shikotsu and Ainu Pirka Kotan
Day 3: Jozankei to Tsurui, via Otofuke Shrine
Day 4: Kushiro and Kushiro National Park
Day 5: Akan National Park
Day 6: Akan National Park
Day 7: Shiretoko National Park
Day 8: Shiretoko National Park
Day 9: Shiretoko National Park to Utoro then Yoroushi
Day 10: Abashiri Quasi National Park
Day 11: Abashiri to Daisetsu National Park
Day 12: Daisetsu National Park
Day 13: Daisetsu National Park to Shikotsu-Toya National Park
Day 14: Shikotsu-Toya National Park
Day 15: Lake Shikotsu to Chitose Airport / Onward Home

Wildlife in the Land of the Ainu, with Dr. Mark Brazil
June 06 – 22, 2019

Day-by-Day Itinerary:

Day 1: Arrival at Chitose Airport, Sapporo, Hokkaido
Arrive into Chitose Airport in Japan in the early afternoon. On arrival you will be met and transferred to our Hotel. Gather for dinner and welcome drinks this evening before settling in for the night.

Day 2: Lake Shikotsu and Ainu Pirka Kotan
Today, visit the spectacular crater lake of Shikotsu, rimmed with volcanoes, then visit the Ainu cultural center at Pirka Kotan. After your first insight into the culture and art of Japan’s only indigenous people, visit your first hot spring for an opportunity to relax and regenerate in the mineral waters of a mineral spring, while enjoying the view across the local river to the forested mountain beyond. Return to Chitose for a welcome dinner and a briefing about plans for the days ahead.

Day 3: Jozankei to Tsurui via Otofuke Shrine & Kushiro Museum
Today, cross Hokkaido from west to east enjoying some of the island’s mountainous scenery along the way. Stop for lunch en route and visit a local shrine set in a wooded park, as well as the Kushiro Museum which has a surprisingly modern and well laid out series of exhibits that introduce the region, the Ainu, the history and natural history of Hokkaido. Continuing the journey, your destination is a small family run hotel in the village of Tsurui, renowned for the best hot spring water in all of Hokkaido.

Day 4: Kushiro and Kushiro National Park
Today, explore Kushiro National Park, the largest peat swamp wetland in Japan, and crucial habitat for the red-crowned crane or Sarurun Kamuy, the Ainu god of the marshes. Seek out the cranes in their breeding haunts, visit the shallow lagoons on the east side of the marsh.

Day 5: Akan National Park
After breakfast this morning, drive northwards to the Akan National Park and visit the enormous crater lake of Kussharo-ko, the nearby sulphur springs at Iwo-zan, and the most beautiful lake of all in Hokkaido, Mashu-ko. Your 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.

Day 6: Akan National Park
Today, visit Lake Akan, dominated by the beautiful O-Akan and Me-Akan volcanoes. Visit its volcanic mud springs and a museum/exhibit dedicated to one of the strangest icons of Hokkaido, and an important feature in Ainu myths, the spherical green lake algae known as Marimo! Returning to Lake Kussharo, you may walk the southernmost peninsula known as Wakoto-hanto in search of the Asiatic Chipmunk – known to the Ainu as the slippers of the gods.

Day 7: Shiretoko National Park
Leave the Akan National Park behind and head eastwards towards the coast, and then onwards to the Shiretoko National Park and World Heritage Site. In the afternoon we will take a boat ride out into the Nemuro Channel in search of whales and birds.

This evening, those who wish can come out on a search for yet another Ainu god – Kotan Koru Kamuy (the god of the village) – the rare and critically endangered Blakiston’s fish owl. Several pairs breed on the Shiretoko Peninsula, and while seeing them may prove difficult, hearing their deep sonorous duet is more likely.

Day 8: Shiretoko National Park
Today, enjoy some time to view the Rausu side of the Shiretoko Peninsula, visit the fishing harbor and the local viewpoint, and join a whale watching boat and go out into the Nemuro Channel in search of dolphins, orca, Baird’s beaked whale and minke whale (weather dependent). Visit the Notsuke Peninsula, a low lying series of sand spits created by longshore drift and admire the beautiful wild flowers of the area, while looking for white-tailed sea eagles and more red-crowned cranes.

Returning to Rausu, enjoy a second chance this evening to look for Kotan Koru Kamuy Blakiston’s fish owl.

Day 9: Shiretoko National Park to Utoro then Yoroushi
This morning, after an early breakfast, cross the Shiretoko Peninsula to Utoro, in time to take a special boat trip along the peninsula to Kamui Wakka (waterfall of the gods) in search of yet another of the iconic Ainu pantheon of nature gods – their god of the mountains – Kimun Kamuy the brown bear. Bears often forage along the remote shoreline of the peninsula or visit river mouths, and there is a good chance of seeing them (binoculars will be helpful). Afterwards, pause for lunch in Utoro and then drive to Yoroushi where in the evening you will have another chance to look for Kotan Koru Kamuy Blakiston’s fish owl.

Day 10: Yoroushi
After breakfast we will have a morning forest walk in search for birds and mammals. Enjoy the afternoon at your leisure.

Day 11: Yoroushi to Utoro then to Abashiri Quasi National Park
We make a very early start this morning to reach Utoro in time for a morning boat ride in search of the Brown Bear. We then continue along the coast to Shari and onto Abashiri Quasi National Park.

Day 12: Abashiri Quasi National Park
Today is devoted to further exploration of the Abashiri area, taking a whale watching excursion offshore, visiting a local salmon river to see these creatures making their return to breed, and visiting Cape Notoro, a headland overlooking the Sea of Okhotsk to look for Minke Whale and Rhinoceros Auklet.

In the afternoon, visit the Northern People’s Museum, situated just outside Abashiri, where you can learn about the relationships between the Ainu of Hokkaido and the other indigenous tribes of northeast Asia.

Day 13: Daisetsu National Park to Shikotsu-Toya National Park
After breakfast, we will have an early morning visit to Lake Toufutsu to look at the flowers and birds. Continuing on we will drive via Lake Chimikeppu to Sounkyo.

Day 14:Daisetu National Park
This morning, ride the gondola from Sounkyo up towards Kurodake, one of the local peaks. Weather permitting, you may also take a chair lift on a few more stages, and then hike up towards the summit of the mountain to enjoy the scenery and wildflowers of this beautiful area of central Hokkaido. At higher elevations the rich mixed forests of Hokkaido give way to forest dominated by stone pine, birch and fir, and here you may encounter Asiatic chipmunks (the slippers of the gods) and see the flower-rich land that the Ainu consider to be the Garden of the Gods. In the afternoon you will have a visit to Daisetu Photo Museum.

Day 15: Daisetu Natioal Park to Shikotsu-Toya National Park
This morning you will have an excursion to Sounkyo Waterfalls before you travel southwest via the town of Asahikawa, dropping in on the way at an Ainu cultural center to learn how to play the mukkuri (bamboo jaw harp). Though simple in appearance, the mukkuri can be devilishly difficult to play. Then take a picnic and enjoy a wander around the outdoor art installations of famous sculptor Yasuda Kan at Bibai Arte Piazza, before continuing on to the fifth and final national park of our journey, the Shikotsu-Toya National Park.

Day 16: Shikotsu-Toya National Park
Explore the Shikotsu-Toya National Park today, driving first to the south end of Lake Toya to visit the volcano museum, and then taking the ropeway up Usu-zan to view Showa Shinzan (a volcano that erupted out of a farmer’s field!), and the whole scenic view of enormous Lake Toya. The montane scenery of this active volcanic part of west Hokkaido is particularly attractive. Return via a roundabout route, so as to visit the Ainu village beside Lake Poroto, and experience an Ainu cultural performance.

Day 17: Lake Shikotsu to Chitose Airport / Onward Connections
Before breakfast this morning, feel free to join a walk to a local forest to listen to the summer bird song, or take a final soak in the therapeutic waters of the hot spring. After breakfast, leave Shikotsu-ko for Chitose Airport in time to catch flights south to airports on Honshu for international connections, or home via Incheon, South Korea. Please plan to depart in the afternoon.

Mark and Mayumi will be on hand throughout the tour to explain all aspects of Japanese culture, history and natural history. The natural scenery, landscapes and natural history of Hokkaido make up a tremendous backdrop, against which you will learn about the history and environment of the local Ainu people and the wildlife that inspired them.

In addition to daily doses of incidental modern culture: visit six of Hokkaido’s famous National and Quasi National Parks; look for the most important wildlife gods of the Ainu: Red-crowned Crane, Brown Bear, Blakiston’s Fish Owl and Salmon; enjoy the wild montane and volcanic scenery of this lesser-known northern island of Japan; visit Ainu museums and cultural centers learning about their lifestyles, textiles and history; stay in hotspring hotels and inns; visit a local wood carver in his workshop and a Japanese woodblock printer in his studio.
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. Rooms will be on a twin-use basis. Japanese baths are deemed to be highly therapeutic and are a wonderful way to start or end (or both!) a day.

You will be treated to a very wide range of typical Japanese and local Hokkaido dishes. Seafood is an important component of the Japanese diet and especially so in Hokkaido, 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.

Please note the itinerary described is subject to change.


Wildlife in the Land of the Ainu, with Dr. Mark Brazil
June 06 – 22, 2019/h3>

2018 Rates:

June 06 – 22,2019

$11,165.00 approx per person sharing based on 6 guests
$12,185.00 approx per person sharing based on 5 guests
$13,695.00 approx per person sharing based on 4 guests
$15,865.00 approx per person sharing based on 3 guests
$19,975.00 approx per person sharing based on 2 guests
$3,995.00 approx per person Supplement for Single Accommodations

This trip will operate with a min of 2 guests. We can accommodate 1 single traveler but would require 2 additional travelers for this trip to operate with Dr Mark Brazil as the Leader.

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.


– The rates include 2 leaders:
Expedition Leader: Dr. Mark Brazil;
Interpreter and Culturalist: Mayumi Brazil
– Transfers in a Toyota Hiace Hiroof van
– Water is fully potable at all accommodations and you are encouraged to bring and fill a water bottle for use during each day. Additional water will also be available at meal times.
– Welcome Drinks
– Gifts at the Welcome Dinner (1 per couple)
– CD of the Ainu performance at Moshiri (1 per couple)
– Final Drinks on the way to Chitose airport
– Final lunch at Chitose Airport
– Final Dinner at Mizu no Uta
– All transport, accommodation and meals are included from arrival with the group at Chitose, Sapporo, until departure from the group at Chitose. Please note: Lunches are included, but unplanned; we may opt to stop at a local restaurant if the weather is inclement, or may choose to buy the ingredients for a picnic along the way so that opportunities are maximized on any given day.
– All entrance fees, boat trips and gondola rides are also included
– Gratuities for your guides

Not Included:

– International and domestic airfares
– International and domestic departure tax
– Visas if required
– Travel and health insurance
– Any other items of a personal nature, such as drinks, laundry, telephone and postage

Deposit & Payments

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 info@expeditioneasy.com.

Wildlife in the Land of the Ainu, with Dr. Mark Brazil
June 06 -22, 2019

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.

June 06 - 22, 2019