Japan has to offer many things. Great people (figuratively speaking of course), very helpful and efficient, rich culture, and lots of traditions. The latter has confused me at times but Harumi, our Japanese assistant, has taken care of us and taught us how to eat with chop sticks while sitting on the floor without shoes and muscle cramp attacks lurking around the corner waiting for the best moment to strike. Japan has made a great impression on me and I like the opportunity to take you on a virtual and personal journey of two weeks in the land of the rising sun…..
I had the pleasure of co-leading a holiday with Danny-san for Natures Images and after many hours of traveling we arrived at Tokyo Airport. Our Japanese assistant was already waiting for us and after our group was complete we headed to our first destination.
Our first port of call was to visit Jigokudani near Nagano and the park for Japanese Macaques or Snow Monkeys. A place I would rather skip but I fully understand it has to be part of the program when visiting Japan with a large group of keen photographers. It’s not the snow monkeys’ fault of course….they live there. It’s them other primates on two legs who annoy the crap out of me. My visit to the monkeys can be described as a walk through the city of Amsterdam on Kings Day. Not my cup of tea but I managed to capture some images I do like. Spending 10 minutes around the pool was enough for me and I killed most of the time observing people doing stupid things and I’m sure most of these people have no idea how close the were to get bitten in the face. I’ve seen some pretty dangerous selfie attempts but the reason no one was hurt is the fact these monkeys are full blood Japanese which means they do their best to make your stay as pleasant as possible no matter how rude or ignorant you are. A few nice moments with the four-legged monkeys were recorded with my Nikon and I would like to share some of them with you…
You were reading it right… law eggs
One morning in one of the hotels one of our guests was having an egg from the bowl not alarmed by that piece of paper in Japanese gobbledygook saying these eggs are uncooked. Don’t need to explain what happened at the table. The next morning the same bowl had a second piece of paper warning us in a more recognisable language but still amusing.
Even the monkeys were having trouble digesting these raw eggs and tried their best to keep it down..
Next part of the trip was the island of Hokkaido. Hokkaido is the second largest, northernmost and least developed of Japan's four main islands. Its weather is harsh in winter with lots of snowfall, below zero temperatures and frozen seas and of course the beautiful Japanese cranes or red-crowned cranes. Red-crowned cranes almost became fashion victims at the beginning of the 20th century. They were hunted to the brink of extinction in Japan so that their stunning plumage could be used to adorn hats and other fashion accessories. Hunting these cranes is now illegal and a huge conservation effort was undertaken and thankfully the cranes have reached a high sustainable level with around a thousand birds.
These magnificent birds were on top of my list and I was not disappointed. Although the crane centre was busy and crowded with people at times it was still very enjoyable to be around these big and gracious birds. The dance of the cranes and the noise they make won’t be forgotten. At the crane centre there was a small café run by two older and very friendly ladies. The rice and curry they were making will be as memorable as the cranes.
Young cranes were very amusing to watch. Their playful and shameless behaviour while dancing and playing with snow were a joy for the eye and mind. A clumsy dance was set off by the tiniest things like a falling snow flake or a twig on the ground.
Cranes were not the slightest alarmed by the red fox who was visiting the cranes looking for scraps. The reason the cranes were not alarmed is the fact that they are well capable of defending themselves against these relative small mammals.
They did look a bit upset though when the eagles came and tried to steal the fish from them. This was the moment I was waiting for. I’ve seen some great images of cranes fighting white-tailed eagles on the internet but there are just a few of them and most have been taken by Japanese photographers who spend enormous amounts of time at the crane centre every year. No high hopes but I would give it my best.. It’s hard to describe the joy when I looked at the images on the back of my screen. I nailed some decent action shots which I’m very happy with. The Nikon D4 has a great autofocus system and turned out a great help freezing the action in perfect sharpness.
What a place…full of wonderful species and both suspected and unexpected action. Even a black kite flying over in falling snow was a joy to watch.
A couple of days with the cranes was a great and memorable time and even at times when I was just watching without taking any shots.
Next destination of our trip was Rausu. Rausu is primarily a fishing town and located on the east end of Hokkaido’s Shiretoko Peninsula. Rausu lies in close proximity of Russia and potential fishing-rights disputes are their main problems as one third of the residents are supported by the fishing industry.
We had booked four trips with a local fisherman who also runs a great hotel where we were staying. The sea ice had just returned to the harbour after been blown out to sea by the strong winds. We couldn’t have planned it better and we turned out to be the first this year who were lucky enough to go out to sea and get us some eagle action on the drift ice.
Both white-tailed eagle and stellers’ sea eagle were lured in by the daily supply of fish thrown overboard by the fishermen. Two amazing birds flying in, resting on the ice and often so close I couldn’t take the shot cause they were too tight in the frame. An amazing experience as I love eagles and they didn’t disappoint us. Many gigs filled the cards in our camera and everyone stepped of the boat with a big smile.
The last part of the trip was looking for whooper swans. We visited some good places and had some nice snowy conditions. Although these swans have been done by so many photographers it was still a great part of this holiday. Often seen in the UK from October till March but not as close in these numbers and beautiful winter conditions.
Beautiful destination, great food, friendly people and a great group of photographers from the UK and Belgium. Two wonderful Americans joined us too and some new friendships have been made.
Let me thank all of you who came on this trip and I hope Danny-san and I have been part of your experience. I had such a great time and hope to see all of you in the near future on one of our many holiday destinations. An extra thank you to Harumi, our Japanese assistant and Mori our driver.