2017 Winter Wildlife Tour of Japan | Snow Monkey Business

Mar 13 | Evan | No Comments |

Spending three days with the Japanese Snow Monkeys of Jigokudani in Nagano, Japan was a great experience.  We arrived just after a significant snow storm so there was plenty of fresh snow.  We had mostly overcast weather and though we had a few short snow flurries, kind of wished we had a little more snow while we were photographing. No matter the weather, the monkeys provided ample photographic opportunities and everyone loved even just observing them.  I already shared some portraits of the monkeys but just wanted to share a few more photos of the monkeys being, well, monkeys!  I have 3 stories which I found to be quite interesting and make me think that perhaps I look more like a monkey than the average person!  

To be honest, the photo above isn’t the monkey trying to give me a hint that he doesn’t want his portrait taken, but actually it’s the other monkey’s hand while grooming.  In any case, like I said, plenty of photographic opportunities at the snow monkey park!  Anyway, the first story happened on the first day we were with the monkeys.  There were many snow monkeys enjoying a hot bath when suddenly the alpha male jumped in and scared most of the monkeys away.  One monkey was about to run past me when he suddenly stopped and grabbed onto my jacket.  Of course I’m not expert but he held onto me for about 30 seconds and really felt like he thought I could protect him.  Really was quite interesting!

The second and third story happened the second day we were with the monkeys.  Earlier in the day I was leaning over on the rail of a bridge (you can see it in the photograph below and also same place as third story) with one eye looking through the camera and another closed as is the usual photographer’s style.  Suddenly, I felt a tap on my shoulder and then a gently push to get me to move away from the railing.  I was already saying excuse me in Japanese on my way up and to my surprise it was an adult monkey that I had inconvenienced, not a person!  It’s hard to explain, but the way he pushed me certainly felt like a human.  I’ve saved the best story for last and I owe a HUGE thank you to Jennette Russell who was able to capture this moment in time for me and generous enough to share her photos with me.  All photos below until after the waterfall photo were created by, courtesy of and © Jennette Russell.

Literally minutes before leaving and on the way out, I suddenly felt a little extra weight on me and quickly realized that I had a monkey on my back!  Yes, that’s me in the blue jacket!  It was feeding time at the park and there was a lot of activity all around but from the railing to my back was an easy jump for this monkey.  After pulling my hair for a little he moved to my head and tried to open my backpack before going back to pulling my hair again!  It was quite the surreal moment that lasted probably all of 20 seconds but felt much longer!  I was so surprised and unsure of what I could do, I wasn’t thinking clearly enough to turn around to Jennette for what would have been a great portrait of myself with the monkey and also should have asked the shocked family next to me if they had some good ones to share, but at least Jennette got these awesome shots!

It wasn’t painful at all and glad he couldn’t figure out how to open my bag but needless to say, the first thing I did when returning back to the ryokan was take a shower and washed my hair a few times! Here is the entire series if you want to see what the monkey was up to!

Finally, I also wanted to share one more photo that I couldn’t have made handheld without my new Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, another photograph of monkeys with the waterfall in the background, also at 1/20th of a second.  The image stabilization is really impressive!

In collaboration with Magic Is Photo Safaris, I escorted a small group of wildlife photographers for a Winter Wildlife Tour of Japan in search of Japanese Snow Monkeys, Red Crowned Crane, Swan, Steller’s Sea Eagles and whatever else we could find! To see more photos from our photo safari in Japan, view the 2017 Winter Wildlife Tour of Japan Trip Report.

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