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Japan Winter Tour 3rd to 16th Febr. 2019

with Ade Photography

From February 3rd to 16th 2019, I joined as a client on Ade’s photo tour to the Snow monkeys in Nagano after which we journeyed by plane to Kushiro in Hokkaido.

Before Hokkaido, we started the winter tour at the Snow Monkey park (Jikokudani monkey park, province Nagano). This year’s winter wasn’t that strong, as there was not that much snow settled on the ground and because of the warmer air temperature the Snow Monkeys were not entering the geothermal pool (Onsen in japanese) that frequently.

However, at times I was presented with some very nice photo opportunities and and in addition to the portrait picture of the monkeys in the hot tube, I got some good photo opportunities with them sitting in the trees.

Although the Snow Monkey park is a very popular place amongst photo tourists and it is often very crowded, this year I found it less disturbing than in 2017, however in such well-known places you will never be there alone.

Then the Akan Crane Center on the Hokkaido Island is a must destination to see these majestic and noisy birds. There were also less tourists and it was not as cold compared to my last visit in 2017.

There were many cranes there, but as usual it wasn’t easy to get decent photos. For many quite obvious reasons it is difficult to separate the dancing birds from the flock.

The famous Otowa bridge, Tsurui, Hokkaido presented nice opportunities this year as well.

The early morning hours were not that cold this time, so it was easy to stay there for 2 hours watching the sunrise and the Cranes becoming active down in the shallow river.

Lake Kussharo for me was the highlight of this trip: the steam from the hot spring which keeps a small part of the lake uncovered by ice provides nice photo opportunities.

In 2017, a snow blizzard presented some very harsh conditions at the Lake, however this time there were no strong winds. Each year there are new aspects to discover at this location.

We then drove by private bus to Rausu, where over the next 3 days we photographed the White Tailed and Steller’s Sea Eagles in the bay of Rausu.

I prefer the early morning boat trips, as we arrive at the port before sunrise and then head out to the packed ice floe. The boat crew throw fish out to the Eagles and that offers hundreds of photo opportunities, but only a few of my shots satisfied what I was looking for: The perfect shot of an Eagle with the claws extended, landing or catching a fish out of water.

For one night, I went with 2 other members of the group to see the Blakiston’s Fish Owl.

This meant staying the whole night in a cabin with the hope the Owl will come and fish by a nearby stream. After hours of waiting in the cold, it finally visited the stream 3 times at around 4 o’clock in the morning. Even though the scenery is lit with an artificial LED light, unfortunately, my pictures were not sharp due to the thermic turbulences in the air caused by the air in the cabin being warmer than the external air temperature, so to cool down the cabin we unplugged the heaters, the cabin did get very cold but not cold enough to prevent the turbulence in the air.

Up until around midnight there were a lot of people coming and going in the cabin, which caused a lot of noise due to the entrance door flapping open and closed, and due to people speaking aloud - it became quite a disaster.

The owner of the cabin speaks only Japanese he has a very loud voice and he speaks a lot! I think it was mainly rubbish.

Only 3 photographers were left to persist until the Owl arrived. A massive bird, it was so impressive and good to finally see this fellow. I noticed the pictures I shot with the Canon super tele lens 600 mm f/4 series III were not sharp. This however was not only due to the thermal turbulence in the air but also due to the fact that my lens was optically not good. I tested this lens systematically later to prove the problem.

During that night, I definitely left what I call my “comfort zone”I continued the following morning without a break nor breakfast with the early morning boat trip out to the bay of Rausu again… Afterwards I offered myself a good afternoon siesta.

We also hads the opportunity to photograph the Japanese red fox along the road, the Ural owl and edo deers.

On the road around lake Kussharo there is the easy opportunity to photograph the foxes. They hang around old fisher boats.

We then continued to Nemuro, to photograph the Raptors at Lake Furen, which was frozen over. The Eagles are fed and therefore gather in huge numbers at a distance of around 50 meters away.

It’s not that easy to get a good shot, however the most promising are the fighting scenes. This location attracts many photographers from all over the world.

Concerning housing: The japanese traditional hotels: - They were all perfect.

In Hokkaido there was no continental food on the menu, and that was an issue for some of the English people in the group.

The only room I was not satisfied with was at the Royal Park Hotel Hotel at Haneda Intl Airport, the room was so small that I had to put my suitcases outside the door- or sleep under the bed... Japanese hotels tend to have smaller rooms compared rooms found in hotels in the West, as such when booking hotels in Japan it is important to check for the room size.

Japan is a beautiful country with very accommodating and polite people, I have been very surprised to see four member of the group who were English not finding this different way of life (food, hotel, etc) that easy as they had difficulties adapting to rural Japan.

These are some android phone pics to illustrate

As with my past photo tours with Ade, he was a fantastic tour guide this time as well.

All in all, I had wonderful time during the Japan photo tour in 2019, the photo opportunities are amazing and I came home with some excellent shots. I will be going back to Hokkaido with Ade in 2020.

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