I think I had a great time.
One of the biggest reasons to visit Japan in the winter is visiting and photographing the snow monkeys. Before our trip I did my casual review of images from my favorite photographers, picturing in my mind’s eye what I wanted to capture. These images created a vision of what I may encounter. I pictured a hike out to a remote location in the mountains to a naturally heated pond where I would wait, perhaps hours, for snow monkeys to arrive for a hot-water bath. If they show up, would I get the images in my mind? I was excited and nervous as the day approached. I asked our tour leader; do you think there will be any monkeys? He gave me a quizzical look. Of course, he says. How could he be so sure?
The day arrived and nothing was as I had imagined. It started with a 1 ¼ mile hike along a mostly paved path. Not very challenging! At least the path was covered with hard pack snow and ice to provide a sense of challenge. We arrived at the base of a set of steps leading up to our destination to the Wild Snow Monkey Park. So much for my vision of a remote setting. People were streaming to and from as we arrived at the visitor center, well-heated, many bathrooms, hot tea, and cold water. I am very disappointed, not in the amenities for which I readily took advantage, but in the setting. Perhaps the walk to the pond will set things straight.
A few minutes’ walk on pavement to a man-made pond set the final scene. At least the water was naturally heated! There are people all over the place, crowded around the pond. But there are also monkeys all around, walking through the crowd to get to the pond. So much for my romantic setting and natural shooting. But heck, these are snow monkeys. Where else in the world can I photograph them? Nowhere. So, I did what any photographer would do, I framed up my shots to look as though the setting was remote and natural.
After our visit with the snow monkeys, I realized I had a great time. It may not have been what I was expecting (nothing is!) but I captured the photos I was hoping to capture.
The Japanese macaques (aka, snow monkey) live in the mountains of Nagano Prefecture.
In the winter food is scarce. At the Monkey Park they are fed many times a day.
Just like the Japanese, the snow monkeys bathe nude in the natural hot spring.