11 In japan/ travel

postcard from Jigokudani

Baby Japanese Macaque, Jigokudani Monkey Park, Yamanouchi, Nagano

It’s the beginning of a 12-day Winter Wonderland photography trip with Martin Bailey, special guest/attendee David duChemin and a group of fellow photography enthusiasts that I am delighted to now call friends.

We are a few hours bus-ride from Tokyo in a place called Yamanouchi in the Nagano Prefecture of Japan. It’s snowing; big fat flakes, but too warm for it to settle so it melts as it hits our bodies and we are soaked through before the day is over.

These monkeys are smaller than I imagined them to be, and much more amazing in real life than any photographs could portray. There is often a serenity to their faces as they soak in the onsen (hot springs) that reminds me of monks. They spend hours grooming each other – like the monkey equivalent of a beauty parlour, but they can be pretty vicious as well. They don’t seem to care too much about all the people around them – I got close enough to one to fill the frame of a wide lens with it so we were pretty much ignored. Some of the adults will snarl if people get too close, and though I’d really love to touch one, that’s definitely not allowed!

japanese macaque - grooming. Baby Japanese Macaque, Jigokudani Monkey Park, Yamanouchi, Nagano

Japanese Macaque, Jigokudani Monkey Park, Yamanouchi, Nagano

We stayed in a local ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) and I think it was my favourite of all our accommodations on the trip – it might have had something to do with the fact that my room had an onsen outside and I had more hot baths this trip than I normally have in a year! I was instructed in the proper way for a woman to wear a yukata (a casual style of kimono) and wore them almost every evening for the remainder of the trip. It’s made me look forward to my next trip home to NZ and a visit to some of the hot springs around the country.

We have eaten incredible Japanese food, tried a number of different sake and shochu. There’s been laughter and singing, and, in the space of only a few hours, the ‘will they like me?’ nerves have vanished. I’ve never been this cold, or this happy being cold, in all my life.

After three great days in Yamanouchi, we are back to Tokyo for a night before an early morning flight to Hokkaido for the remaining days to photograph eagles, whooper swans and red-crowned cranes.
More soon.

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  • jeanine
    19/03/2013 at 10:29

    so phenomenal! cannot WAIT to catch up. love you xox

  • Jaime
    12/03/2013 at 05:36


  • Lisa Field-Elliot
    11/03/2013 at 14:59

    you saw them! you saw them! and you captured them brilliantly. xx

  • Ashley
    10/03/2013 at 15:25

    These photos are so beautiful Leonie! Wow!

  • Marianne
    03/03/2013 at 19:15

    Gorgeous. The pinkness of their faces, the softness of their fur, the white snow and those eyes. Wow.

  • Xanthe Berkeley
    03/03/2013 at 17:49

    What an experience! Can’t wait to hear and see more…


  • Wendy J
    03/03/2013 at 14:32

    Fantastic photos – and your stories make me natsukashiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii. Can’t wait to see/read more! xo

  • pohanginapete
    02/03/2013 at 21:19

    Macaques, eagles, whoopers, red-crowned cranes, … what a wonderful journey. It would be easy to be envious, but my overriding feeling is one of delight that you’re getting to see and photograph (beautifully) these superb animals.

    Remember to put the camera down, too ;^)

  • michelle gd
    02/03/2013 at 18:02

    what an incredible trip you’re taking…and, wow, what an expeirence!
    these photos are amazing…especially loving the first.

  • tanaya
    02/03/2013 at 05:25

    Oh hunny, these are breathtaking. Please make them available for purchase. The first two evoke so much caring and emotion. And oh, those meaty little hands. Wow, just wow.

  • Pip
    02/03/2013 at 03:04

    We love Maruia Springs, which is modeled on a Japanese spa. You could go in winter when it’s snowing?