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January in Japan

This would be my last trip before travel came to a screeching halt in January. Who knew that lockdown would be imminent? And I’m extraordinarily happy that I had another opportunity to immerse myself in so much that is quintessential Japan.

I came to Tokyo in January 2020, specifically to photograph the Japanese snow monkey. I left with a far greater appreciation of two other iconic species I’d encounter and spend time photographing before the Macaque.



Witnessing the breathtakingly beautiful bonding performances of residential red-crested cranes. Known best for their unwavering faithfulness to mates, spectacular courtship displays, large size, long migrations and loud calls, they are arguably one of the most elegant of all flying birds. Extensive conservation efforts have brought the bird back from near extinction. At one point there were only 33 confirmed sightings/now there are over 1,800 thank to the many farmers who spread grain each day.

Surviving frost, fog and frigid temperatures without losing frozen toes. We were surrounded by stunningly beautiful pastel light as we waited for roosting cranes to take flight a half-mile or so down the river. Our two-hour stay/starting with a 4:30 AM wake up/yielded icy landscape images with one flyover. Cranes were hunkered down quite possibly sensing the snow that would fall later in the day.

Photographing a handsome fox in superb shape at close range. Its mother had apparently been killed by a car two years earlier but he had not only survived but thrived due, in large part, to the generosity of those driving by.

Seeing a racoon dog for the first time. Though they resemble raccoons with long, dog-like legs, they are actually related to foxes and wolves. Superficially cute and cuddly, they make good pets (NOT) if you’re an insomniac and want some nighttime company.

Immersing myself in misty magical mornings with Whooper Swans skidding to a stop on slippery patches of ice and then making their way to warm geothermal spring water at the edges of the ice fields.

Witnessing and recording phenomenal swan flybys.

Trying to distinguish, isolate and then capture on camera Steller’s sea eagles from the rest of the birds flying around our boat. One tough task. More like a brain-expanding/neuron-building game of Whack-a-Mole! As the heaviest eagles in the world, Steller’s overwinter in Japan where they’re protected and classified as a National Treasure.

Experiencing baby snow monkeys leaping on my jacket. Do I look like a mother monkey? Maybe.

Having great fun snagging baby Macaque shenanigans on camera in and around the water. These unique monkeys escape the cold winter temperatures that often drop well below freezing by heading to these hot springs to soak in the warm waters.

Enjoying the phenomenally fresh and beautifully presented food. Here’s one of our breakfasts!

Sleeping on the floor on luxurious tatamis and futons in charming ryokans and an ancient inn with super easy access to the snow monkeys.

Wearing spikes on my snow boots and so thankful that I did.

Soaking in a remote onsen fed by hot springs. Tough to break free of the midwestern “me” so it was a brief, bathing suit free, dip.

Encountering, marvelling at and interacting with their high-tech toilets. What can I say? Heated seats and more features than you can imagine. Do a Google search for those details!

A return trip? In a heartbeat. It would be tough to find a more thoughtful/friendly/helpful/welcoming/accommodating/ organized/beyond-gracious group of people gathered in one clean, super safe country. At least that’s been my impression during my two weeks in January and on three other occasions in the recent past. There’s so much to see and savor. Any time of year.

AND it’s exceptionally fun to experience travel with people who share a love of learning and photography. Japan’s Winter Wildlife was my fourth trip with Joseph Von Os, this time with first-rate photo tour leader, Mark Thomas.. I look forward to many more adventures with this talented group of photography instructors and like-minded folks who love capturing our world on camera.

Photography: Lois Anderson / Video Production: Mariya Anderson


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