Japan 2016

May 19, 2017

 I’ve been feeling uninspired lately.  Finding it hard to get motivated for the past few months.  Seems like inspiration comes in waves for me.  

We sold our home a few months ago and moved to a rental house while our new home was being built.  With all my equipment in boxes and my life busy with work, parenting, and home building, I was stressed to say the least.  We are finally in the new home and now deal with repair guys, endless spending, and organization.  But, we are making progress and that feels good.

Finally taking a moment to myself.  Sitting on the couch Sunday morning watching Nat Geo.  Interesting show about Steller’s Sea Eagles in Russia—where they breed.  The Kamchatka Peninsula to be exact.  Hum, the heaviest raptors in the world you say? Largest bill of any eagle, ok i’m listening.  Named after German naturalist Georg Steller, I see.  

I grabbed my laptop and started reading.  I really don’t have any interest in going to Russia.  In fact, I know that I don’t want to go there at all.  As I read, I learn that these eagles will fly to Hokkaido, Japan in the winter.  They take advantage of the broken sea ice where fish are exposed.  

I begin mentally justifying my position.  Maybe this will serve as motivation for me?  The wheels start turning.  How will my lovely, beautiful, talented, sexy wife handle the news?  Maybe I should invite her to come?  Yes, that will work.  

I carefully breach the subject at the right time.  She shows interest.  This is easier than I thought.  I think she’s thinking sushi, hot tea, maple trees…I quickly realize that this is not going to work.  In her defense, I have taken my wife to many places where conditions are rough and she has been a real trooper.  But the more I read, the more I realize that Japan in winter is much like New York (where we’re both from) and that the experience would not be pleasant and easy.  This is typically the case with my adventures and I don’t think it’s a great fit for her.

I break the news to her that she just won’t enjoy the trip and I should probably take this one with a fellow photographer.

And so it begins.  The plan is roughly mapped out and I begin the research.  Where do we stay? What are the best dates to go? How do we get from place to place? Do I need a rental car? Passport expired? International driver’s permit? Hotels? Guides? Boats? Trains? Flights?  Baggage constraints?  These are the common concerns I deal with when planning a photography adventure.  Nate and I had gone to Alaska this past July for Brown Bears and I felt like I could handle this.

We are getting to the game a little late.  Typically, people plan these things a year in advance.  It is November 2015 now and we are planning on February 2016 for our arrival.  I need to get moving and make reservations or risk being shut out.


Day 1:

 I start by looking at a map of Japan.  I decide that i will try to go mid-February.  This is the height of the season and gives us the best odds for success.  I look at flights and get a sense of what to expect.  So you leave Wednesday night and arrive early Friday morning.  I know that I’ll be flying into Tokyo but what next?  I see that the Macaques are in Nagano—about  an hour and a half by bullet train from Tokyo.  These guys are pretty reliable and I’m not too worried about getting there as there are regular trains all the time.  The monkey’s like to come down each day to the warm, Onsen (outdoor hot spring) to bathe and take free food.  Sounds like a pretty good life.  Ok, so we’ll arrive in Tokyo early Friday morning, spend the day exploring and eating sushi.  Then, on Saturday, we’ll take a train up to Nagano and spend two days shooting the Macaques.  Simple enough.  Then back to Tokyo to catch our flight to Hokkaido for the eagles, owls, cranes, swans and who knows what else.  Then four days to get it done and back to Tokyo to catch our flight back to Vegas.  Should be enough time but, either way, I have to get home or risk losing support from my wonderful wife.  Did I mention that she’s amazing? 

I learn that one of the best places for the Steller’s is called Rausu.  It is located on a peninsula on the eastern side of Hokkaido.  I see that there are two airports not far from Rausu.  I choose Nakashibetsu Airport for it’s proximity.  


Day 2:

I need to secure plane tickets first, then hotels, then guides/boats.  I purchase my flight to Tokyo and then Tokyo to Hokkaido.  I rely on the internet for maps and reviews.  I can’t imagine not having access to the internet and trying to put this together.  After reading some more about the Nagano area, I decide on a hotel that has been around for many many years and is very close to the Jigokudani Monkey Park.  Booked.  I reach out to a couple of Japanese tour companies and ask if it’s necessary to purchase train tickets now.  Definitely not.  There are trains leaving almost every fifteen minutes from Tokyo.  Ok, next.  

 I look at flights from Tokyo to Nakshibetsu Airport.  There is a direct flight.  Perfect.  I call ANA Airlines and book the flight.  The return is also a direct and I’m on a roll.


Day 3:

Now, where to stay in Rausu?  It looks like the airport is about an hour and a half from Rausu.  Shit, the more I read, the more I see mention of a different airport that might be closer.  I run the numbers, it’s roughly the same time.  How will we get from the airport to the Rausu area?  I’m thinking we will need a car.  Ok, first lets book the hotel.  It’s now 11 pm and i’m in bed reading reviews. I read many reviews and decide on booking a hotel that looks and sounds great.  My wife thinks I’m asleep.  After I booked the hotel, I realize I may have made a huge blunder.  I already paid.  Whats the refund policy?  Fuck.  It appears that the area I booked in is only nine miles from Rausu but the two locations are separated by a mountain range and the road that connects them is closed during winter.  So, each day, the drive to Rausu would take forever and it is not the right way to do this.  To my wife’s surprise, I come out of my room disheveled and angry.  “I thought you were sleeping?”  “No, I really screwed this up.”  I explain the issue.  She doesn’t seem as concerned as me.  Back to bed to figure this out.

I quickly start looking into hotels in Rausu—not near Rausu.  I don’t care how nice the place is anymore.  I just need a bed and roof.  Everything is booked.  I can’t find anything available that week.  Because there aren’t many hotels to start with and every other photographer/birder in the world is focused on this area at this time of year.  Shit shit shit.  Finally, I find a website specializing in Japanese tourism.  I see that there is one room available at Rausu No Yado Marumi.  I book it immediately.  Lucked out with that one.  I initiate the cancellation at the other place and go to bed for the night.

Day 4:

I look at my passport and see that it’s going to expire in January 2016.  Great, one more thing that requires attention.  I go online to the US Department of State website and start filling out the good old DS82 renewal form.  I then head to Post Net for my new passport pictures.  My package is mailed off and now I wait.