Macaques, Monkys! Set 1

A friend of mine had taken photos of Snow Monkeys, the Japanese Macaques that bathe in the hot springs near Nagano a few years ago.  It inspired me to make sure I made the trip.  Since I was in Tokyo in February, I decided to append the last couple of days with an overnight stay in Nagano.  My wife was able to join me for the last week and we went together.

Sensor: Canon 6D
Location: Yamanouchi, Japan


The Macaques are located in an area known as Hell’s Valley because of the hot springs, but unless you were a monkey in the hot spring, it was hellishly cold.  I could have spent twice the time watching Macaques than only the four hours I was there.   Their social structure, facial features, and mannerisms make them so relatable to us.  These are the monkeys that have agrooming ritual, carefully inspecting each other for insects and other nasty things that might get into their long wheat color coats.  They even inspect each other in the pool, and take turns doing so.  (I suspect that some of the older, more senior members don’t have to do anything)  Some were just literally sitting in the pool with a look on their face as if they were in some Japanese spa.   Their faces getting redder the longer they spent in the pool.  There were close to 30 monkeys in the pool at the peak time.

When my fingers started to get numb, I tested to see how hot the water was, a little bit nervous though that the monkey next to me would bite my head off.  But they were fine with it, and I found the water warmed my fingers up in no time.   (41 degrees C)  But I realized a little bit later that some small brown dual semi-spheres floating in the pool weren’t nuts from a tree, but monkey bung, so I soon put an end to that.

Sensor: Canon 6D
Location: Yamanouchi, Japan


Less than 200 monkeys reside in the mountainous forest valley we visited.   The rest are around the valley floor near the river that runs through the valley grooming each other and looking for food.  The Macaques are used to seeing humans and are not bothered to see us going quite near them.  They will just go around you.  However the monkeys do not like it when you stare right into their eyes, as they will see this as a threat and can get aggressive.  But if you look through a camera its perfectly fine.  In fact you can put your camera merely a few inches from them.  I think an 85mm to 100mm prime with a min focus of < 12 inches could be used with great effect if you have a second SLR with you

Sadly I didn’t realize how close you could get to them near the hot spring.  I only brought my full frame body with me and I changed too quickly to my 100-400mm lens that has a minimum focus distance of about 6 feet.  I was actually struggling to get that far away from one of the larger monkeys sitting just a foot away from me.   I didn’t want to give up my choice spot that I had earned to take pictures.  The steam from the hot spring made it ideal for me to take shots of monkeys that were close rather than across the pool.  I was able to change back to the all-purpose 24-105mm zoom a couple of hours later.  (My wife had gotten too cold and took my camera bag with her to the warming hut) I also had to be careful as it was snowing quite a bit and I didn’t want the steam from pool melt snow on the lens.  I had left my lens hoods at home to save space.

Sensor: Canon 6D
Location: Yamanouchi, Japan


The trip could be done as a day trip from Tokyo, but it’s best to stay overnight.  It seems like most of the Macaques leave the spring around noon to go foraging for food.  Most of the photographers got to the site in the morning, where the regular visitors arrived in the afternoon.  It wasn’t bad, but prepare to wait with a lot of other photographers for the best angles.  It was snowing pretty hard, and I recommend wearing snow pants to sit in the snow, and using a plastic bag over your equipment if you have an expensive non-weather sealed camera.   It’s also a forty-minute walk up and down a hill so bring good boots.

BTW- if you were wondering about the title “Monkys,” that’s how it was spelled on the sign near the park.  You can see several more of the Macaque Photos on my flickr page.

If you have any questions about this trip, don’t hesitate to ask me.

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