Snow Monkeys

After spending a few days in Tokyo, Khoa and I took the shinkansen over to Nagano to see the snow monkeys. Technically, they’re called “Japanese macaque,” but everyone knows what you’re talking about when you say “snow monkey.” Khoa had wanted to photograph them for a long time, so I’m glad that we were finally able to make it out to Nagano. Unfortunately, April had already come to melt most of the snow, but it was still really exciting to see the monkeys lounging in the onsen even without a background of white.

We went to the Jigokudani Monkey Park two days in a row. It was pouring rain the first day, so I did my best to hold our flimsy clear umbrella over Khoa (and his camera) as he excitedly took pictures. It didn’t do much good because Khoa was more focused on taking the best possible picture than staying dry. He kept moving out from under the umbrella to capture a shot as I frantically tried to catch up to keep him from getting soaked to the bone.

We were fortunate to wake up to sunny skies the next day. After hiking for about twenty minutes, we arrived at the Monkey Park and were greeted by very energetic monkeys. They seemed to perk up thanks to the nice weather.

The monkeys aren’t bothered by their human visitors at all and barely interact with them. I say “barely” because while Khoa was standing next to a trio of baby monkeys, one reached out and monkey slapped Khoa’s leg. I couldn’t stop laughing! Other than occasionally monkey slapping park patrons, the macaques seem happy to just lounge around or play amongst themselves, allowing photographers to get very close.

Khoa and I loved visiting the Jigokudani Monkey Park and we hope to be able to go back again. Maybe Khoa’s monkey friend will remember him and give him a little slap for old times’ sake.

365 photos in 365 days: Photo #290

Hey everyone!

Sorry for the delay in posting photos for our blog. A month ago I was kind of getting burnt out on this daily photography project. One reason is that everything outside looked dead or brown. I probably should have tried my hand at other shooting techniques but the constantly cold weather and rain kept me inside and feeling uninspired. After going on vacation with Michelle and shooting a lot over the past week, I am feeling reenergized and ready to take on my daily photo project once again. Instead of cheating and posting a bunch of hastily taken photos to make up for the past four weeks, I’ve decided to push back the end date of my photo project to June 17, 2013.

So with out further delay here is Photo #290!

Location: Chibu-mura, Shimane-ken, JAPAN
Location: Chibu-mura, Shimane-ken, JAPAN

Sakura Showers

Last week, Khoa and I took a trip to Tokyo. I was determined to see some sakura, so even though it was raining, we negotiated the puddle-filled streets to visit Shinjuku Gyoen.

I’d like to be able to take credit for these shots, but this is all Khoa. But I was the official umbrella holder while he was shooting, so maybe I get +1.

365 photos in 365 days: Photo #259-#283

I’m BACK! hahaha!

Sorry it took me 24 days to update our blog. To be honest after we came back from our Hokkaido trip I got lazy. I still took my pictures but I just didn’t have the drive to post them on to wordpress. I’m sorry! But here are my photos! I hope you enjoy them! Sorry for making you wait 24 days!

Sapporo Yuki Matsuri!!!

Sorry this took so long to post! Here is the recap of our trip to Hokkaido! Also sorry that this post is super long!


Last week, Michelle and I went to the Sapporo Yuki Matsuri in Hokkaido. This is a weeklong event celebrating everything cold and is filled with snow sculptures, ice carvings, and lots of food.

Our vacation started with a two and a half hour ferry ride to the mainland, followed by a four-hour bus ride to Osaka. After traveling for six and a half hours to get to Osaka, we stayed the night and had some great Chinese food for dinner. The following morning we took a 45-minute bus ride to the airport, followed by an hour and a half flight to Hokkaido and a four-hour bus ride to our final destination, Niseko!

 Niseko is made up of four different villages: Niseko Annupuri, Niseko Village, Niseko Grand Hirafu, and Niseko Hanazono. Before our trip, I did a lot of research on where to stay and snowboard and I chose Niseko Village. Niseko Village only has two hotels on their part of the mountain, the Green Leaf and the Hilton. I chose the former over the latter because the Green Leaf seemed more relaxed, less crowded and had an outdoor onsen (natural hot spring).

 The Green Leaf hotel was awesome and far exceeded our expectations. The room was clean, the view was beautiful, and don’t forget about their outdoor onsen! The staff was very friendly, spoke English and helped us with every question we had. Not only was the hotel right in front of the lifts, but we were also able to rent our snowboards from the hotel. It was so convenient and made our snowboarding experience hassle-free.

IMG_0560When we finally settled into our room, Michelle and I had a very big discussion… do we stay in the hotel the following morning and watch the 49ers (our team!) play the Ravens in the SuperBowl or do we skip the big game and go snowboarding. We couldn’t decide what we wanted to do and we honestly discussed this all night. After we had dinner, we decided to just wake up early in the morning and talk about it over breakfast. Even after breakfast we couldn’t decide what to do. I really wanted to watch my favorite team play, but I also really wanted to go snowboarding. Luckily, Michelle checked the TV guide and saw that one of the channels in Japan would replay the game in the evening! Off to snowboard we went!

 OH MY GOD! The snowboarding in Hokkaido was incredible. If you love snowboarding and you are able to visit Japan some time, then go to Niseko. Michelle and I got a day pass and we were able to access all four parts of Niseko. It was so amazing! Freezing, but amazing! Here are some pictures from the snowboarding part of our trip!

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 After a morning of snowboarding, Michelle and I went to the outdoor onsen. Of course being a traditional onsen, the male and female areas were separated. The coolest part of the hot spring was that it was outside, surrounded by snow. Since we hadn’t snowboarded in over a year, we decided to take a mid-afternoon break, soak in the outdoor onsen while it was snowing and then hit the slopes again once our muscles relaxed a bit in the hot water. Sitting in a natural hot spring after snowboarding, watching the snow fall was the greatest feeling.

After another round of snowboarding and another dip in the onsen, Michelle and I went to dinner…an all you can eat buffet! Most of the food was standard buffet fare: sushi, soup, salad, and random types of food. But the thing that made it worth every yen was the lamb and snow crab! Michelle and I ate ourselves silly!

 The next day, we caught a bus and train to Sapporo. We were finally on our way to see the snow festival! To add to our excitement, the train ride was beautiful! I wish I took some pictures for everyone but instead I chose to have some fun playing Battleship and Yahtzee with Michelle while sneaking peeks out the window of the train!

After we reached Sapporo, we checked into our hotel, showered, and relaxed a little before we went out to see the ice sculptures in the Susukino area! It is amazing what people can do with blocks of ice! Words cannot do them justice, so take a look at some pictures!

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After walking around the beautiful ice sculptures, we went back to the hotel. The weather was freezing but it was all worth it.

The next morning we had breakfast and headed to the main event of the snow festival. Michelle and I were really excited for what was to come but we didn’t expect the festival to be as awesome as it was. Take a look at the sights that took our breath away:

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After seeing the 13 city blocks worth of snow sculptures, Michelle and I got pretty hungry… and cold. So we left and decided to go have some yakiniku (Korean BBQ). It wasn’t just any ordinary yakiniku… it was LAMB, grilled ourselves at our table! It was sooooo good, just like everything else we had been eating! We left the restaurant with a smile on our faces and full bellies. We made our way back to the hotel to warm up before our night adventures.

At night, we went back to the same area to catch a night view of the snow sculptures.

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After a couple of days of nice weather, Sapporo decided to show us its true side and sent a lot of snow and wind our way. We braved the snow the best we could and went out to look at the ice sculptures during the day. Boy was that a bad idea. Not only was it cold and snowing… I got in trouble for being so close to the ice sculptures because the area is a road in the daytime. Michelle was laughing and taking pictures of me before I got in trouble.

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For dinner that night, we wanted to go to a really famous all-you-can-eat buffet, but we were turned away at the door because all the seats were reserved. Disappointed, we walked around for a little bit trying to decide what and where to eat. We stopped by a lot of restaurants to see the prices, but all of them where out of our price range. Then by chance, we stumbled across an Italian restaurant serving 200 yen oysters and an all-you-can-drink menu! Hokkaido is famous for oysters (and I loooove eating oysters…and all-you-can-drink), so we decided to eat there. The food was incredible! They served the freshest oysters I have ever had and probably the best pizza I’ve ever had, too.

After an awesome trip to Hokkaido, we slowly made our way back to Chibu. It was a long trip back by train, plane, bus, and boat, but doing a lot of traveling to our destination made our vacation that much more enjoyable. Having that excitement building up and talking about what we were going to do was really great! It was nice to just have idle time to talk with each other without many distractions, too. This was the best vacation Michelle and I have ever taken. If you ever have the chance to go to the Sapporo Yuki Matsuri, DO IT! You will not be disappointed.