Back at the Haneda Excel Tokyu Hotel it was time to meet up with my companions for the Zegrahm Expeditions Snow Monkeys and Cranes tour of Japan. It is a very popular tour that I have been hearing about for years and was obliged to book about three years ago. You can find the brochure <HERE>. The itinerary is summarised on their map.
Japan is a country of marked seasonality. This is a winter tour which will give access to some spectacular wintering migrant birds and it will also show the Japanese Macaques at their most photogenic. It is not the best time to see the smaller birds but you can’t have it all.
As well, one expects, from Zegrahm, excellence in tour leaders, great accommodation, at least two kilos weight gain from the good food and a stream of cultural insights. In short, the bird watcher can take his wife without laying himself open to criticism. In fact, you don’t even have to be a bird watcher at all.
The leaders on this occasion are Mark Brazil and Mineko Dohata.
Dr Brazil is an ornithologist and a prolific writer. He was once a professor at Rakuno Gakuen University in Hokkaido. Although that is no longer the case, any thought that he is no longer an educator has to be dispelled, he just can’t help sharing his extraordinary knowledge. He writes a nature column for the Japan Times and he has written the book on Asian birds. Originally a pom, despite which he is a lovely bloke, he has lived in Japan for much of his adult life. Mark has made major contributions to the understanding of speciation in Japanese convenience stores, not all of which seems to be allopatric.
Mineko-san is a nationally certified guide. She lives in Kyoto. Her English is impeccable. She manages to convey the impression of the archetypal Japanese woman, polite, deferential, shy whilst at the same time bursting with humour and personality. She, also, will educate us over the next few weeks. And she will translate for us, keep us out of trouble and ensure that we have our seatbelts on whilst travelling. Oh so modest, but oh so influential, by the end of the trip we were all wondering why she has not yet been listed as a living national treasure.
That evening we wined and dined. Next morning we flew to Kagoshima Airport on the island of Kyushu.