The Land of Snow Monkeys:

Snowflakes the size of rose pedals dropped from above adding to the three feet of snow already on the ground. Hell, it’s dark, cold and I’m lost again. This time I don’t really care as everything is a new experience and just beautiful.

This is really no surprise to the folks that know me. I can walk the back country for weeks with a topographical map taking direction from the sun but toss me in the middle of a city and I babble like a newborn.

My two main goals were to walk everywhere and not have one western meal in the six weeks that I was in Japan. My success rate on the first was pretty darn good and perfect on the second. I have a lifetime of being more successful in food related areas.

Just across the street I see an elderly man bundled tightly pushing snow near the wood gate of his home. He is looking at me with a cautious eye and right-fully so as I’m armed with my “Japanese for an American Idiot” card.

(Konbanwa) Good evening I say pretty pleased with myself.

(Hai) yes, notes the old man

(Hajimemashite) Pleased to meet you. The warmth of success is flooding me.

(Hai) yes, notes the old man

(Oneqai shimasu) Please help me. I’m feeling pure panic starting to set in.

(Hai) yes, notes the old man, this time with a hint of a smile.

I begin to point to the salmon colored card that has phrases in kanji hoping that I’m pointing to “I want to go to the Yanagimachi media village.” and not “Do you have a menu with pictures?” but my glasses are beginning to fog!

(Hai) yes, notes the old man pointing in almost the same direction I was heading.

(Arigato gozaimasu) Thank You

The offer for the 1998 team heading to Nagano, Japan came at the end of the Summer Olympics in Atlanta. The learning environment was tremendous if you were open to it both as a manager and the technology.

This type of work is not for everyone as the hours, emotions and details are daunting. Most rookies get sick in the first week and some never really recover from the experience, but the rewards can also be great.

What a difference two years makes. I traded my Leica cameras for a Mac laptop for work and the family as soon as I returned from Atlanta.

I was issued a wonderful Samsung broadband (the US was still messing with the thought of broadband at the time worried about the expense of conversion) cell phone that was crystal clear from downtown Nagano to Redlands. There were community computers everywhere to keep in touch with family.

I’m in the snow again, but it’s five in the morning and the flakes are smaller. It’s about a two mile walk from the apartment that has now become a morning ritual as many times during the week as I can make it.

The sound is beautiful filtering through the morning stillness. The bells mixed with the chants of the monks over morning meditation that echoes from the Zenkoji, a 7th century Buddhist temple sitting on the hill overlooking the city.

I like sitting on the steps below the giant bell because they are free of snow and you can look out over the small stone temples. You also don’t have to view the ugly CBS studio that was built to blend into the grounds of the Zenkoji.

The blending part didn’t really work. The other afternoon Al Roker was interviewing “Dave’s mom” from the Letterman Show. She was pretty darn funny behind the camera, Roker not so much.

It took less than four minutes for everything that I knew in twenty-fiveyears of photography to change.

It’s been a driving snow and the event postponed because of poor visability prior but Picabo Street is now rocketing down the “Super G” on a Shiga Kojen mountainside the photographer got one shot. He passed it to an editor transmitting behind him with a laptop to the office in Nagano. I relayed the image to the office in Arlington, Virginia. In less than four minutes you had the gold winning run on the website…old technology by today’s standards.

I’m in the snow again, more of an icy rain walking along a very narrow path next to the Yokoyu-River. It’s just a few miles into the Jigokudani Monkey Park also known as “Hell’s Valley” because of the boiling water and steam that escapes from cracks in the frozen ground.

It is an awesome sight crossing the bridge to where the snow monkeys play and warm themselves in the thermal pool. Just before crossing, a monkey jumps to the top of a snag as if providing the role of security scout.

There was mom, dad and kids huddling together in their matted fur coats as the flakes falling faster and thicker were forming a little white yamaka on those soaking in the steamy water.

The offer for the Australian Summer Olympics came towards the end of my stay in Nagano. This time they wanted my eldest daughter to come and help in the photo department and fill where needed. It was a wonderful opportunity to share this experience with my daughter.

My bags would remain packed for a six month loaner program taking me to Arlington when I returned home.

Unfortunately it all vanished just a few months later when the newspaper I was working for, was sold. It was the start of many things that would soon vanish in the industry.

(O kanjo kudasai)…bill please.

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