Japan Photo Tour – Winter Spectacular!
"Japan Winter Spectacular was a tour like no other... From unique opportunities to photograph the snow monkeys, to private photo shoots with a Geiko and Maiko, to the snowy minimalist landscapes of Hokkaido, every day was another exciting experience to get some amazing shots." — Caroline Leech, Ireland
Our Japan photo tour winter workshop is the only trip we offer that takes advantage of Winter weather, and because of that, is perhaps our most photographically stunning. We cordially invite you to have a look around and see if joining the fun and superb image making on offer is your cup of hot saké. The photo opportunities range from the frenetic, futuristic streets of Tokyo on one end, to the tranquil snow-scapes and elegant swans of Hokkaido. In between are lovely Geishas expressing life as art, playful Snow Monkeys, deep green bamboo forests, a legendary snowcapped volcano, graceful ancient temples, serene Zen gardens, colorful Torii Gates, and a whole lot more.
To help you get the utmost out of these many and varied photo opportunities, are renowned fine art travel photographer David Lazar, and brilliant landscape photographer Francis Ansing. Francis lives in Japan and is an expert on all things Hokkaido, among other places. Both gentlemen are outstanding photo tour leaders who always put YOUR image making above their own. It means a lot that you have entrusted them to guide you on this Luminous Journey, and maximizing your overall experience is their raison d’être. At least for the duration of the trip!
“David was a joy to travel with; often cracking us up along the way and, a fantastic mentor from whom I feel I learned a great deal. I really appreciated how genuine and generous he was sharing his knowledge and creative talent. I think my mom has unofficially adopted him!” — Lee Ann Birkenstock, USA
The culture shock kicks off in Tokyo with some fascinating street shoots, including neon night scenes. From Tokyo we drive to the village/lakes area below Mt. Fuji for two nights, and then spend one night in the mountain forest village of Yudanaka Onsen. This is where Snow Monkeys gather in winter to play and luxuriate in the natural hot springs. The scene is surprisingly little visited, and you will be able photograph quite close to them if you wish. Following this are three nights in exquisite, imperial Kyoto. Here we’ll have some exciting arranged "magazine" model shoots, architecture and more.
By popular demand, the last six days will be spent on the north island of Hokkaido, where some of the most surreal, minimalist snow-scapes in the world are to be found. Also to be found are the Japanese Red-Crowned Crane that is so imbedded in Japanese art & culture, and the simply gorgeous Whooper Swan. This year we have a special bonus, a photographic visit to the world famous Sapporo Snow Festival! The winter temperatures on Hokkaido range from Celsius -15 to 0, or a much warmer sounding 14 – 32 degrees Fahrenheit. No worries, we will offer detailed advice on clothing and photo gear for these conditions.
Accommodation on your Japan photo tour workshop will be modern, clean and comfortable hotels, with one night in a Japanese Ryokan with traditional onsen, or natural hot spring baths. High quality meals are all included on this trip, and sometimes there will be western options should you tire of Japanese cuisine. It’s so good though…
Japan Photo Tour Winter Highlights
The Amazing Streets of Tokyo
Resplendent Kyoto – Temples, Shrines, Zen Gardens, Torii Gates
Private Photo Shoots with Geishas & Kimono Clad Models
Snow Monkeys of Jigokudani Forest
Magnificent Snow Capped Mt. Fuji Lakes & Villages
The Mystical Bamboo Forests of Kyoto
Surreal Minimalist Snowscapes of Hokkaido Red Crowned Crane Sanctuaries & Whooper Swans
The Sapporo Snow Festival & Fascinating Culture of Japan!
Japan Photo Tour Winter Workshop
Day 1 – Tokyo – Tour Briefing & Streets 0’ Teeming
Meet in Tokyo in the afternoon for a tour briefing. Tokyo street photography in Harajuku follows. Then we move to nearby Shibuya to photograph patterns and moving crowds at the main Shibuya Crossing. First at ground level and then a high angle where we’ll play with slow shutter speeds. We can also try some lit street scenes later on, as no place on earth lights up like Tokyo. Special Welcome Dinner tonight, Japanese style. Naturally.
Day 2 – Tokyo – Fujikawaguchiko – Mt. Fuji & Chureito Pagoda
Morning street shoot in some more intriguing districts of Toyko. Then drive to Fujikawaguchiko, a small town near Mount Fuji. A great place for landscape photography using the iconic snow-capped volcano as both subject and backdrop. Lake Kawaguchiko is perfect for reflection shots in the normally crisp clear skies of January. Afternoon and sunset landscape and Chureito Pagoda shoots here.
Day 3 – Mt. Fuji – Iconic Landscapes & Shinto Temples
Sunrise and morning landscape shoots of Mount Fuji along a Kawaguchiko lakeside. Later in the morning we will visit Shinto Temple grounds where ancient trees with mossy trunks abound next to beautiful old temples and shrines. Enjoy afternoon photography at some different locations, including Nemba Samurai Village and Lake Saiko – where we will work as if on a magazine shoot with a traditionally dressed model for environmental portrait scenes. Dinner at a favorite local restaurant.
Day 4 – Mt. Fuji – Yudanaka Onsen – Swan Lake Meets Snow Monkeys
This morning we seek the resident white swans on Lake Yamanakako (Swan Lake) with Mt. Fuji backgrounds. Yudanaka Onsen is next, with lunch and a stop at Matsumoto Castle. Yudanaka is a very atmospheric mountain town near the Jigokudani forest, home of the “snow monkeys”. It gets lots of snow and has many onsens, (natural hot spring baths), including at our hotel. Rooms here are in the traditional ryokan style – spacious w/ en suite & full of Japanese charm and character. First snow monkey shoot this afternoon.
Day 5 – Yudanaka Onsen – Kyoto – Snow Monkeys to the Imperial City
Early morning to the Jigokudani monkey forest to photograph the snow monkeys who come to bathe and keep warm in the steamy hot spring. You can photograph quite close to these Japanese Macaques without issue, and there won’t be many tourists to avoid. Bring both zoom and wide lenses to shoot in this location, and we’ll shoot until our monkey hearts are content. We then hit the road southwest to the most beautiful city in all of Japan – Kyoto.
Day 6 – Kyoto – Of Temples & Geishas
This morning after breakfast we meet with our local Kyoto guide, Akie, who has great insight into this culturally rich city. First we’ll visit some picturesque gardens and temple with more than 1200 stone statues covered in moss depicting the disciples of Buddha. Very special afternoon private teahouse photo shoot with a Geisha and her understudy, known in Kyoto as Geiko and Maiko. They will perform a tea ceremony for us as well as a traditional dance.
Day 7 – Kyoto – Of Bamboo Forests & Architecture Traditional
There is a very impressive bamboo forest near Kyoto, and we will visit it early in the morning while it is still quiet and adorn it with a local model in kimono. We’ll shoot both natural and with a human element. Back at the hotel there should be time for an image review session. We’ll then continue to explore Kyoto including trips to the Golden and Silver Pavilions. If time permits we’ll take a street walk through the Gion district before our traditional Japanese dinner.
Day 9 – Sapporo – Yoichi – Otaru – Lone Torii Gate in the Sea
Morning drive northwest to Yoichi. Here is a unique opportunity to photograph a lone red Torii gate on a snow covered rock in the ocean. There will be plenty of time to set up our tripods and experiment using filters and slow shutters to achieve smooth blurry water effects with the main focal point of the Torii gate staying in focus. Explore the nearby picturesque town of Otaru. At dusk we will photograph a lovely canal with night lights reflecting in the water.
Day 11 – Asahikawa – Biei - Scenes of Solitude
A short thirty minute drive to Biei this morning to photograph amazing minimalist snow-scapes of snow laden hills, lone trees and small groves. We’ll continue landscape shooting into the late afternoon with an icy waterfall, and return to Asahikawa after a full day of landscape photography. We will visit many locations today and you will find the landscapes photographed here will be most iconic and very powerful to viewers of your Japan portfolio!
Day 13 – Kushiro – Elegant Swans & Outdoor Hotsprings
Today we drive to Lake Kusharo where many Whooper Swans congregate. These swans differ from the swans photographed by Mt Fuji, and have purely white faces and yellow beaks. Here we will also have access to shoot and take a bath in a hot onsen that is located by this very lake. After thirteen days of fantastic Japanese winter photography, there is nothing like a hot spring bath by a frozen lake! And in the evening, a little hot sake, followed by a glorious Hokkaido dinner. Who wants Blowfish?
Day 8 – Kyoto – Hokkaido Island– Torii Gates & a Snow Festival
Early morning shoot at Fushimi Inari Taisha where the hundreds of orange torii gates lead to a shrine at the base of a mountain. We shoot early here with our kimono clad models to beat the crowds. Robed Shinto priests also use this ancient corridor. After checking out we take our flight north to the winter wonderland of Hokkaido. This afternoon & evening we'll experience the fascinating Sapporo Snow Festival with it's colorful lights and array of remarkable snow sculptures.
Day 10 – Sapporo - Asahikawa– Journey to the Center of Hokkaido
This morning there will be a chance to see more of the white city of Sapporo, which will be layered in several feet of snow and the temperature here rarely gets above a few degrees Celsius. We will then make the 2 hour drive to Asahikawa where we base for two nights, to photograph many stunning landscape scenes. We will get to work exploring the snow covered landscapes this afternoon for striking winter scenes.
Day 12 – Asahikawa - Kushiro – Legendary Red Crowned Cranes
Today we explore Tsuru Itoh Tancho to photograph Red Crowned Cranes. These iconic white birds are a traditional symbol of good fortune in Japan. They are tall and elegant with black tipped wings and a small red patch on their heads. Photograph the large birds with your zoom lens as they open their wings, raise their beaks high into the air, and perform mating rituals as this is the right season to witness this.
Day 14 – Kushiro – Tokyo - Dancing Cranes and Fond Farewells
This morning there is time for another Red Crowned Crane shoot before we must depart and take a flight from Kushiro back to Tokyo. Some of you may wish to spend more time in Tokyo, while others will have booked your flights home tonight. The domestic flight will arrive to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, and included is a 1.5 hour limousine bus transfer to Narita Airport, or transfer into Tokyo if you are staying on. We bid you a very fond farewell for now, and will be in touch soon with behind the scenes images.
*Please note the above Japan photo tour winter itinerary is only a brief and subject to change. A 30+ page detailed schedule and information kit concerning traveling for photography in Japan will be sent to all participants approximately 100 days prior to tour start date.
What’s Included in the Price of Your Japan Winter Photo Tour?
Professional photographers and local guide fees
In-country flights: Kyoto – Hokkaido; Hokkaido – Narita, Tokyo.
Airport transfer on initial Tokyo arrival
All meals from Day 1 dinner through Day 12 lunch
Plenty of bottled water throughout
All entrance, zone and camera fees
Geisha and other local model fees
Drinks other than tea or water @ lunches & dinners
Any Personal purchases
Trip cancellation or medical insurance
Gratuities – porters, local guide/driver
Japan visa fee (not required for most countries)
End of trip gratuities for photographer tour leader
More Knowledge – Better Pictures
The Red-Crowned Crane
The Japanese Crane, or Tancho, as legend has it, is a mystical bird that can live for a thousand years. For millennia these large graceful birds have been imbedded in the culture of Japan, and represent longevity, good luck, and happiness. They are the subject of much folklore, and commonly appear in Japanese literature. Their images can be seen everywhere in the country, on paintings, photographs, fans, and even on the side of Japan Airlines jets. Of 2000 red-crowned cranes left in the world. 1,000 live on Hokkaido, where you will have the chance to photograph them.
The crane is also a symbol of hope in challenging times. A mother’s prayer for a sick child might well include words like, “Oh flock of heavenly cranes, cover my child with your wings.” A particularly touching story is that of Sadako, a 12-year old girl suffering from leukemia as the result of the Hiroshima bomb. Sadako set out to fold 1000 paper cranes in prayer that she would survive. Sadly, she reached only 644 before she passed. Her classmates completed the task and she was laid to rest with a wreath of a thousand cranes. A statue of Sadako holding out a paper crane was erected in Hiroshima Peace park. Each year to this day, thousands of such wreaths, called senbazuru, are made by visitors who come to drape them over her.
Japanese aesthetics are primarily a fusion of Shinto and Buddhist ideals, and are an inimitable part of Japanese thinking and culture. There are four essential lenses through which these aesthetics are seen – nature, objects, people and art. They are: Wabi-Sabi, Yugen, (mystery), Shibui, (subtle beauty), Miyabi, (refinement), and Iki, (spontaneous style).
Wabi-Sabi (侘寂) is a combination of two concepts aimed at perceiving beauty in the imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. Wabi is the concept of understated beauty, while Sabi is something that has aged well and offers the feeling of insight into the past. Sabi also speaks of solitude or loneliness. A minimalist photograph of an old lone tree on a plain of snow can be considered Wabi-Sabi, as it evokes feelings of simple beauty, solitude, and contemplation of the past.
It is said that Japanese aesthetics eschew the proverbial “shiny object”, which is not exactly true. Perhaps best explained by novelist Tanizaki Jun’ichirō: “We do not dislike everything that shines, but we do prefer a pensive lustre to a shallow brilliance, a murky light that, whether in a stone or an artifact, bespeaks a sheen of antiquity…We love things that bear the marks of grime, soot, and weather, and we love the colors and the sheen that call to mind the past that made them.”