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

David-Lazar_Bio Photo_Bali2Our 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.


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.


Luminous Japan Winter Photo Tour with David Lazar and Francis Ansing

There are three qualities that I value in a photo tour: organization, communication and opportunity. Looking back, now a month removed from the experience, I can honestly say that this tour with David Lazar and Francis Ansing exceeded expectations in all three categories.

Organization: From arrival to departure everything seemed to work well and go quite smoothly. This included our transfer upon arrival, hotel check-ins (and check-outs), ground transportation and our domestic air travel. We arrived at each site on time without having to worry about adequate time or light. Even with weather challenges we always felt safe and secure.

Communication: From the pre-trip information (The booklet we received prior to our arrival was an excellent source of information about what we might need and what to expect) to our day-to-day planning I always felt well informed about what we were doing and what was expected. During our travels David and Francis were very good about explaining each day’s agenda and goals. They were also very accessible and willing to answer whatever questions we might have (everything from food choices to shooting suggestions).

Opportunity: This was my first (and maybe only chance to visit Japan) so I was interested in both the sites and the culture of Japan. Our travel included major cities, small towns and the spaces in-between covering parts of the main island and Hokkaido. Over the course of the tour we were presented with opportunities for all types of photography interests – from street, to fashion, to wildlife, to landscape. Even when the weather posed some challenges there was always a Plan B.

Another opportunity that I appreciated was that this was not a ‘stand here, shoot that’ kind of tour. We were presented with a setting where we could participate as much as we wanted. Sometimes I enjoyed walking away from the group and looking for a different angle or perspective.

Finally, I appreciated the opportunities to learn more about and experience the Japanese culture. We were able to visit and photograph a number of historic sites and learn about their significance. We were also exposed to traditional Japanese culture through the food, a ryokan overnight stay, Geisha photo opportunity, etc.).

Was I happy with my tour choice? YES! I would highly recommend this tour to anyone considering a photography tour of Japan. –John Kalson, USA

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 embedded in Japanese art & culture, and the simply gorgeous Whooper Swan. 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 was FABULOUS! I loved it. David and Francis, and indeed James the driver/translator were so wonderful, and the group was amazing...The logistics worked very well, and all went swimmingly. The hotels were excellent... It was a truly memorable experience and I can't wait to come back on another LJ trip!” – Katie Garrod, UK

Skill Level – We genuinely welcome ALL skill levels

Tour Type – Small group photo tour workshop, 5 participant minimum, 10 participant maximum.* See T&C

Physical Difficulty – Moderate. It gets quite cold on Hokkaido. We usually experience temps from overnight lows down to 15 degrees Fahrenheit/-9 Celsius, to daytime highs around freezing.  Can be slippery in places, we recommend bringing ice cleats/crampons to be on the safe side

Transportation – Domestic flights to/from Hokkaido, late model vans or microbus w/ plenty of space. Note that Haneda is the best airport to fly in and out of. If not possible, Narita works fine, it's just less convenient

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 &

The Mystical Bamboo Forests of Kyoto

Surreal Minimalist Snowscapes of Hokkaido

Red Crowned Crane Sanctuaries & Whooper  Swans

The Wonderful People &  Fascinating Culture of Japan!

Itinerary Brief

Japan Photo Tour Winter Workshop

Famous street crossing in Tokyo taken on Japan photo tour from a high angleDay 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.

Mt. Fuji snowcapped with traditional Japanese attire in a nearby villageDay 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.

Swan Japan photo tourDay 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. 

Snow monkey in action taken on Japn photo tour workshop
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.

Japan Photo TourDay 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.

Kyoto Bamboo Forest Japan photo tourDay 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.

Tori Gate AnsingDay 9 – Sapporo – Asahikawa – Biei – Winter Wonderland

This morning we will depart the city 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 3 hour drive to Biei (via Asahikawa where we base for three nights), to photograph stunning winter landscape scenes. Explore the snow-covered landscapes this afternoon for striking minimalist scenes, and enjoy the sunset light falling behind patterns of tall pine trees.

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 – Lake Kusharo - Elegant Swans & Outdoor Hotsprings
This morning we return to photograph the Red Crowned Cranes, and in the morning the scene will be more active. The birds will be playing, squawking, jumping around, and performing their mating rituals as they open their wings, raise their beaks high into the air. We’ll continue on to Lake Kusharo, an expansive lake in the middle of a caldera, where many Whooper Swans congregate. These swans differ from the swans photographed by Mt Fuji, and have purely white faces and yellow beaks. Time permitting a final crane shoot en route to our hotel in Kushiro.  For your farewell dinner, a glorious Japanese style BBQ. Who wants Blowfish? 🙂

Torii Gates Japan winter photo tour
Day 8 – Kyoto – Hokkaido – Sopporo - Torii Gates and a Snowy Island
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 meander this ancient corridor. After checking out we take our flight north to the winter wonder wilds of Hokkaido island. After hotel check-in there may or may not be time to explore the city a bit before nightfall.

Japan photo workshop snow scape
Day 10 – Asahikawa – Konpira - Asahikawa - Journey to the Edge

Today we dedicate our shooting to a really fantastic shot – a large, red Torii Gate frozen over with ice, located on the Sea of Japan further north of Sapporo. This is one to enlarge and frame for sure. There will be a decent amount of driving today but it should be worth it for this unique, rarely photographed scene at Cape Konpira. We drive back to our hotel in Asahikawa to arrive in the evening for hotel and dinner.

Day 12 – Asahikawa - Kushiro – Legendary Red Crowned Cranes
Today we head off to explore Tsuru Itoh Tancho and photograph Red Crowned Cranes. In Japan these iconic white birds with black tipped wings are a traditional symbol of good fortune, longevity, and happiness. Only two thousand are left on earth, with half of them living on Hokkaido! Their height, their antics, and up to 8.5 foot wingspans makes photographing them a lot of fun.  For more info pleae scroll down to the "Better Pictures" section.

Day 14 – Kushiro – Tokyo - Departure & Fond Farewells
This morning there is time to sleep in and have a leisurely breakfast before flying back to Tokyo around mid-day. 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 hope to see you again soon for another Luminous Journey!

*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

 All accommodation

  Domestic return flight: Kyoto – Hokkaido; Hokkaido –          Haneda, 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


 International airfare

 Drinks other than tea or water @ lunches & dinners

 Any Personal purchases

 Trip cancellation or medical insurance

 Medical expenses

 Gratuities – porters, local guide/driver

  Japan visa fee (not required for most countries)

 End of trip gratuities for photographer tour leader

Getting Cultural

More Knowledge – Better Pictures

                                                                                                                    The Red-Crowned Crane

David Lazar - Japan Cranes Take Off (1)


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

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.”