Grand Teton Photography and Field Guide

The Essence of Japanese Autumn Photo Tour
October 18th 2020 - October 29th
Hosts Blain Harasymiw and Daryl L. Hunter

River Japan Autumn

Because of the 24-hour news cycle, I sometimes feel overwhelmed with the constant media updates and incessant advertising.  Spending almost a month in the African Bush on a photo expedition was the perfect remedy.  I felt so refreshed that I promised myself that every so often I would plan an escape to a different corner of the world where I could change my latitude and create a new experience.  The photographic marvels of Japan: the snow monkeys, natural landscapes, and, of course, the iconic Mt. Fuji are my next destination, and I hope that you will join me.

As fall descends on Japan, so does the phenomenon known as “kōyō,” translated as autumn leaf color.  Kōyō is part of what makes Japan so attractive for visiting photographers.  Every year, the Japanese countryside slowly transforms from lush, verdant green into the golden and burnt-orange of the ginkgo and zelkova trees.  The momiji, or Japanese Maples, also slowly shed their summer colors for the brilliant reds, striking yellows, and bright oranges of their fall season incarnations.  Japan purportedly leads the world in deciduous splendor, boasting 26 species of trees famed for their autumn colors, and although you may know many of the varieties, my colleague Blain Harasymiw and I will introduce you to a few of rarer varieties in the kōyō family.

Autumn Waterfall

The Essence of Japan Autumn Photo Tour includes many must-see locations around Japan.  Blain Harasymiw and I will lead you on some of the same ancient pilgrim’s routes that samurai, monks, and artisans have used for hundreds of years.  The experience will be humbling as we embrace the culture and photograph the ancient villages and majestic landscapes.

Day 1 - 5, Sunday - Thursday, October 18 - 22: Arrival and meet Tokyo Haneda Airport, (HND), place to be announced to participants.  We will journey as the artisans we are, with camera in hand along the most spectacular autumn-colored pilgrim’s route on our planet.  Buddhist monks, samurai, artisans,  as well as, The Ainu, The First Nation’s People of Japan, have pilgrimaged the same route for thousands of years.  After arrival in Niigata, the adventure begins in Yuzawa.  Beautiful highlands and autumn leaves await you.  Perfectly composed natural scenery with the still waters framed with scintillating Japanese Maples in red, yellow, and orange await you, and, to further perplex your vision, you will gaze upon the Japanese Purple Maple.  The next morning will include a trip to the spectacular rice terraces for a photographic encounter during the blue into the golden hour sunrise.  Hoshitouge Tanada is one of the five most beautiful rice terraces in all of Japan.  In span of one hour, from blue hour to sunrise, your view of the rice terraces will dramatically change.  The sky will slowly brighten from a dark blue to brilliant orange, but the mountains, forests, and the terraces themselves will remain shrouded in fog banks.  As the sunlight reaches the valley, the fog slowly dissipates, and the radiance of the sun dispels the magic of the valley of dragons, and the trappings of humanity reappear.  The next stop will be Akiyamago.  Blocked by the steep Nakatsu River Valley, development has been delayed here making it a secluded region steeped in the traditional, old-fashioned way of life.  The natural seclusion provided protection for outcasts who fled from the forces of the shogun, Tokugawa.  See the modern day incarnation of this immaculately preserved natural habitat.  Your photos will be separated with the higher altitudes yielding snow-capped peaks and the lower portion and foreground of your photos will be graced with autumn leaves.

Macaques in Autumn, there are more things to see in the Alps of Japan than the explosion of color of Kōyō

Day 6 & 7, Friday & Saturday, October 23 & 24: After our visit to the valley of the dragons, we will take the meandering scenic route to the Myoko Mountain Range where you will have the opportunity to experience the traditional Japanese community lifestyle.  We will follow the paths laid out in the oral traditions, rediscovering the myths and legend in the present day.  After two days focusing on waterfalls, ponds, and exploring one of the most beautiful forests in all of Japan.  Afterwards, you can soak in the milky white hot springs in the evening time to refresh yourself for another day filled with amazing photos.

Day 8 & 9, Sunday & Monday, October 25 & 26: The Japanese macaque is a terrestrial Old World monkey species that is native to Japan. Jigokudani Yaenkoen was established in 1964 in the highlands forest of the Jigokudani valley in Yamanouchi, and to this day, offers a unique experience to photograph and visit with these wild Japanese macaques.  We will enter Snow Monkeys territory in Jigokudani Joshinetsu-Kogen National Park, where you will have up-close and personal encounters with wild Japanese macaques as they relax in the hot springs to offset the cool autumn temperatures, and the time you spend there will be at the peak of mating season.   These are not docile primates as you see during the winter due to the cold temperatures.  The mating instinct is running high in the snow monkeys, and your workshop instructors Blain and Daryl will have you prepared for this once in a lifetime encounter.

Day 10 & 11, Tuesday & Wednesday, October 27 & 28: For centuries artisans have been mesmerized by Mount Fuji and its breathtaking beauty. Autumn is especially mesmerizingly beautiful, with lavish displays of vibrant fall foliage and the legendary Japanese maple tree in red-yellow and orange. By daylight or moonlight, Blain and Daryl guarantee that Mount Fuji will capture your heart and imagination, that no one picture that you take will express the zen emotion that will overcome you. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but it will take a thousand pictures to express your one emotion of photographing autumn in Mount Fuji.

Day 12, Thursday, October 29:  After breakfast at our lodgings near Mt. Fuji, drop off and departure at Tokyo Haneda International Airport, (HND).

Why Choose This Photo Workshop

  • Any level of photographer is welcome
  • All camera formats are welcome: digital, handy-cams, scoping with iPhone large format, film, etc 
  • Professional photo instruction available when requested [included]
  • Photograph Japanese cultural and architectural masterpieces
  • Visit the Snow Monkeys without dealing with the freezing cold
  • Activity level varying from leisurely to moderate
  • Provided transportation: Sports Utility Vehicles with Business Class Seating; hence, not trains.
  • Small group size means quality, in-depth time with your workshop leaders  
  • All questions are welcome and encouraged throughout your adventure
  • Each morning and evening, we will discuss our best shooting options with our weather conditions in hand, so that we will be well prepared.
The Ruby Garden

Tour Cost: $8,900.00 Includes all lodging based on double room occupancy 3-5 star hotel, Single Supplement: $1,400 USD, all breakfasts, and dinners, all group ground transportation in sports utility vehicles with business class seating, all entrance fees, all donations at temples and shrines, professional photography guide instruction with two instructors, a detailed itinerary with clothing and gear recommendations.

Not Included: Flights to JPN and from JPN, alcohol beverages, travel health insurance, lunches, items of a personal nature.

A deposit of USD$1000 per persons, will reserve a place for you on one of our tours/workshops.
Or you can simply pay in full now.

Once booked you will be sent a tour member information form to fill out, and instructions on completing the remainder of your payment.

Travel Insurance highly recommended.

Meet my tour partner Blain Harasymiw

Blain Harasymiw, Japan photo tour expert
Blain Harasymiw
I never thought I would call Japan my home, but after 22+ years I understand the beauty and appeal of Land of the Rising Sun. Part of my affection for Japan stems from my bride, Manami who introduced me to the essence of this magical land. As an amateur historian and sociologist, the uniqueness of Japan’s past captured my heart and soul, bonding me to the society and culture that is now a part of me. This society has embraced me, and I am no longer a visitor, I have recast myself as a cultural hybrid, always updating my identity with the rich cultural information from the past into the present, and, invariably, the future.

My photography expeditions and assignments have taken me around the world, and my images have been internationally published.  Wildlife Videography is another medium that I am accomplished working in.  And as the medium of photography has evolved, so have I, adding a digital leaf to my photographic portfolio.  

However, I am the happiest when I am chasing the light during a photography workshop to capture that once in a lifetime photo.  To visually and emotionally experience a culture and society, a professional photographer is the ultimate way to do it, and I will deliver a perspective of Japan you could never have imagined being possible.

Too often I see photographers focusing on one, or possibly, two themes.  As a teacher of the visual arts, I feel this is a catastrophic mistake.  As the zen master, D.T. Suzuki said, “I like zen because everything is zen.”  My vision is to explore and always experience life with the beginner’s mind.  A beginner sees myriad possibilities in each theme and pursuit, and that is the mindset I bring to each project I participate in.  Many colleagues and fellow photographers feverishly hold onto their pride and feel that because they are experts, they know the best expression of a theme and therefore limit the potential of the photographic subject.  My goal is to discover the emotion, the personality, and connection expressed in the subject to myself and fellow visual artists.  That subject can be wildlife, landscapes, flowers, or street photography. Virtually anything that has light cast upon it can be that subject, even if I am the author of that light source.

A moody Mt. Fuji

Blain and I

Blain and I made contact after returning from my first trip to Japan in 2015.  The portfolio of my photos taken there must have had an impact on him.  I have been an avid follower of his unceasing travels on over 200 of Japan’s 6,852 islands.  His photographic portfolio can be summarized in one statement: “been there; done that.”  However, Blain’s ‘beginner’s mindset’ means that he keeps discovering new elements to locations that he has visited hundreds of times.  My curiosity about his interest in Japan culture and integrating himself into it is a large part of why we have connected as colleagues.  With 22+ years of photography experience leading Japan Photo Tours, he doesn’t need my help, but together, I know we can discover something new and amazing.

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Japanese Autumn Slideshow
By Blain Harasymiw

Secure your spot and make a deposit

Feel free to e-mail me or call if you have any questions

After our tour, I will return to the Izu Peninsula to a photographic subject from my first visit.  Although early for that elevation, I hope to capture some early autumn color at sea level.  While there during May 2015, I marveled at the Japanese landscape, much of which is rolling hills or mountains covered with deciduous trees.  Autumn means one thing in this part of Japan, a color explosion.  There may be an option to join me for another adventure.  Take a look at Japan from my previous trip. ~ Izu Slideshow