A trip to Japan is an experience of a lifetime. To explore and discover this exotic country and meet its gracious people through photography is a transformational journey.
Japan is strangely familiar and utterly strange. Mythical traditions, futuristic cityscapes, Zen gardens, bullet trains, holy mountains, public hot springs, sake and sushi, bamboo forests, geisha dancers, tranquil temples and shrines, tea ceremonies, traditional artisans, Buddhist monasteries and a land of respectful and polite people await you.
Join Jennifer Spelman on her third trip to Japan to experience and photograph iconic as well as hidden Japan in beautiful winter light. Accompanied by a local guide, our itinerary gradually reveals the rich variety of Japan as you visit the well known and the little seen parts of Tokyo, Koyasan, and Kyoto.
We begin our adventure in the vast city of Tokyo. The electrifying energy, the skyscraping architectural marvels, the neon frenzy and vibrant colors of the city lights at night are all interpreted with our cameras. From our hotel, we explore the city with carefully timed morning visits at first light and nighttime excursions to visit Shibuya Crossing, Ginza, Shindome, and Mori Tower. Street photography becomes our focus as we navigate Takeshita Street. Hie Shrine offers iconic red shinto gates, purification fountains, and other traditional elements. A short train ride brings us to Yushima Seido, a Confucian temple. In stark contrast to Hie Shrine, this temple is painted black and imposes a bold presence on visitors.
After two full days in the pulsating megalopolis, we are transported to a different world by train and cable car. Atop sacred Mount Koya, surrounded by a thick forest of towering cedars, is the ancient village of Koyasan. Settled 1,200 years ago as the center of Shingon Buddhism, small and secluded Koyasan remains a spiritual center today. Here we experience a taste of a monk’s simple lifestyle as we swap our shoes for slippers, eat vegetarian cuisine, sleep on futons over tatami mats and attend morning prayers. We have the time make new photographs as well as edit our images from Tokyo and share them with Jennifer and the group in an image review.
Recharged and ready for new adventures after our two nights in Koyasan, we travel to Kyoto—City of Peace and Tranquility. Considered by many to be the spiritual center of Japan and one of the world's most culturally rich cities, Kyoto is home to 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites, more than 1,600 Buddhist Temples and over 400 Shinto shrines. In parts of Kyoto, we find Japan as it was centuries ago. This is the city where many of things we think of as authentically Japanese were born or perfected – the court culture, kimonos, tea ceremonies, geishas, the fastidious attention to detail, haiku-writing priests, the artistry of living a humble life, samurai, and the extraordinary cuisine.
Highlights of our time in the imperial city are visits with traditional artisans in their studios and an afternoon and early evening spent in a geisha’s life. The geisha in Kyoto do not refer to themselves as geisha; instead, they use the local term geiko. While the term geisha means "artist" or "person of the arts", the more direct term geiko means essentially "a woman of art." We slip behind the mask and step into a geiko’s private world. We meet, share tea, and discuss her training and present-day life. We make portraits of her in this informal setting, then meet again as night falls and photograph her in full splendor as she moves through the lantern-lit back streets of Gion.
As our time in Japan nears its close, we edit our photographs for a final image review. For our final evening together we celebrate our many experiences in Japan with a special group dinner.
Throughout the trip Jennifer shares her photographic knowledge and technical skills in frequent group sessions as well as one-on-one time with each participant in the field. She focuses on the special aspects of traveling with a camera and the unique access it provides, especially in a place so unusual and unfamiliar to U.S. travelers.
Japan is at once modern and ancient, sacred and profane, resounding and silent, transparent and circuitous. To travel to exotic Japan for the first time is a once in a lifetime trip. Join Jennifer for the journey.