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Japan Winter Photo Tour

Updated August 1st, 2019

2020 Japan Winter Wonders Photo Tour – Fully Booked

Join Adam Monk and Robert van Koesveld for 15 days of photo tour adventures in the rich diversity of Japan in Winter.  The 2019 winter tour to Japan was so awesome we are doing it all again, with a few tweaks to make it even better.  We are now spending 7 full days in the winter wonderland of Hokkaido, and we will be exploring much further afield to include the iconic Whooper Swans and Red Crowned Japanese Cranes.  Then onto the famous snow monkeys of Shibu Onsen.  We will contrast the snow-draped landscapes in Hokkaido with the complex beauty of Kyoto temple gardens in Winter, an intimate Tea Ceremony with a genuine Japanese Tea Master and an interlude with the real Maiko Geiko culture of Gion district. Japan is a marvellous mix of modern and historic places, stunning landscapes, culture and culinary delights.
  • 2020 Japan Winter Wonders Photo Tour 18 Feb – 3 March 2020
  • Just 8 places available – Fully Booked for 2020 – 2021 coming soon
  • Guided by photographers Adam Monk and Robert van Koesveld
  • Tour Price: 2021 TBA…  Twin Share
  • Single Supp available, see below for details
Japan Winter Photo Tour

Essential details

This Photo Tour is 15 days of surreal winter landscapes, history, culture and food in Japan.  The tour will begin in Sapporo, Hokkaido and will end in Kyoto.  The price is inclusive of all breakfasts and dinners, transport, accommodation, photography tuition and local Japanese guides.

This tour will be a lovely balance of minimalist snow-covered landscapes, wilderness and wildlife, including the Japanese Cranes, Whooper Swans and Snow Monkeys, historical winter urban-scapes; street photography, people, culture, and lots of great Japanese food, music and sake.  It is a fantastic tour seeing the other Japan, the Japan that exists through the winter.  Keep reading below to see the complete itinerary and details. Bookings are now open.

Tour highlights at a glance

  • 18 February – 3 March 2020.
  • Fully Booked for 2020 – 2021 coming soon
  • 15 days with 14 full days on tour in Japan
  • Snow covered landscapes and wildlife to exquisite ancient culture.
  • Maximum group size of just 8 guests
  • All your breakfasts and dinners on tour
  • Two full-time professional photographers, both with extensive experience in Japan
  • Itinerary written by us, the photographers, not by a travel agent
  • Native Japanese photo guides with extensive experience and excellent English
Japan Winter Photo Tour

Like to book this 2020 Japan Winter Wonders Tour

  • Fully Booked for 2020
  • For answers or pre bookings for the 2021 tour, email

The Winter landscape of Japan

Japan Winter Photo tour with Adam Monk and Robert van Koesveld

This tour is an opportunity to experience the visual and cultural richness of Japan at a pace tailored to photographers. You will be creating images as diverse as the minimalist landscapes of Hokkaido, nature up-close with the Whooper Swans and Japanese Cranes in the surreal winter environment, and the snow monkeys in central Honshu.  Add in the ancient traditions of the Japanese Tea Ceremony you have the perfect mix!

Finally, in Kyoto, Japan’s imperial capital for over a thousand years, we will take four days to explore the most interesting of their 1500 temples and the exquisite gardens, walk the narrow cobbled streets of the five geisha districts, and have a special private opportunity to experience and photograph the traditional artistry of geiko and maiko (as geisha and their apprentices are called in Kyoto).

Japan is a great place to slow down as a photographer and make more considered or reflective images. We can try to photograph stillness and solitude, warm light and shadows, spaces and their tensions. We will look for beauty and try our hand at photographic haiku.

Japan, the land of  diversity

Japan is a country of over 400 inhabited islands – four large ones and over 6,000 small uninhabited ones. To the west and north are China, Korea and Russia, yet Japan’s unique culture has evolved over the millennium from prehistoric to feudal to a modern economy.  Fascinating traditional elements live alongside rural and urban community life,  challenging the Japanese and foreigners to interact with the many sub-cultures that exist there.

Small Groups are better

Our group size for this Winter in Japan photo tour is just 8 people, plus Adam and Robert as photo guides and our wonderful local Japanese guides Dai and Akie.  Eight is an intimate number for a photo group, so it makes us agile as well as less imposing on the locals.

We can stay in the smaller more boutique Hotels and Ryokans (Japanese traditional Inn), eat in smaller more interesting restaurants and use a couple of small vans for our transport, instead of a big bus; in places like Hokkaido having a big bus is a real handicap and you simply can’t get a bus into some of the locations we will visit. This means all the big tourist groups are effectively excluded from most of our locations – great news for us!

The road less travelled –  by trains, planes & automobiles

Our transport for this tour is very diverse.  We have an internal flight to maximise effective time, we try out the astoundingly slick Japanese rail system, we use the metro in Kyoto and we have our own private vans in Hokkaido and central Honshu.  Basically we have chosen the most efficient and most comfortable means of getting around in the vastly different regions we will be exploring.  But you don’t have to worry about any of this, it’s all included in the tour and we make all the arrangements so you can make the most of the adventure.

No hidden extras

Japan Winter Photo tour with Adam Monk and Robert van Koesveld

There are no hidden extras on this winter photo tour to Japan.  There are no breakfasts or dinners that are not covered or nights you have to find your own hotel.  All your transport while on the tour, from the internal flight, express train tickets to local taxis and buses are covered as well as all your entrance fees to temples, gardens and National Parks.

The only meals we don’t cover in the tour cost are lunches, and that was a very deliberate decision on our part, allowing you to be flexible around the style of food you eat, including non-Japanese food – because too much of a good thing can get boring.

Having freedom over lunch also means that you can do a little exploring on your own at your own pace.  Of course if you are not comfortable at finding or ordering food on your own at first the guides are always there to help, and we need to eat lunch too, so you can always come and join us.

This tour begins in Sapporo (Hokkaido) and ends in Kyoto, so you just have to make your way to our Sapporo hotel and back home at the end from our Kyoto hotel.  Hotel and Airport transfers are very simple in Japan, and we will ensure you know how to get there by sending you complete written instructions before the tour begins, including Hotel names and addresses in Japanese script that you can show to the bus or taxi driver to remove any doubt.

Multiple nights means less time travelling and packing

Japan Winter Photo tour with Adam Monk and Robert van Koesveld

A common scenario for many tours is to squeeze as much into your time as possible, many destinations with very little time in each, and of course, constantly moving hotels!

We don’t do it that way.

We go to fewer locations, but we give you time to explore them. In most locations we are staying two nights, or even three nights, because getting to know a culture is not just about seeing as many temples as possible, it’s about having time to contemplate the age of the temple and the people who built it, and perhaps to even meet the people who maintain it.

This translates to lots more time actually seeing, experiencing and photographing the unique culture and beauty of Japan, and less time seeing it wiz past the window of the train or car.  When the days are full of new sights and great photo opportunities it’s so nice not to have to pack your suitcase every morning.

Should you go on this photo tour?

This winter photo tour of Japan is for anyone with firstly a love of adventure, and secondly a keen interest in photography.  It doesn’t matter if you are a seasoned professional or a complete beginner, all levels of photographer are welcome; in fact the diverse experiences of the group are an integral part of what makes these photography tours so much fun.  Experience as a photographer is by no means essential; we expect some participants will be very committed photographers while others will not. We think it’s more important that participants have in common the desire to experience the richness of a place and it’s people.

Japan Winter Photo Tour

What about non-photographers?

Non-photographers are also very welcome on this tour, whether as a partner to a keen photographer or people who just love the slower pace of travel that this photography tour provides.  Japan is an intensely beautiful place with deep rich culture in architecture, history, dress, language, religion and food, so there is never a shortage of things to do or explore.  And the great thing about photographers is that we aim to be at the beautiful locations at the absolute best times to see them.

We must warn you though, an obsession with photographing people and beautiful places is highly addictive.  You may begin as a non-photographer, thinking it’s not something for you, but by the end this may have changed…  You have been warned.

Japan Winter Photo tour with Adam Monk and Robert van Koesveld

Physical fitness

A basic level of walking fitness is essential, but this is not a hiking or trekking tour, so nothing extreme will be required of you.  We have several scenic walks in nature planned, and we will be visiting many stunning temple gardens, but all have well maintained pathways.  The walk to the snow monkey onsen is about 1km, and some of the hotels do not have lifts, so really the hardest physical test will be to climb some stairs occasionally.

To really experience Japanese culinary culture we will be sitting on the floor at low tables at some restaurants, and some of our hotels are traditional Ryokan style with tatami mat flooring and roll-out futon beds.  Generally if you find the bed a little hard there are plenty of spare futons in the cupboard you can roll out on top to make it softer and many hotels offer a western bed option.  Just let us know if you have any health issues or doubts and we will work around them.

An itinerary created by photographers, not a travel agent

Japan Winter Photo tour with Adam Monk and Robert van Koesveld

This itinerary has been researched on the ground in Japan by Robert, Adam, Akie and Dai, to ensure the best possible photographic opportunities.  As photographers we want the pace of our travel to allow time to find a suitable composition and whenever possible we want to be there when the light is at its best and stay when things are ‘working’.  The tour has also been carefully timed to avoid the busiest tourist periods in key locations.  Robert, Adam, Dai and Aki know these locations because they have been there and photographed there before. This tour itinerary has been created for photographers, by photographers… not a travel agent.

Photographic Tuition and priorities

Being a part of such a small group you will always be well looked after, with plenty of personal interaction and photography tuition, whatever your needs.

Some people just like to be taken to the great locations at the right time of day and set free to roam.  Others are looking for more guidance with everything from composition or how to approach locals for portraits, to getting the most out of their camera gear.  Robert and Adam will be running brief workshops and teaching presentations on a variety of topics, depending on time and demand, and will be shooting alongside you at each location, but your experiences and your images are always the priority.

With just 8 people in the group and the diverse experience of Robert and Adam, we will ensure you get exactly what you need.

Your camera gear

There is really no limit to what camera gear you take other than your ability to carry it. Everything from Digital SLRs, professional and consumer, simple point-and-shoot cameras, even medium format digital and film.  Whatever level of camera equipment you have, we will ensure you get the most out of it.  After you sign up for the tour we will send out a detailed recommended gear and packing list, and we are very happy to discuss the camera gear you have and how to best make it work for you.  No specialist photographic gear is required and if you are happy with your camera gear, it will work even if it is an iPhone.  Adam or Robert are happy to answer any questions you may have.

Like to book this 2020 Japan Winter Wonders Tour?

  • Fully Booked for 2020
  • For answers or pre bookings for 2021 tour, email

Japan Winter Photo tour with Adam Monk and Robert van Koesveld

Full Itinerary of 15 Day Japan in Winter Photo Tour 2020

Day 1:  18th February 2020 – Arrive in Sapporo

Japan Autumn photo tour 2019

We arrive in Sapporo from our diverse home locations, make our way to the group hotel with the clear instructions we will provide (including in Japanese script to show taxi drivers), check in, and relax or explore the neighbourhood around the hotel.  We choose our hotels carefully with nearby locations in mind, so there is lots to explore if you feel so inclined.  Later that evening we will all meet in the lobby and head out for our first dinner together and a briefing to begin the adventure.

Day 2-8:  19-26 Feb – Hokkaido winter wonderland

Japan Winter Photo tour with Adam Monk and Robert van Koesveld

Our strategically located hotel allows us a quick getaway this morning after breakfast (and an early morning shoot for those who are keen).  We will collect our vans in the early morning and pick up the whole group and our luggage from the hotel and head out to the snow blanketed wilderness of Hokkaido.  We will spend 8 days exploring the winter-cloaked wonder that is Hokkaido, a region of frozen lakes and stark naked trees alone in the minimalist landscape of surreal beauty.  This is where we can practise the photographic art of leaving things out, creating beautiful compositions with isolated and deceptively simple subjects.

Japan Winter Photo tour with Adam Monk and Robert van Koesveld

We have two comfortable minivans for our time in Hokkaido, so we have complete freedom to arrange our days to exactly what works best, without worrying about public transport timetables or working hours of drivers. The weather will be cold, but don’t worry, we will be providing you with lots of notes on what you will need to stay warm and comfortable, after all, there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing.  We will make sure you are well prepared.  One of our Japanese guides, Dai, lives in Hokkaido, so he knows exactly what to expect and how to prepare for it.  Between Adam, Robert and Dai we have an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of stunning locations around Hokkaido for the perfect shots.

Japan Winter Photo Tour
Whooper Swans and Japanese Cranes

With our extra days in Hokkaido we will be headed across to some spots that Robert and Dai scouted a couple of years ago (See Roberts images on this page) to see the Japanese Cranes and Whooper Swans up close without the usual crowds (big crowds…).  We are not especially wildlife photographers, so our focus is more the birds in their environment, Japanese winter landscapes with wildlife.  The objective is unique shots of lovely snow covered landscapes with the birds doing their thing, without the crowds of 600mm lens wielding bird photographers to compete with.

Japan Winter Photo Tour

At the end of each day we return to our snug warm onsen (traditional Japanese hot spring hotel) for a soak in a hot tub and some superb Japanese cuisine.  We spend 8 nights in Hokkaido staying in 5 separate locations, so you will have plenty of time to unpack and settle in.

Day 9-10:  26-27 Feb – Jigokudani Onsen – Snow Monkeys

Japan Winter Photo tour with Adam Monk and Robert van Koesveld

Today we drop off our vehicles and fly back south to the big island of Honshu where we will be picked up from the airport in a private van and spend the next 2 days in the beautiful town of Shibu Onsen in the Central Honshu region.  Besides being a 1300 year old traditional Onsen town with stunning cobblestone streets and wooden architecture, Shibu Onsen is also the closest point to the Jigokudani Onsen snow Monkey National park.   A truly unique location full of photo opportunities.

Japan Winter Photo tour with Adam Monk and Robert van Koesveld

We have a whole day set aside to do the lovely walk through the winter landscape to the Monkey Onsen and photograph the monkeys as they soak in the hot pools with very human expressions. This relaxed approach gives us the opportunity to really work on our technique and improve our images, as well as providing inspiration to each other from our own individual viewpoints.  No special camera gear is needed here, a medium telephoto lens is all that is required to get the classic portrait shots of the Monkeys basking in the hot water.

At the end of the day’s shooting we will return to our hotel and try the hot tubs for ourselves (without the Monkeys).  We are staying in one of the most exquisite Ryokan onset here for two nights, giving us time to unpack and relax and really enjoy the traditional Japanese style.

Day 11-14:  28 Feb – 2 Mar – Kyoto Winter beauty

Japan Winter Photo tour with Adam Monk and Robert van Koesveld

After breakfast we pack up and get to try out the justifiably famous Japanese railway system.  We will be catching a bullet train via Tokyo and then the express train directly to Kyoto, the elegant imperial capital for over a thousand years, this will be our final base for four full days.  In Kyoto we will discover some of the best little temples and gardens, walk the cobbled streets and meet some of the few remaining geiko (Kyoto’s geisha) and maiko (apprentice geiko), photograph them and experience their unique artistry.

Our time in Kyoto will bring us some of the best this city has to offer. Kyoto has many thousands of gardens, temples and shrines, it has beautiful cobbled streets and of course geiko and maiko.  The city is very popular and that can mean busy, so we carefully choose times when we go to the busier locations and seek out less well-known sites that are most rewarding.

Japan Winter Photo tour with Adam Monk and Robert van Koesveld

We will probably start with taxis up the hill to a splendid temple and then walk down gently through winding streets for an early lunch. I say ‘probably’ because we will adapt as needed to embrace opportunities that might arise and follow autumn colour as well. In the afternoon we have a teahouse location and opportunity to meet and photograph maiko and geiko and experience a tea ceremony. There are several locations to photograph in, and we will work in small groups.

The bamboo grove is a famous location in Kyoto and now usually too busy with the selfie crowd, even in winter. So we go to a different bamboo forest, which is typically much quieter and we also explore a wonderful moss garden nearby. This morning we will be accompanied by a kimono clad local to add an extra dimension to our images.

Japan Winter Photo tour with Adam Monk and Robert van Koesveld

In the afternoon we go to the Golden Temple choosing a day when it is usually quieter. Nearby is a very special rock garden.

On our last full day in Kyoto we start at the Eikando temple as it opens, then head to the magical Silver Pavilion. We come back along part of the Philosophers Path and  yet more stark winter beauty. In the afternoon there is some free time for last minute shopping, revisiting locations or whatever suits. We will help you make an individual plan and can join you carrying it out.

We end our time in Kyoto with a splendid group banquet dinner in one of Robert’s favourite restaurants.

Day 15:  3nd March 2020 –  Departure Day

Japan Winter Photo tour with Adam Monk and Robert van Koesveld

Today after 14 full days of adventure we have our final breakfast together in Kyoto before we go our separate ways, either to nearby Osaka Airport for our flights home or onward for more adventures in Japan.

** This itinerary is the plan. The actual tour may vary slightly due to weather, road conditions or other things beyond our control.  Either way, we will ensure you get the best photographic tour that we can provide and you will come away with fantastic images and memories that will last a lifetime.

The important details.

  • Dates:  18 February – 3 March 2020, 15 days on tour.
  • Fully Booked for 2020 – 2021 coming soon
  • Tour begins in Sapporo and concludes in Kyoto.
  • Just 8 places available
  • Tour Price: 2021 TBA…  Twin Share**.
  • Single Supplement: TBA…
  • Booking Deposit:  JPY160,000 (Approx AU$2,000)  per person.

**To book the twin share rate you must specify a room partner, as we cannot be responsible for pairing you with others.

What’s included.
  • 15 days in Japan, full 14 days on tour.
  • All ground transport for the duration of the tour, including taxis.
  • Internal flight from Hokkaido to Central Honshu.
  • All train tickets on tour.
  • All entrance fees to temples and national parks.
  • All you breakfasts and all your dinners of excellent local Japanese cuisine.
  • All your tour accommodation in Japan.
  • All photographic tuition and workshops for the duration of the tour.
  • Two professional photographers to help you get the best photos.
  • Highly experienced local Japanese specialist photo guides.
  • Extensive photographic notes to help you remember all you have learnt.
  • Fully functional Lightroom catalogue with Japan Keywords & Smart Collections pre-loaded.
What’s not included
  • Flights to and from Japan.
  • Japan Visa (if you require one, please check with your travel agent).
  • Initial transfer from the airport to the hotel in Sapporo.
  • Transfer to the airport at the conclusion in Kyoto.
  • Lunches on tour.
  • Travel insurance (required as a condition of booking).
  • Camera Insurance.
  • Alcohol and extra beverages.
  • Any extras you may wish to buy along the way.
  • Tips for local guides, although Japan is not a tipping culture.

Like to book this 2020 Japan Winter Wonders Tour?

  • Fully Booked for 2020
  • For answers or pre bookings for 2021 tour, email

Your Guides – Adam Monk

Adam Monk, Japan Photo tour Guide

Adam is an award winning landscape and travel photographer with a longstanding passion for the natural environment.  He has been travelling and photographing the world’s wild places for over 27 years and the enthusiasm just continues to grow. Until recently, Adam was based in his own landscape gallery in the port city of Fremantle in Western Australia for a busy 14 years.  His images can be found in numerous private collections all over the world.  For the last 13 years Adam has been organising and running photography workshops and photography tours to some of the worlds wild and beautiful places such as The Kimberley, Tasmania, Bhutan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Iceland and Greenland.

Your Guides – Robert van Koesveld

Robert van Koesveld - Japan Photo tour

Robert is a full-time photographer whose work is primarily involved with world cultures.  He has been interested in cultural travel all his life. Since retiring early from his psychotherapy practice he has concentrated on photography and travels extensively each year. Together with his wife, Libby Lloyd, he published a coffee table book about Bhutan (‘Bhutan Heartland: Travels in the Land of the Thunder Dragon’, Fremantle Press, 2010). His book Geiko and Maiko of Kyoto was published in 2016 and, in advance form, won the Australian Professional Photography Awards category of best Photo Book for 2015. Robert is interested in capturing ‘spirit of place’ and ‘peoples’ presence’ in a cultural context. He has led photo tours to Bhutan, India, China and Japan.  To see more of Robert’s photography click HERE>>

Your Guides – “Dai” – Daisuke Kondo

Dai, Local guide for Japan Photo Tour with Adam Monk and Robert van Koesveld

Dai has worked extensively in the outdoor adventure guiding field throughout Japan. He is a skilled photographer and is well tuned into what photographers are looking for as a guide.  He also knows Tokyo particularly well as he grew up there. He has worked with Robert on previous scouting trips and tours.

Your Guides – “Akie” – Akie Watanabe

Akie, Japan Photo tour guide

Akie has been a specialist guide for many years and has been a key resource for Robert’s Kyoto projects. She works predominately as a specialist individual guide and has extensive knowledge of Kyoto and the less visited places that suit photographers, as well as the ‘Flower World’ of maiko and geiko.

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