When thinking of Japan’s volcanoes, international photographers think Mt. Fuji, and not of Hokkaido. Of course, Fujisan is Japan's most holy mountain and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which I am associated with, and Mt. Fuji is the most famous of Japan’s volcanoes. In my opinion, it is a must-see region. Mt. Fuji also happens to be an hour's drive from my first home and photo studio in Japan, and I know the region like the back of my hand. Almost every one of my Japan photo tours includes a trip to Fujisan and the Fuji Five Lakes. And my annual winter Hokkaido photo tour and my Hokkaido private wildlife photo workshops have a Fuji-san infusion. Truth be told, 10% of all active volcanoes on our planet are in Japan, and volcanoes make for an unforgettable photographic subject; also, without volcanos, we would not be able to enjoy soaking in the healing milky white hot springs after a long day of photography. And let's not forget the snow monkeys who depend on the warm hot springs and thermal vents when temperatures go below freezing; these volcanoes assure the survival of the Japanese macaque.
Hokkaido has some of the most active and impressive volcanic complexes in Japan, as well as some of the best hot springs. And before setting foot near an active volcano alone or with friends and clients, you can be sure I am checking seismic monitors for any volcanic activity, months, weeks, and hours beforehand. It is extremely rare that a volcano will erupt without warning. Japan has the world's most advanced geological volcanic monitoring system on the planet, so it allows me to monitor in as close to real-time as possible. Whenever I’m photographing near an active volcano on a Hokkaido Photo Tour or any Japan Photo Tour, my pro team and I take every precaution to ensure our clients and all in our group remain safe and protected so that all we take away from the mountain photo adventure is once in a lifetime photographs. This includes bringing along satellite phones, 3M N-95 masks for thermal vent gases that can sometimes be dangerous, and I bring along a slew of other safety gear. Due to our safety precaution protocols, the only thing I have ever needed from our emergency kit has been anti-itch cream for the occasional mosquito bite, and it's where I keep a full flask of 18-year-old single highlands malt whisky for when traditional safety protocols simply won’t do.
My fascinations with beautiful nature and the raw power of volcanoes, power points, locations which emanate energies and dynamic forces are like a magnet pulling me in, and there is always some being guiding me, a being who I often refer to as "the concierge of the Zen Meditation forest or mountain.” I actually believe this spiritual concierge could be a Garuda or Tengu or one of the hundreds of holy spiritual animals or other mystical beings from Buddhism and esoteric philosophies. I was raised Cree First Nations Canadian just South Of Churchill; my family and I are wildlife adventurers, and when I was six years of age, my lessons of the natural world began by spending up to two months a year canoeing in summers with my family and learning from nature, family and the First Nations People of Canada, who represent another branch of my family tree. The First Nations People of Canada, the Cree, and other first nation peoples globally consider me a warrior, Buddhist, and yet also a pacifist.
The set of five images below are all volcanic in nature. The first is a huge steam vent about 161 feet (60 meters) high; when my clients and I were approaching the volcano, the vent went off with a loud steam vent blast, if only I had a video. When you look at the second image, you can see what appears to be a mystical being? "I will leave it to you to decipher!” After I took these images, the volcano, close to the foot of Mt. Fuji, started to become seismically unstable, and three days later, the volcano had several eruptions. The third to the fifth images were taken a few days after the volcano erupted, and on one of these days, we wore oxygen tanks and heat suits and entered the volcanic field, where lava was close to the surface; we entered because we thought the lava was going to break the surface and that would have been cool, or should I say, hotshot? Unfortunately, the concierge could not help us that day, and the lava never broke the surface. However, the volcano was being watched intently, and the Japan geological agency designated the areas surrounding as being on ‘high alert’ for over half a year; only then did the grumbling volcano return to its slumber.
In Hokkaido, I have been exploring the Akan Volcanic Complex for several years, and in 2021 we were going to snowshoe up to one of the craters, about a 90 minutes hike to where the volcano breathes and spits out yellow sulfur onto the white snow creating an alien-looking environment. This is a holy place for the Ainu, and my long time good friend from the First Nations people of Japan the Ainu will guide us up. I know by 2022 and our annual winter Hokkaido Photo Tour expedition, we will be offering this snowshoeing adventure, and for those who wish not to snowshoe up up a sacred volcano can relax the day at our 5-star accommodations, which is like a huge museum and is home to hundreds of Ainu wood carvings, and dozens of shops, two of which are North Face shops, and there are dozens of healing hot springs baths open 24/7 for our comfort and believe me there is nothing like soaking in the healing hot springs after a long day of photography or any time of day.