The Following is an excerpt of my December 2020 Published Article on Luminous Landscape.
No explorer with backpack and camera in hand can escape the consequences of the decisions they have made. Two shining examples are Edmund Hillary or perhaps the Donner party. My team and I know the axiom ‘Fortune favors the bold,' as we have all been tested by the elements. My current team and I came together in Japan, and we have spent over 20 years together chasing the light discovering the ultimate photographic landscapes, flora, fauna, and wildlife opportunities, illuminating every visual artist’s theme, putting boot to ground on over 300 of Japan’s 6,852 islands. We continue scouting as adventurers should and shall. In our years of scouting in Japan, some of the highlights have been photographing the Steller’s Sea Eagles, snow monkeys, Mt. Fuji, Geisha and Kyoto, Nara, working with the First Nation’s people of Japan, the Ainu, and the Tokyo all-night tour of the city’s glittering skylines and the Shibuya pedestrian crossing, the busiest in the world, and our travels have also led us to the Kumano Kodo, one of Japan’s still active pilgrim routes that’s history reaches back a millennium to arguably Japan’s most famous power spots, Mt. Fuji. Unique and exotic Japan is a wondrous paradise, especially to live, and for the visitor, it’s home to countless scenes of exotic Zazen. For example, photographing and exploring historical sights in Japan, or journeying on pilgrim routes that pre-date the Sengoku period of Japan which lead through the metropolis’ such as Kyoto, Osaka, Nagasaki, Kagoshima, Kanazawa, Nara, Sapporo, Hakodate, Hirosaki, and Hachioji, Tokyo, and to locations where all ranks of samurai, artisans, and pilgrims tread the same locations off the beaten path such as Nikko, Hakone, Kamakura or the Fuji Five Lakes among myriad other Japanese must-see locations.
Choices have consequences, as I mentioned earlier, and every extreme adventurer on average will spend at least a year hospitalized due to unforeseen events, sometimes as many as five or more. I’ve been lucky, as my total inpatient time has been capped at two years from several mishaps. Doctors have told me three times that I won’t walk right or even walk at all. I was in the category of an adventurer whose life expectancy was markedly shorter than the average human being. Mother Nature does not care which professional outdoor gear and goods sponsorships you have; your life can still be cut short by way of an avalanche or other act of God. While sitting in the hospital and then at home after my last mishap, thinking about my rehabilitation, I talked it over with my wife, Manami, “We need to try something different.” She replied, “A different…country?” I said, “No, let’s take an adventure on the other side of Japan, a healing adventure for the both of us.” We then discovered what would become our second home, the community of Echizenhama, where we moved into and helped completely renovate a 100-year-old kominka (traditional Japanese home). I knew the restoration would be arduous, and the only people qualified were traditional Japanese master carpenters, people who are the contemporary embodiment of generations of dedicated craftsmen. Individuals who have received the teachings as apprentices and understand the form and function of a nailless Japanese home with bamboo, straw, and fermented mud used as insulation and to improve structural support. The craftsmen are keeping traditional Japanese construction alive, which is becoming rarer and rarer, less than 5% of carpenters know this craft, and I have a feeling the concierge of the Zen forest intervened on our behalf to help keep the Japanese tradition alive for a little longer. These master carpenters tend to the structures around Japan’s power spots so people in Japan today can marvel at the Japanese dogma and dedication where the master carpenter’s trained eye tuned to every detail. And their commitment to their craft makes visiting castles, temples, shrines, and traditionally built homes possible in the modern age.
During my time spent at my Niigata base camp, it has been gratifying to explore and make it truly a place to call home. I started personal pilgrimages as Zen Buddhist monks, Shinto Priests, artisans, the samurai, local citizens, and even travelers from abroad such as William Adams, known widely as Samurai Williams, one of the few non-Japanese who had done so in the Edo Period. More than one kind of samurai has walked these ancestral paths throughout Japan, and I, myself, have been treading on the same samurai paths from past generations in search of inner peace and where the energy of Japan naturally resides, on pilgrim’s routes and focused in power spots, as on Sado Island in Niigata. Niigata is a prefecture in Japan where authentic Japan thrives, where samurai and Buddhist treasures are hidden from the eyes of ordinary tourists but on full display for people who know what questions to ask and what to look for. Sado Island specifically is home to the Kodo drumming troupe, which traces the routes of their power taiko drumming back to the origins of Japan itself. Not only musical expression, but Sado is home to untouched temples and traditions that have been protected since their inception into Japanese custom.
The concierge of Zen forest helps me find Japan’s energy and introduces me to the different possibilities that exist while photographing iconic Mt. Fuji, Hokkaido, or anywhere. Still, I felt most guided when they led me to Niigata. This sort of spirituality, or ‘flow’ as I sometimes call it, does not inhabit just one Japanese location. Many locations possess a singular sort of energy or flow, and I have spent more than two decades harnessing that energy to create still images and video that add quality and depth to my lives and those of the people who choose to stand with me and let the static and interference of the outside world fade away and honor the sentient beings and nature captured in our photographs.