I have mapped nearly every road, path, and trail in the regions where I lead Hokkaido Photo Tours. Part of the reason is that I love adventuring into Hokkaido’s wild frontier, and the second is that I’m a Hokkaido local. Knowing a region and feeling comfortable with it from top to bottom are two contributing reasons why I offer Japan Photo Workshops on Japan's most northern island Hokkaido.
Some years ago, as I was half traveling/half scouting locations in my Prado SUV in my home district of eastern Hokkaido, I passed a path that I thought was exclusively for walking to the Pacific Ocean for fishing or to photograph birds on pack ice.As I passed this trail, I began to run through the catalog of roads, paths, trails, and Hokkaido highways in my mind and Garmin GPS, but I couldn’t place the path that I had just seen. I brought my SUV to a stop, and I thought to myself, “This is just a walking trail, isn’t it?” And as if to answer my question, I set my eyes on what I would later know to be fresh tire tracks leading up to and on to this trail. More thoughts raced through my head, “I’ve traveled every path even resembling a road in this area. I’ve got to take a closer look!” This was a path I had yet to explore, so I decided to begin a new adventure and drive partially out on pack ice to dry ground. I had seen the backcountry, but I was off to explore the back of the backcountry!I would never imagine taking this kind of adventure with clients, but on my own, I was ready to see what lay ahead. It was a mid-February morning in the northern island of Japan, Hokkaido, with the temperature a mild -5 ℃ with no wind, and the forecast was looking kind for the next few days. I had no iPad for quick mapping or wifi because there is no signal in the region, but I had my handheld GPS and Radium satellite phone just in case of an emergency. I felt focused and connected to my surroundings, and I knew from past experiences driving on pack-ice, I was safe, and I love living each moment in the adventurer's mindset. What I didn’t know was what was coming at the end of this unknown trail; that turned into a 5km 4x4 drive on the rugged Pacific Coastline.
I came across something I never thought possible in all my years in Hokkaido, the largest herd of Sika deer ever. I stopped my SUV a reasonable distance away, so the Ezo Sika Deer would not be startled by me and would quickly stampede past. I had plenty of time to set up my camera gear and photograph the herd about 20 minutes before the largest herd of ezo sika deer quickly stampeded past. Still, to my surprise, when they did stampede, they did it in an orderly fashion in single, double formation side by side on their pathway along the pacific coastline; this stampeding is noting like Africa or in the open Alaska plains, but then these deer and I were on a long stretch of land/peninsula that is only about 30 meters wide, and on either side is ice then seawater. When the ezo sika deer did pass up close, I could hear breathing and grunting noises, and there is nothing like the sound of a thousand thundering hooves banging a few meters away. As they passed me, I got some beautiful video and shots of them running at full speed, with mud being flung up into the air, a perfect farewell from them as they headed into a beautiful open mountain range. They began to spread out as the land widened, and they entered the open wild Hokkaido frontier close to the base of the foothills. At the moment, I felt I was back in the Canadian Yukon or Alaska, with the porcupine caribou. It was the start of a beautiful photographic friendship that continues to this day, on the most northern island of Japan, Hokkaido.