Beauty, Ancient Traditions and Snow Monkeys in Japan

Text and Photos by Gary J. Kohn

When you think about summer, you usually associate it with the beach, vacations, and barbecues, among other fun activities. My wife, Niki and I, were fortunate to spend part of our summer exploring Japan. (Prior to that stop, we visited Mongolia. See my story.) Our hosts, guides, and designers of our tour were Blain Harasymiw and his wife, Manami Kishimoto. After a week of traveling together, I can truly say that we are now good friends, as well.

Nikkofutarasan Shrine, Homotsukan Inari Jinja

Blain and Manami put together a wonderful itinerary for us, based on their research of my website and many e-mails. Our criteria made it clear that we did not want to travel to any of the large cities or coastal areas.

Bamboo Forest in Chiba, Japan

Our primary interests were to avoid tourist crowds, as well as the heat and humidity in those areas. We wanted to explore the highlands, where it is generally much cooler in the summer, and small villages where we could get a taste of the spirit of the samurai and the shogunate (feudal Japanese military government).

Matsumoto Castle

Landscapes, including Mt. Fuji from various points of view, were at the top of the list, along with the unique character of Japanese architecture, especially in the temples and shrines.

Judging by his large feet, Splash will grow to be a big boy.

And while there is not a lot of wildlife in the areas we traveled, we were able to spend quality time with nearly 200 Japanese Snow Monkeys (Macaques).

Fly fisherman’s perfect technique

The best laid plans don’t always work out, however. Unfortunately, even though the calendar said it was so, the rainy season had not ended in Japan, so we never viewed Mt. Fuji. But the rain, clouds, and mist created other photographic opportunities for us.  Indeed, we were able to create beautiful pictures that had an ethereal, mystical quality that evoked Japan’s ancient days.

When we returned to the U.S., we were saddened to see the destruction from the two powerful hurricanes, Harvey and Irma. We breathe a sigh of relief for those who had less of an impact than anticipated, while we mourn for those who were lost and pray for those that sustained maximum damage.

Lake Chuzenji sunset

In some ways, it is appropriate to view pictures of Japan now, as it may remind us of the terrible destruction the country endured from the 2011 tsunami, and how the Japanese people found ways to cope and recover. We strongly encourage you to add Japan to your travel wish list and enjoy its combination of beauty and ancient traditions.

Top photo: Vermilion laquered Shinkyo, “The Sacred Bridge,” located in Nikko, was built in 1636 and crosses the Daiya River.

Gary’s photo of horses at the Absaroka Ranch in Wyoming (above) won third prize in the Washington Post’s 2017 Travel Photo Contest. See the story that Gary wrote for Woman Around Town. For more of Gary’s photos, go to his website.