Across the country, centuries-old traditions permeate contemporary culture. A new set of immersive photography tours grant travelers the rare access necessary to document them.
Geisha. Samurai. Monks. Falconers. In Japan, the modern practitioners of these ancient roles and rituals help keep traditions alive, from one generation to the next.
For the past 25 years, renowned U.S. photographer Everett Kennedy Brown, an expat in Japan, has documented various Japanese individuals who passionately maintain their ancestral ways of life. His subjects include the descendants of an Edo period samurai clan in Soma, Fukushima; followers of Shugendo (an ancient religion that incorporates elements of Shintoism with Buddhism) in the Three Sacred Mountains of Dewa; and a 10th-generation kimono designer and obi maker at the helm of a 280-year-old atelier in Kyoto.
“This is not cosplay,” Kennedy Brown says in regard to the ways his subjects are represented. “These local families are seriously maintaining their hundreds-of-years-old traditions.”
Culture-focused photography tours
Even for the most culturally conscious travelers, it can be difficult to gain intimate access to unfamiliar communities in which hyper-traditional lifestyles are upheld. And that’s especially so when those ways of life are connected to sacred beliefs or when language barriers are a factor.
On two specially curated photography expeditions with award-winning travel specialists InsideJapan Tours, Kennedy Brown will help facilitate those connections for small groups of photography-minded travelers. The tours, which allow up to 12 people per group, will tap into the deep local relationships that Kennedy Brown has cultivated after years of pursuing his individual photography in addition to serving as an advisor at the International Center for Japanese Culture.
“What’s special about these tours is that I’m bringing the photographers into situations with people I have personal connections with,” Kennedy Brown says. “The intimacy is already there.”
While the “Portraits of Japan” tour takes travelers from Kyoto to Hiroshima to Osaka (making various stops in rural areas in between), the newly launched “Spirit of Samurai” itinerary focuses on Japan’s mountainous northern region. It’s in this stretch of the archipelago where samurai legend, in particular, still prevails.
“These tours really offer a window into traditional Japanese cultures,” Kennedy Brown says. “We’ll talk with local people and hear their stories.”
For travelers passionate about exploring tradition and culture through photography, these small-group tours provide a prime place to start. The tours are intended for aspiring and experienced photographers alike. While other photography tours may focus on workshops and technique, the itineraries from InsideJapan Tours put cultural immersion at the forefront.
“I really see [these trips] as not just an opportunity to capture great photographs,” Kennedy Brown says, “but also to get engaged in other people’s stories in ways that can really enhance our own lives.”
>> Plan Your Trip With AFAR’s Guide to Japan