In October, 2005, I traveled to Japan with an exhibition entitled ‘Gondwana’, held at Galerie Konoha, in Tokyo. The work was almost exclusively Australian wildlife paintings, and, in hindsight, was somewhat ‘lost’ in that great mega-city – although I did have success selling a number of my travel paintings from my Japanese wanderings.

Temple Gate Toshogu Shrine, Nikko

I spent a couple of days an hour west of Tokyo in Nikko, and was enthralled by the very ornate and colourful 17th century temples that are scattered amidst great cedar trees and the encroaching mountain forests. The effect, to my eyes at least, is that of a great earthly paradise – this is undoubtably one of the most beautiful places on earth.


I traveled by train around Japan, always a lovely way to get around, and this glorious volcanic mountain was just outside of Aomori, about as far north you can get on the main island of Honshu. This was early one morning, I woke up in my little hotel near the train station, and proceeded to walk an hour or so out of town to get this sweeping view of the fields with ‘Iwaki-san’ looming in the distance. Smoke wafts up from a farmer burning off, and I loved how the peak was ‘capped’ by a sheath of cloud. To the right the top-most leaves of a tree are being warmed by the days first golden rays of sun.

Hokkaido Sika Deer
(pen and wash)

From Aomori I got a ferry over to Hokkaido, lured there by the expansive wilderness of this near-pristine island. I was a little early in the year to see the superb Steller’s sea eagles that winter there from Siberia, feasting on the returning salmon(much as their close relatives the bald eagles do on the other side of the North Pacific), but there was still plenty of wildlife to see, including this magestic stag Sika deer which I sketched at rest in a wildlife reserve.

Nijo Castle, Kyoto

On my return to Australia I took to painting a number of scenes from my trip, getting them ‘out of my system’ as it were. Nijo Castle is one of the great monuments of Japan – I could happily devote an entire exhibition to painting the gardens, profiles, interiors and elegant facades of this heart of Japanese political history. Once again the architecture of Japan is at total harmony with the trees and landscape.

Diabotsu of Kamakura

Just south of Tokyo is the coastal city of Kamakura, the 12th century capital of Japan. Once again there’s an astonishing array of temples to be explored, linked through the wooded hills by pilgrimage paths that one of the great pleasures of Japan. At one such temple is this imposing Buddha statue – Diabotsu – which originally stood inside a great hall, but locals gave-up re-building it in the 15th century after it was destroyed(for the umpteenth time) by a typhoon. (This is quite a small watercolour for such an impressive statue, but it’s for a future exhibition in Japan, and visits to many homes over there have me inclined to keep my Japanese paintings modestly sized).

Photo of my trek up the snow mountains outside of Nagano in 2006

Just a few months after my exhibition I returned to Japan, absolutely intoxicated by the country. I now had some friends in Tokyo and Kyoto, and as well as re-visiting them I explored some new regions, and returned to Hokkaido expressly to see the Steller’s sea eagles I’d missed in my earlier trip(I finally saw some, in the Shiretoko National Park – but am yet to paint them), and to sketch the sublime Japanese cranes.

Sketching Japanese Cranes in Hokkaido
Photo – Kiyotaka Kamehata & Yuzuru Harako, from their book アサヒヤマ 旭山動物園写真集

Japanese Cranes, Hokkaido

It was quite an effort to get to this remote field in southern Hokkaido, a famous viewing spot for the cranes who winter here – but well worth the trek! I spent an afternoon watching the elegant birds flying in and away again, preening and feeding(the same farmer has scattered grain here for the birds for over 40 years), and most enchantingly of all – seeing them sing and dance in their legendary courtship displays – inspiration to Japanese artists through countless centuries.

Heian Jingu Temple, Kyoto

And finally my most recent Japanese painting, completed just a few months ago. This was a beautifully serene temple complex my friends took me to in Kyoto, in the late afternoon as the sun began to glow golden. One day soon I’ll return to Japan with an exhibition of this work, and explore more of the beautiful temples and gardens, national parks and thriving cities of this remarkable country.