Overview

Christopher has used his knowledge of Japan based on his recent magazine assignments to create a sensational 13-day itinerary that incorporates a dream-list of destinations and festivals, while tantalizingly unveiling secretive, enigmatic Japan. The trip is timed for Japan’s famous Momijigari—when the mesmerizingly beautiful autumn foliage peaks as maples (Momiji) blaze a thousand shades of vibrant orange, red, and crimson. This is the best time of year, when the weather is crisp and the skies crystal clear.

To which, add Tokyo’s über-contemporary neon-lit Shibuya and Akihibara districts, and fantastical anime and manga culture… visits to magnificent temples and Buddhist shrines… jaw-droppingly gorgeous Mt. Fuji… three days in the Japanese Alps, where you’ll photograph the world-famous “snow monkeys” soaking in steaming hot tubs… plus Kyoto, the ancient Japanese capital, with its geishas strolling the lantern-lit streets in kimonos.

Along the way, you’ll be immersed in traditional, ancient Japan as we explore its tooi inaka (deep country), dress in yukatas (casual kimonos), feast on fresh seafoods, soak in communal onsen (hot springs), sleep on comfy futons atop tatami mats… and return home stress free, serene, and with your memories (and memory cards) chock-full of indelibly wonderful memories.

Itinerary

(Subject to change)

Day 1: (Nov 11) Tokyo Participants arrive and settle into our hotel, in the heart of Ginza, Tokyo’s foremost shopping district and perfect for sensational nighttime photography, with its blaze of neon lit facades. Meet with Christopher in the evening for orientation, then a welcome dinner. Overnight in Tokyo.

Day 2: (Nov 12) TokyoToday, ‘Old Tokyo.’ We begin with an early morning walk to the nearby Tsujiki Open Market. The narrow streets, teeming with restaurants and shops selling market produce, provide endless opportunities for superb photography. Later we’ll head to the Tokyo Imperial Palace Gardens, and nearby Hibiya Park–a blaze of autumnal color. Nearby, depending on time and the sakura, we may visit the Yanaka Cemetery—in autumn, lavishly framed by maple blossoms—plus Nezu Shrine, with its gorgeous garden, and Senso-Ji Shrine, which we visit for dusk and night-time photography. Overnight in Toyko.

Day 3: (Nov 13) Nikko-Lake Chuzenji This morning we journey by private bus with guide to Nikko, where we’ll spend the afternoon exploring and photographing Nikko’s Toshogu temple complex. Considered Japan’s most lavishly decorated shrine complex, it in the final stages of a years-long restoration to its original state. Prepare to be awed! We then climb whiplash hairpins to reach Lake Chuzenji, where our lakeside hotel offers stunning sunset vistas. At this time of year, it will be spectacular with fall foliage. Overnight Lake Chuzenji.

Day 4: (Nov 14) Kegon – Shibu Onsen We spend the early morning photographing the Kegon Waterfall, ranked as one of Japan’s three most beautiful waterfalls. It’s a sublime autumn color spot. We’ll select several key vantage spots to capture the falls at their most spectacular, including from the Akechidaira Ropeway lookout, the Lower Observation Deck, and the base of the falls. Then we travel a memorably scenic route into the Japanese Alps via Mt. Shirane—sensational vistas here from Japan’s highest mountain pass—to the little spa town of Shibu Onsen, a charming and historic mountain hot-spring community where it is common to see visitors walking the streets dressed in kimonos. Overnight Shibu Onsen.

Day 5: (Nov 15) “Snow Monkeys” – Ueda This morning is a real highlight of the tour as we hike into Jigokudaki “Monkey Park” to photograph Japan’s famous “snow monkeys”—a species of onsen-loving macaque that loves to steep in the natural hot springs. This is mating season, so we may witness some lively behavior. This afternoon we’ll journey to Togakushi Jinga shrine, surrounded by massive trees at the base of Mount Lizuna. (November 15 coincides with the Shichi-go-san Festival, when throughout Japan, young children are dressed in traditional kimonos–and hakamas for boys–and visit local Shinto shrines as a rite of passage.) We then journey to Ueda. We’ll then settle into our rioykan at nearby Bessho Onsen–a hillside spa community with more than a dozen temples. Overnight in Ueda.

Day 6: (Nov 16) Matsumoto-UedaWe’ll take a short excursion to nearby Matsumoto to immerse ourselves in the world of the samurai at its spectacular “Crow Castle,” built in 1504 and set in a lake. We hope to time our arrival for the Chrysanthemum Festival, in the castle’s Honmaru Garden. We’ll return to our hotel in Ueda, where you can relax in the onsen; explore the many nearby temples and shrines; or visit the 16th-century samurai castle, which hosts the annual “Colored Leaves Autumn Festival” and which features chefs (in traditional costume) from all over Japan. Overnight in Ueda.

Day 7: (Nov 17) Lake Kawaguchiko Today we descend from the Japanese Alps and head south to Lake Kawaguchiko for two days in Mt Fuji World Heritage Park. Arriving around mid-day, we’ll base ourselves at a premium lakeside hotel for two days of sensational photography. We’ll arrive during the two-week-long “Fall Foliage Festival,” when a 600-meter-long avenue of maple trees—the Momiji Kairo or “Autumn Leaves Corridor”—is floodlit at night, This riverside walkway leads up to the photogenic ItchikuKubota Art Museum, dedicated to the revived art of centuries-old Tsujigahana silk dyeing. Today’s highlight will be photographing sunset from the Arakuren Sengren Shrine, with its five-storied Churieto Pagoda overlooking the town of Fujiyoshida and, beyond, snow-capped Mt. Fuji—a fantastic perspective during the golden hour, sunset and blue hour. Overnight Lake Kawaguchiko.

Day 8: (Nov 18) Lake KawaguchikoUp early for the best chance of photographing Mt. Fuji without clouds! We’ll spend the day photographing around Lake Kawaguchi, beginning with the famous “Momjii Tunnel” of maple trees–one of the most popular photograph locales for its views of the iconic sacred mountain framed by maple leaves. We continue west to Oishi Park–a lovely landscaped lakefront foreground for images of Mount Fuji, plus Saiko Iyashi no Santo, a traditional thatched village with traditional craft workshops. We’ll end today at Lake Kamanaka to photograph the swans with Mt. Fuji as the backdrop. Overnight in Lake Kawaguchiko.

Day 9: (Nov 19) Bullet Train – Kyoto This morning we’ll drive to Shizuoka and catch the Shinkansen “bullet train” to Kyoto, the ancient Imperial capital, boasting more than 1,600 temples! After checking into our hotel in Ninenzaka—a preserved historic quarter close to the temples—we’ll spend the balance of the late afternoon strolling the “Philosopher’s Path” alongside a narrow canal lined with maples and gingkos; and the early evening visiting the mountainside Kiyomizua-dera temple for sensational sunset photography. Strolling to and from the temple via the narrow streets of Ninenzaka offers a smorgasbord of sensational images, with women in traditional kimonos, wooden shops adorned with lanterns, and even rickshaws! Overnight in Kyoto.

Day 10: (Nov 20) KyotoUp bright and early this morning to visit the Arashiyama “bamboo forest,” a sublime setting for creative photography before the crowds arrive. A ten-minute drive away, we’ll also visit Otagi Nembutsu-ji temple, where thousands of stone statues represent the souls of the dead. This afternoon we’ll visit the Nishijin district and the Watabun weavers’ workshop (or the Orinasu-kan weaving house) to photograph Noh costumes being made. The rest of the afternoon and evening are free for you to enjoy Kyoto at leisure. Overnight in Kyoto.

Day 11: (Nov 21) Kyoto Up very early again today to beat the crowds to Fushimi-Inari shrine, renowned for its 10,000 vermilion tori gates snaking up the mountainside. The photos ops here are superb! We’ll then have a private tea ceremony and portrait session with a maiko (an apprentice geisha). The afternoon and evening are free for you to enjoy Kyoto at leisure. We’ll enjoy a traditional Japanese dinner in the lantern-lit Gion district with a maiko, then photograph the geisha district by night—a chance to capture geishas scurrying to secret liaisons, and other such quintessential Japanese scenes. Overnight in Kyoto.

Day 12: (Nov 12) Bullet Train – Tokyo This morning we depart Kyoto by bullet train for Tokyo. After time to relax, this afternoon we’ll focus our cameras on modern Japan in the Shibuya and Harajuku neighborhoods, including Shibuya Crossing, the busiest pedestrian intersection on the planet and where a flood of pedestrians crosses from multiple directions every time the traffic lights turn red. Architectural highlights may include Harajuku’s Tokyu Plaza Ometesando’s mirrored entranceway, offering a sensational multi-dimensional perspective; and the nearby “Iceberg.” Time permitting, we may shoot ‘Ginko Avenue’ in Meiji Outer Gardens. Finally, after dinner locally, we’ll photograph the neon-lit Shinjuku district, including the iconic Godzilla Road and Kabukicho red-light district entrance gate, ablaze with neon signs. Traveling by train in Tokyo provides an opportunity for fantastic photography in its own right. Overnight in Tokyo.

Day 13: (Nov 23) Tokyo You may choose to have the entire day at leisure to relax, or to explore a museum, temple, or district of your choice. Or join us late morning as we head to Akihabara—glitzy, neon-lit capital of all things cosplay, anime, and manga-related—for lunch at a “maid café” and a couple of hours spent photographing the maid pop-culture (and perhaps even some manga fashion monsters dolled up in Gaga-grade garb) for which the area is known. This evening we’ll enjoy a slideshow of everyone’s favorite images, followed by our farewell dinner aboard a yakatabune long-boat festooned with red lanterns. Overnight in Toyko.

Day 14: (Nov 24)Today, depending on your departure time, you are transported to Narita airport for your flight home.