Christopher has used his knowledge of Japan based on his recent magazine assignments to create a sensational 14-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.
PLEASE NOTE: Japan’s world-renowned autumn foliage is extremely popular; expect hordes of people at many venues. We will do a considerable amount of walking in Tokyo and Kyoto, including use of subways and other public transport.
(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. 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 Hibiya Park and the Tokyo Imperial Palace Gardens—each ablaze with autumnal color. We then visit the Yanaka Cemetery—in autumn, lavishly framed by maple blossoms—before exploring the nearby Yanaka Ginza (Yanesen) area, where narrow “old-world” alleys teem with photogenic stalls and shops (a perfect venue for lunch at leisure). In the afternoon, we’ll visit Nezu Shrine, with its gorgeous garden, then head to the Asakusa area and Senso-Ji Shrine for golden hour (including Hoppy-Dori and Shin-Nakasimake streets, and from the 8th floor of the Asakusa Cultural Center—a photogenic icon in its own right). Overnight in Toyko.
Day 3: (Nov 13) Nikko-Lake Chuzenji & Kegon Waterfall 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 the Akechidaira Ropeway Observation Deck, offering superb views over Lake Chuzenji and the Kegon Waterfall. 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) Chuzenji – Shibu Onsen We spend the early morning photographing the Chuzenji Temple, and then the Kegon Waterfall—ranked as one of Japan’s three most beautiful waterfalls—from the Lower Observation Deck. 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” – UedaThis 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 district to settle into our rioykan at Bessho Onsen–a hillside spa community with more than a dozen temples. Overnight in Ueda.
Day 6: (Nov 16) Matsumoto – Ueda We’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 KawaguchikoToday 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 lakeside hotel for two days of photography. We’ll arrive during the two-week-long “Fall Foliage Festival.” After lunch we’ll have free time before today’s highlight venue, photographing sunset from the Arakuren Sengren Shrine, with its five-storied Churieto Pagoda overlooking the town of Fujiyoshida and, beyond, snow-capped Mt. Fuji. We’ll close the day by visiting the 600-meter-long avenue of maple trees—the Momiji Tunnel—floodlit at night. Overnight Lake Kawaguchiko.
Day 8: (Nov 18) Lake KawaguchikoUp early for the best chance of photographing Mt. Fuji without clouds! After breakfast, we’ll spend the day photographing around Lake Kawaguchi, beginning with sunrise outside our hotel, offering a superb view of the iconic sacred mountain framed by maple leaves. First we head west to Kogamasao Memorial Park, with its lovely views of Mt. Fuji. From here, we’ll stroll a tree-lined stream trail to the nearby Kubota Itchiku Art Museum, dedicated to the revived art of centuries-old Tsujigahana silk dyeing and set in its own exquisite garden. We’ll continue to Oishi Park–a lovely landscaped lakefront foreground for images of Mount Fuji. Following lunch at Oishi Park, we’ll head to Saiko Iyashi no Santo, a traditional thatched village with traditional craft workshops. Here, we’ll photograph a model dressed in traditional kimono before heading to Lake Kamanaka to photograph resident trumpeter swans with Mt. Fuji as our sunset backdrop. Overnight in Lake Kawaguchiko.
Day 9: (Nov 19) Bullet Train – KyotoThis 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 and lunch, 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 Kiyomisua-dera temple for sunset photography. Strolling to and from the temple via the narrow streets of Ninenzaka—a well-preserved (and very popular) historic quarter—offers a smorgasbord of photo ops, with women in traditional kimonos, wooden shops adorned with lanterns, and even rickshaws! [NOTE: Today, your luggage will be transferred to Kyoto by bus, arriving the following day. You will need to bring a day pack for the train journey and overnight.] 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 with our kimono-clad model and rickshaw before the crowds arrive. We’ll return to the hotel for breakfast before heading to a portrait session with a maiko (an apprentice geisha) in Maruyama Park. The afternoon is free for you to explore the nearby Gion district (or other preferred district or site) at leisure. Overnight in Kyoto.
Day 11: (Nov 21) KyotoUp early again today to beat the crowds to Fushimi-Inari shrine, renowned for its 10,000 vermilion tori gates snaking up the mountainside. We’ll then return to the Ninenzaka region, for breakfast and free time before a private tea ceremony. Ninenzaka is also a perfect spot for lunch at leisure before we head to the Nishijin district and the Orinakusan weaving house to photograph silks being woven on traditional looms. This evening, we’ll head to the lantern-lit Gionmachi Minamigawa district to photograph geishas scurrying to their club and restaurant appointments. We close the day with a traditional Japanese dinner attended by a geisha. Overnight in Kyoto.
Day 12: (Nov 22) Bullet Train – TokyoThis morning we depart Kyoto by bullet train for Tokyo, arriving in time for lunch. The balance of the afternoon and evening are at leisure… a chance for you to perhaps photograph such iconic venues as the famous Shibuya Crossing (the busiest pedestrian intersection on the planet) and the neon-lit Shinjuku district, with its Godzilla Road and Kabukicho red-light district. [NOTE: Today, your luggage will be transferred to Tokyo by bus, arriving the following day. You will need to bring a day pack for the train journey and overnight.] Overnight in Tokyo.
Day 13: (Nov 23) TokyoThis morning we’ll attend an early morning training ritual at a sumo wrestling stable—a rare opportunity to witness and photograph the quintessential Japanese sport close up and personal. The rest of the day is free to explore a museum, temple, or district of your choice… perhaps the nearby Tsujiki Open Market (the narrow streets, teem with restaurants and shops selling market produce); or Akihabara, the glitzy, neon-lit capital of all things cosplay, anime, and manga-related, 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.