- Meet with geisha and photograph their traditional performance in Kyoto, and capture the vivid costumes and masks of Kagura dancers in Hiroshima.
- Spend the night at a traditional Mount Koya monastery, and rise early for a temple photo shoot, followed by a morning prayer ceremony with the resident monks.
- Capture images from the ancient pilgrimage site of Mount Koya and from Naoshima Island, overlooking the Inland Sea.
- Record the ancient traditions of rural Japan as we explore age-old villages and thatched dwellings in Shikoku's verdant Iya Valley.
An intoxicating mix of time-honored tradition and cutting-edge modernity, Japan is a fascinating place to photograph. In Kyoto, enjoy a private photo opportunity with elegant geisha and explore the lantern-lit streets of the Gion district. Photograph the thatched villages of Shikoku before traveling to Hiroshima, the island of Miyajima, and more.
Arrive at Kansai International Airport (KIX) in Osaka at any time. Transfer to Kyoto and check in to our hotel.
Our exploration of Kyoto begins with some of the city’s most treasured temples and gardens. Photograph paths lined with hundreds of vermilion torii (wooden gateway) at the Fushimi Inari shrine. Then venture into the wooded hills outside the city to the famed Kiyomizudera temple, known for the expansive wooden terrace that extends from the main hall. Capture panoramic shots from the terrace, framing maple and cherry trees below and Kyoto’s skyline in the distance. Below the temple, visit the sacred Otowa Waterfall, with three separate streams that are believed to have different benefits: longevity, love, and success. Later, enjoy a photo walk through the historic and winding streets of the Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka districts, capturing iconic shots of daily life. Our excursion is timed to maximize the golden light of late afternoon, when these neighborhoods come to life. At tonight’s welcome dinner, we’ll be joined by a former geisha and current proprietress of a geisha house. As we learn about this unique tradition and watch a performance, enjoy a rare chance to photograph geisha freely.
Train your lens on the lines of swaying bamboo trees in Arashiyama’s atmospheric bamboo grove early this morning before the crowds arrive, followed by a visit to Tenryuji temple, one of Kyoto’s great Zen temples. In the afternoon, experience the tranquil moss garden at Giouji temple, where photographic opportunities abound amid the lush moss garden and trees.
Travel to Mount Koya, headquarters of the Shingon Buddhist sect and a popular pilgrimage site. With your camera in hand, meander through the evocative Okuno-in cemetery, where some 200,000 tombs of samurai warriors and dignitaries fill a grove of towering cedar trees. Venture into Kongobuji, the chief temple of the Mount Koya monastery and continue to the tranquil Danjo Garan monastic complex, originally constructed in the ninth century. Settle into our simple lodgings and enjoy a traditional Buddhist vegetarian dinner.
Rise early this morning for a photo shoot of a local temple at this sacred place. After an optional morning prayer service, descend to the shores of the Inland Sea and ferry across to Shikoku, the smallest of Japan’s main islands. On our way to the remote Iya Valley, enjoy an Awa Odori dance performance followed by a photo shoot of the dancers in their colorful costumes. Our home for the next two nights is a ryokan, or traditional Japanese inn, where inviting, on-site hot spring baths offer a chance to relax and rejuvenate.
As we travel through the dramatic Iya gorge, stop to photograph shrines peeking out from the emerald slopes. Our destination is a 300-year-old thatched farmhouse, home to the Chiiori Trust, a unique project that seeks to preserve age-old rural traditions in the valley. Document the architectural details of this ancient building style and continue to photograph the evocative Okuiya Niju Kazurabashi, primitive twin suspension bridges constructed out of coiled vines that stretch high above the river valley below. Then capture timeless scenes of village life in Ochiai, a community of traditional dwellings, some of which date from the Edo period (circa 1600-1870).
Travel north to Zentsuji, a lovely complex of temples and a pagoda that marks the birthplace of the Buddhist priest, Kobo Daishi. In Takamatsu, stroll the 17th-century gardens of Ritsurin Park, photographing tranquil images of a local model in kimono on graceful bridges arcing over ponds. A ferry then brings us to the small island of Naoshima, which has recently emerged as a mecca of contemporary art and architecture. Our home for two nights is a photo op in itself: the cutting-edge Benesse House, designed by acclaimed architect Tadao Ando. This evening, photograph the island-dotted Inland Sea from our excellent vantage point at the hotel.
Early risers may go on a photo shoot overlooking the Inland Sea. Later, appreciate the innovative architecture of the Chichu Art Museum, built underground but designed to capture natural light and shadow. See the works of Claude Monet, James Turrell, and others in the museum’s collection, and then visit a house that is part of the Art House Project, which has transformed some of the island’s older structures into imaginative works of art.
Ferry back to Honshu and take the high-speed train to Hiroshima. Pay a visit to Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park and Museum, which documents the atomic explosion that ravaged the city. Spend the remainder of the afternoon visiting Shukkei-en garden or explore this thriving modern metropolis—a testament to Japanese resilience—on your own.
Set off by ferry on a full-day excursion to Itsukushima Island, popularly called Miyajima. Explore the 12th-century Itsukushima Shinto shrine, a World Heritage site, then enjoy ample free time for hikes, visits to tiny temples, and a stroll through the picturesque town. Participate in a tea ceremony this afternoon, with opportunities to capture images of this iconic tradition. Stay to photograph the shrine’s iconic torii at high tide, when the torii and parts of the shrine appear to float on the sea. This evening, gather for a private farewell dinner and photograph the highly stylized movements of dancers clad in vivid costumes and expressive masks during a specially arranged Kagura performance.
Take the high-speed train from Hiroshima to Osaka, and continue by rapid train to Kansai International Airport (KIX) in Osaka for your flight home.
- Tokyo Extension
Post-Trip, 4 Days
With its intriguing intersection of ultra-modernity and time-honored tradition, Tokyo is a fascinating place to explore. Experience the city’s contrasts as you discover celebrated museums, temples, and historic neighborhoods. Sample the local cuisine, and get immersed in the colorful bustle of one of the world’s largest fish markets.
Travel to Tokyo via the high-speed train from Hiroshima. Upon arrival, get acquainted with the city’s celebrated landmarks and stop to take photos outside the Imperial Palace. Explore Asakusa, one of Tokyo’s oldest neighborhoods, and the Senso-ji temple, built in the seventh century and now a sizeable complex of shrines, temples, and a pagoda. Settle into our hotel late this afternoon and enjoy an evening at leisure.
Begin the day with a photo walk in Kappabashi-dori, also known as “Kitchen Town.” The shops here supply the city’s restaurants with many interesting items, including the plastic display food (sampuru, derived from the English word "sample"). Delve into Tokyo's cultural heritage at the Edo-Tokyo Museum. The museum brings to life Tokyo’s 400-year history, with exhibits illustrating subjects ranging from Kabuki theater and traditional arts to politics and architecture. Visit the Akihibara neighborhood, famous for electronics and neon signs, and a center for fans of anime and manga animation.
This morning, explore the sprawling Tsukiji fish market, one of the world’s largest. Browse the stalls where over 2,000 tons of seafood is sold daily, and take in the lively bustle. Continue to the newly-renovated Nezu Museum, which features works of calligraphy, painting, sculpture, and ceramics. Visit the museum’s collections and traditional gardens dotted with waterfalls, ponds, and teahouses. Then jump forward in time with a guided tour of the cutting-edge architecture of Tokyo’s Aoyama district. This evening, photograph Tokyo’s skyline at dusk from the top of a skyscraper before enjoying a farewell dinner.
Transfer to the Tokyo airport for flights home.