Looking forward to the 2020 Cherry Blossom Photo Tour of Japan! View the trip report from 2019 cherry blossom tour of Japan or trip report from the 2018 Cherry Blossom Photography Tour of Japan or the 2017 Cherry Blossom Tour of Japan report or the 2016 Cherry Blossom Tour of Japan!
Cherry blossom season in Japan is a magical time of year in Japan where a sea of white and pink flowering cherry blossom trees sweep over the entire country. This tour is planned for a small group of photographers, maximum of 7 participants plus your guides, to provide a mixture of landscape, street and portrait photography in various areas around Japan during this spectacular time of year. Exploring different areas in Japan during full bloom of the cherry blossoms was also taken into consideration, but also plan to visit areas and have options for cultural experiences that will be incredible with or without the cherry blossoms. After all, like other weather related forecasts and yearly averages, it is impossible to always forecast correctly so far in advance.
That being said, with the different places we plan to go to, we should have good timing for at least some, if not all, unless the cherry blossoms bloom a couple of weeks early or a couple of weeks late. Also, there are many varieties of cherry blossoms and some bloom earlier than others. So even within cities, some locations will have better photographic opportunities than others and it is best we stay flexible!
It is not enough to simple visit and photograph Japan, so I will arrange some opportunities to experience local culture and customs. Some possible culture experiences include specially arranged cooking lessons, introduction to traditional Japanese art and music, traditional sword smith demonstration and more. I will get feedback from the group and see which experiences have the most interest.
Overall, Japan is a very safe country that welcomes tourists from other countries with open arms. Public transportation, while it can be a little overwhelming at first, especially in Tokyo, is fantastic and on time. Food is (mostly) delicious and usually lot’s of options are available. Most dietary restrictions can be observed while visiting Japan, but please make sure to contact Japan Photo Guide ASAP with any restrictions or allergies. Since starting to help tourists experience Japan from 2005, everyone has told me not only do they love Japan but they want to return during a different time of year (and some have already)!
Intro & Highlights
2020 Cherry Blossom Photo Tour | 15 days, 14 nights
Tokyo | April 1st & 2nd
*Miyajima | April 3rd & 4th
Himeji | April 5th
Kyoto | April 6th - 9th
Shizuoka & Mt. Fuji | April 10th & 11th
Five Lakes & Mt. Fuji | April 12th & 13th
Tokyo | April 14th
*The Great Torii (gate floating in water) in Miyajima is undergoing renovation. If it's looking like it won't be finished, the plan will be adjusted to fill those 2 dates with other location(s).
For the 2020 Cherry Blossom Tour, we are planning on visiting Tokyo, Miyajima, Himeji, Kyoto, Shizuoka and Fuji Five Lakes before going back to Tokyo. All locations will have photography goals for sunrise and sunset though as with any photography trip, depending on the light, weather and especially for this trip, blooming status of cherry blossoms of course, the exact plan might change slightly. All locations I pick will provide photography locations that benefit from the cherry blossoms but also have other places that we can appreciate, enjoy and photograph even if cherry blossom timing is off greatly from an average year.
Days 1 - 3, Tokyo | 2 nights
We will stay 2 nights in Tokyo to let you settle in a little and explore Japan's vibrant capital. If New York is the city that never sleeps, Tokyo is the city the doesn't even slow down! A truly unique megalopolis, full of energy, lights and more food experiences that you could hope to try. For a city of th
is size (greater Tokyo area is around 35 million), Tokyo is amazingly clean, safe, provides ample and on time public transportation. We could spend the entire trip in Tokyo and not run out of things to do, see, experience, shop and eat but for now, two days will have to do. We will return to Tokyo at then end of trip so that you can do some shopping on that last day and not have to bring your purchases with you for the duration of the trip. Depending on the blooming schedule of cherry blossoms, we will make adjustments where exactly to visit. Also Depending on the interest of the group, a cooking lesson with a Japanese chef in her home is a fabulous cultural experience I can recommend as well as others ranging from tea ceremonies to learning to play traditional Japanese instruments.
Days 3 - 5, Miyajima* | 2 nights
After breakfast on day 5, we will take a bullet train down to Hiroshima from Tokyo and then short ferry ride to the beautiful island of Miyajima. Miyajima is considered by many to be one of the 3 most scenic places in Japan and is famous for it's tori gate in the sea that appears to float when the tide is in and we can walk up to it when the tide is out. Also, Miyajima is home to hundreds of wild deer which are free to roam the island. During the day, Miyajima is quite crowded with tourists, but early in the morning and late in the evening when the tourists leave, Miyajima is very peaceful. We will stay 2 nights in Miyajima spending part of the time in Miyajima and part of the time in Hiroshima. *The Great Torii (gate floating in water) in Miyajima is undergoing renovation. If it's looking like it won't be finished, the plan will be adjusted to fill those 2 dates with other location(s).
Days 5 - 6, Himeji | 1 night
Miyajima is as far south as we will travel this trip. After breakfast on day 6, we will head back north to Himeji, again by bullet train. Himeji is home to not only one of the most spectacular castles in Japan, but the cherry blossoms are second to none here as well. Himeji Castle just finished a massive restoration project in 2015 and looks better than ever! We will explore some places to view Himeji with and without cherry blossoms, hopefully with a great sunrise or sunset! There are also some quiet cherry blossom spots around Himeji Castle we can go to early in the morning for isolated cherry blossoms photos and photos of path/stream with cherry blossoms.
Days 6 - 10, Kyoto | 4 nights
After breakfast we will travel to Kyoto. Kyoto is my favorite city in Japan and perhaps the world. It has a wonderful mix of modern and traditional Japan with food that is just as rich as Kyoto's history. Truly a unique place! Highlights include some spectacular temples and shrines like the Golden Pavilion, Ryoanji, Nanzenji, Kokedera and Fushimi Inari Taisha. Also we will check out some of the historic areas of Kyoto like the Geiko District (Geisha in Kyoto are referred to as Geiko) of Gion, beautiful Higashiyama neighborhood and the relaxing Path of Philosophy. Depending on availability and group preference, we will also have a portrait session with a Maiko, a Geiko apprentice, or some Japanese models wearing traditional Japanese clothes. Another cultural experience here might be to visit a real sword smith for a short demonstration.
Days 10 - 12, Mt Fuji | 2 nights
After breakfast on day 10, we will travel Shizuoka prefecture in search for spectacular views of Mt. Fuji. More specifically, the goal here is to find spectacular views of Mt. Fuji with cherry blossoms, so again we will make the schedule depending on cherry blossoms status and the weather. If cherry blossoms are not doing great, Shizuoka offers the opportunity for some fantastic cityscapes with Fuji in the background. For more examples of Mt. Fuji scenes, take a look at Japan-Guide.com Mt. Fuji scene pages with and without cherry blossoms. In an average year, cherry blossoms in Shizuoka bloom closer to the same time as Tokyo so our timing here might not be ideal for cherry blossoms, but in the event of a late blooming year, this is acting as our safety spot to get cherry blossoms.
Days 12 - 14, Fuji Five Lakes | 2 nights
After breakfast on day 12, we will travel Yamanashi prefecture to the Fuji Five Lakes. Our base will most likely be Lake Kawaguchi, the largest of the five lakes that weather permitting will offer fantastic views of Mt. Fuji from our hotel. Depending on the weather, we will visit other lakes 30 minutes to 1 hour away. Again, the goal here is once again to find spectacular views of Mt. Fuji, so again we will make the schedule depending on cherry blossoms status and the weather. While the views of Mt. Fuji from Shizuoka are nice, Fujisan will be more in the background in Shizuoka compared to the views we get from the Fuji Five Lakes of Mount Fuji. While there are a few sightseeing spots and museums of interest, the last few days here will be more low key than the rest of our trip.
Days 14- 15, Tokyo | 1 night
After breakfast on day 14, we will move back to Tokyo to spend our last night. While we might have something planned as a group, at this point, maybe all you want is a little time away from me! Of course there are many things to do in Tokyo as well should you need my assistance or recommendations.The tour will officially end when we part ways on on day 14.
Currently breakfast is included every day though depending on final hotel choices, at least 4 dinners will be included as well.
There is currently no extension planned though if you are interested in help with something for yourself, please contact me!
While Japanese accommodations are typically smaller than other countries, we will stay in a combination of Japanese Ryokans and "Western" style hotels, that will typically be 3 or 4 star accommodations. Japan is generally a very safe country, but certainly all of the places we will stay will be in safe locations as well as being convenient to our trip itinerary and being comfortable. Here are a few of the hotels I often reserve to give you an idea of the types of accommodations you can expect as an example, not necessarily where we will stay this trip:
There are some areas of Japan where we will not be able to find hotels to stay in as nice as these or times when we may sacrifice slightly on luxury in order to spend more time sleeping (in other words, staying closer to our photography locations in Japan), but all accommodations will be clean, safe and comfortable enough to get good night's rest.
Again, these are just examples and not necessarily where we are staying. Please contact me should you have concerns or questions about where we are staying for the photography tour of Japan.
Hotels and Rate of Japanese Yen
Planning a photography tour to Japan takes months of preparation and research. I usually start the process with my travel agency about 9 - 10 months before the tour of Japan is scheduled to start. This means the exchange rate of Japanese Yen can change quite a bit in that time. If the rate does trend in a considerably unfavorable way, instead of asking for money, I try to find more reasonable hotels tend to pick more 3 star than 4 star accommodations and if the opposite, we will end up in either slightly nicer places or more convenient locations. Again though, all accommodations on our photography tour of Japan will be clean, safe, in a good location and well reviewed!
Cherry Blossom Tour (14 nights) | 7700
Single Occupancy Fee | $800 USD
Small Group Fee for 4 Pax or less | $500 per person USD
Your investment per person, for this tour included:
- 3-4.5 star accommodations for two people per room. Single rooms are available for a supplement of $800 USD and are due to availability.
- Services of your photo leader and other local guides when applicable.
- Chartered bus/car transportation on most days.
- Bullet train (shinkansen) tickets when necessary.
- Breakfast everyday and at least 4 dinners depending on final hotel choices.
- All temple, shrine, museum and park fees are included that we attend as part of the group plan.
Your investment does not include:
- Airfare to/from Japan or any fees associated with your tickets. Japan Photo Guide does have a relationship with a travel agency in Japan and can help you with airfare, but this is completely optional. If making your own reservations, it is very important to contact Japan Photo Guide before doing so to make sure times will work with the group.
- As most people will be coming from different places, transfer to/from airport are not included.
- Participants from from some countries may need a visa to visit Japan. Japan Photo Guide can help you with the process, but there may be additional costs.
- Any meals/activities/experiences during free time are not included and some of these while together are optional and are not included.
- While some meals will be included, often there are additional beverages that are not included like alcohol and sometimes soft drinks.
- All personal expenses are not included.
- Medical or travel insurance is not included.
Other Notes About Your Investment
These prices are in United States Dollars are based on a group of 5 or more participants. If the group participants turns out to be 4 or less, there is small group fee of $500 USD per person.
Evan Pike, professional photographer and founder of Japan Photo Guide will be your main guide in Japan. Evan spent more than 4 years living and traveling around Japan as a freelance photographer. Though currently living in the USA, Evan returns to Japan 2 - 4 times a year for weeks at a time. On average, Evan spends almost 3 months of the year in Japan. Through personal experiences and connections gained by living/traveling within Japan, Evan offers guidance, assistance, and photography tips, to create a much more meaningful vacation for those visiting Japan. The main idea behind Japan Photo Guide is to create unique experiences and memories that will last much longer than the vacation itself. When not in Japan, Evan runs a boutique portrait studio in Cary, NC and is a photographer for USA Today Sports Images. Evan can speak intermediate Japanese--conversational, situational and functional.
Japan Photo Guide has helped more travelers from more 10 different countries visit and experience Japan. Please take a look at the testimonial page for the most recent reviews of guided tours of Japan, but here are a few quotes taken from the reviews:
Our group had a strong interest in landscape photography and he prepared many options and locations so that we could create our art in a variety of different locations. Other highlights of the trip were a portrait session he planned with locals as well as introducing us to Japanese food and culture including a private cooking lesson with a Japanese chef in her home. I am looking forward to visiting Japan with Evan’s easy going personalty and warm smile!
Your ability to bridge the gap between U.S. and Japanese culture made the country come alive for me. You made it easy for me to see and do things that would have been extremely difficult and in some cases impossible.
Nothing is more valuable when visiting a new place than someone with first-hand knowledge of and experience with the geography, the culture, the people, and the sights. Your energetic and enthusiastic guidance through Tokyo made our trip effortless and maximized our enjoyment of this amazing city.
Earthquakes occur daily in Japan but high majority of them are so small they are not felt. In most cases, buildings in Japan are built to strict regulations to withstand moderate earthquakes but of course no place is completely safe nor can we predict earthquakes. In the unlikely event that we experience an earthquake of significance, it is important to be familiar with safety procedures. Japan Photo Guide highly recommends searching the web for this information but here is a good place to start your search.
The Tour and What to Expect
Japan Photo Guide tours are designed with specific photography goals in mind but to simply photograph Japan isn't enough. When possible and depending on the make up the group, cultural experiences will also be available to participate. These experiences are option and in some cases may come with an additional cost. In addition to time spent together in photography opportunities, there will be built in free time to explore Japan on your own if you wish. These other experiences and free time and built in the tours so that if spouses/friends/partners want to come that aren't as serious about photography, can still come along and have a good time, but also so that everyone can get the most out of the trip to Japan.
In regards to photography sessions, planned schedule with preferred places to go, but it is important that due to weather, lighting conditions or other circumstances that we stay flexible. In some cases, the next day plan may not be decided until the evening before or even morning of. There will be some cases where we have a few options and will leave the decision up to a group vote.
Cherry blossom season is perhaps the busiest time of year for travel to and within Japan. Most popular places will be crowded but we will take advantage of early morning or late evening light to hopefully avoid crowds but it won't always be possible. In some cases we may leave our hotel before sunrise and then after morning photography session we will return to hotel for breakfast and some rest.
All accommodations and hired transit (as well as public transit) will be clean, safe and hotels will have private bathrooms and showers. In general, Japan is a very safe and clean country, but still be mindful of valuables and your camera gear.
Please be aware that while we will not be taking place in any extreme workouts, there will be a considerable amount of walking and participants should be in good physical condition and health. In addition to walking quite a bit, both on flat surfaces and uphill/stairs, we will also be waking up before sunrise for some of the better photographic opportunities.
Cherry Blossom Timing
Cherry blossom forecasts are impossible to predict so far in advance, but we do know the average opening dates and full bloom dates from previous years. It was using these average dates that this tour was created in hopes of having good timing for all places. That being said, in rare years, like 2013, the cherry blossoms can open as much as 2 weeks earlier than expected. Again, very rare, but as we are dealing with nature, anything can happen. Even if we are too early or too late, the places we will visit will still be beautiful and our experiences will still be unforgettable... just not with as much white and pink blossoms in the background! Here are a few links for you to do your own research on cherry blossom opening/blooming dates:
Opening Date/First Bloom | Every city has a designated park/place with a tree selected as the first bloom tree. This is the date where that tree in that park blooms.
Full Bloom | Usually cherry blossom trees reach full bloom about 5 - 7 days after opening.
Falling Off | The cherry blossom petals start to fall off around 6 days after full bloom but can fall off earlier from strong wind or rain.
Terms and Conditions
Japan Photo Guide requires you to have health insurance that covers you while traveling. Travel insurance is strongly encouraged to help reduce risk of financial losses that could occur. Different restrictions and limitations apply to travel insurance so please contact your insurance provider of choice and read over the details of their policy carefully. Take into account factors such as weather, missed connections, unable to travel due to sickness, family emergency, injury, unexpected financial problems, airline strikes, or other personal issues.
In most cases, tours in Japan require moderate activity levels but there will be a lot of walking. Additionally, you may find it difficult to adjust to multiple time zone changes depending on your country of origin. Waking up before sunrise for morning photography sessions also need to be taken into consideration as well as carrying your own photography equipment.
It is important to contact Japan Photo Guide before booking with any health or dietary concerns.
Most of the trip we will not be too far from hospitals or medical facilities, but there could be some days and time during transit where we are not within close range of immediate medical care.
Booking, Deposits, Cancellations and Refunds
Booking is available by first come first serve basis. To book a tour, you must submit the booking form and your deposit of $800 USD per person. Your spot is not reserved until you have submitted a form for your party and deposit per person. When booking less than 4 months in advance, payment in full is necessary.
If you need to cancel, you must submit the cancellation form and agree to the following conditions:
100 Days or more | You can receive a refund minus a $275 USD minimum cancellation fee per person plus any associated costs/fees (including credit card fees) charged by companies providing services, accommodations and experiences in Japan. Depending on the trip, fees could be in the amount of 25% to up to 100% of tour cost.
61 - 99 Days | You can receive a refund minus $550 USD minimum cancellation fee per person plus any associated costs/fees (including credit card fees) charged by companies providing services, accommodations and experiences in Japan. Depending on the trip, fees could be in the amount of 25% to up to 100% of tour cost.
60 Days or less through end of trip | No refund.
Tour Plan and Potential Changes
Japan Photo Guide designs tours with specific plans and goals in mind to experience all Japan has to offer, but in some cases, changes may need to be made without advance warning. Such changes could include but not limited to, accommodations, sightseeing schedule and experiences. When these changes need to be made, especially if weather is the factor for change, when possible, Japan Photo Guide will try to get input from the group when possible.
Model Photography Release
Japan Photo Guide reserves the right to use your picture, portrait, or photograph taken on tour in all forms and media and in all manners, including composite or distorted representations, for advertising, trade, or any other lawful purposes. Any photographs submitted to Japan Photo Guide also may be used online or printed for promotional use.
Note about the use of the word "Guide" in Japan Photo Guide:
Recently Japan has relaxed their laws about guides. The amended law allows people without a national tourist guide license to guide international travelers in their native language. That being said I still like to include the follow though it doesn't hold exactly as before:
I am not an official licensed guide in Japan or anywhere else! Japan has very strict guidelines on becoming an official guide. Basically there are 3 levels which now are all somewhat "grey areas" since the amended law:
1. English Speaking Guide(ESG): Officially licensed guide. She/He can do guiding, escorting, interpreting or doing anything
2. English Speaking Escort(ESE): Non-Licensed. She/He can escort the group and give them the instruction or information but cannot provide the history, culture, tradition and so on. With new laws, as long as I'm speaking to you in English, I an provide additional information.
3. English Speaking Assistant(ESA): Non-Licensed. She/He will just help boarding train or bus, or helping check-in etc.
I am number 2, ESE. This means that I cannot be paid to teach you about Japanese history, culture, traditions and so on. The "guide" in Japan Photo Guide is meant for photography location guide, not guide of Japan. Any payment is not to hire me as an "Official English Speaking Guide" in Japan.
Photography Tour vs Photography Workshop
While Evan is happy to share any advice and techniques related to photography, this is a photography tour designed for photographers to enjoy Japan. There are currently no "classes" or "workshops" planned though if interested, group discussion and reviews are always welcome.