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- A Castle in the Blossoms: Capturing Himeji Castle in Cherry Blossom Season 2023
- Island Life and Urban Reflections: Cherry Blossoms in Miyajima and Hiroshima 2023
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Apr 20 | Evan | Comments Off on Embracing the Unexpected: Cherry Blossom Photography Tour in Rainy Tokyo 2023 |
Back in March of 2023, I had the unique pleasure of guiding a photography tour in Tokyo during the cherry blossom season. This was the first cherry blossom tour I lead in Japan since covid so we were all super excited to be in Tokyo for Now, Tokyo in cherry blossom season is nothing short of magical, but this year was different. What made it stand out? Rain. And lots of it. From gentle drizzles to dramatic downpours, rain was our constant companion, redefining our adventure and pushing us to think outside the box.
As a seasoned guide, I’m always prepared for a curveball from Mother Nature. After all, one of the joys of photography lies in embracing the unexpected. And so, we took the wet weather in our stride, swapping sunny cherry blossom picnics for moody rain-soaked shots, reflections, and indoor explorations.
We found ourselves, umbrellas in hand, wandering towards the Tokyo International Forum one day. Inside, I spent hours experimenting with slow shutter speeds and panning techniques, capturing the pulse of the city in a way that’s impossible under the bright sun. The rain may have pushed us indoors, but it also pushed us creatively, and I couldn’t have asked for more.
Another favorite spot of ours was the grand Tokyo Station. The rain-soaked ground in front of the station turned into a natural mirror, reflecting the splendid architecture and bustling city life. The sight was awe-inspiring, and our cameras were thrilled with the unexpected gift from the skies.
With our eyes set on indoor locations, we sought out buildings with interesting architecture that could offer us unique photographic opportunities. The rain had given us a chance to explore Tokyo’s architectural marvels from a different perspective, and we relished the chance.
In between our photographic escapades, we were invited into a local Japanese chef’s home for a meal. The delicious, home-cooked meal was a welcome break and a heartwarming experience, making us feel a little bit more at home in the sprawling city.
However, the rain did grant us a few free moments to catch the cherry blossoms. We seized these precious opportunities and headed to Chidorigafuchi, Aoyama Cemetery, and the Meguro River. We may have been damp and a little chilly, but seeing those delicate blooms against the grey sky was worth every drop.
The 2023 Cherry Blossom Photography Tour in Tokyo was unlike any other. We may have been rained out, but we didn’t let that dampen our spirits. Instead, we found beauty in the unexpected, captured memories in the rain, and left Tokyo with a newfound appreciation for the unpredictable nature of photography.
If you’re a photographer who loves a challenge, I highly recommend visiting Tokyo during the cherry blossom season – rain or shine. You never know what surprises you’ll find, and that’s the real magic of photography in Japan.
Immerse yourself in the breathtaking beauty of Japan’s cherry blossom season in 2024! Reach out now to secure your spot on our guided photography tour, or explore our 2023 cherry blossom tour of Japan posts to get a glimpse of the unforgettable experiences that await you.Jun 14 | Evan | No Comments |
What you should expect when eating sushi at a kaiten sushi, converter belt sushi.
Do you like sushi? Who is excited to go to Japan to eat fresh sushi?
Well, sushi has become an internationally well recognized Japanese food in the 20th century. However, not everyone has been to kaiten sushi, the sushi that comes around on a converter belt! Today, let’s learn about kaiten sushi and what you should know before going to one so that you can prepare yourself for the photo tour of Japan, especially when you have an opportunity to venture out to eat!
What is “kaiten sushi?” Is it different from regular sushi?
So what is kaiten sushi? You all know what sushi is so what does “kaiten” mean? Kaiten in Japanese means “rotaining.” Thus, kaiten sushi is a particular sushi that comes on a converter belt, which rotates around the restaurant.
Sushi comes in many different forms in Japan, which also varies in prices. In general, you can consider “kaiten sushi” to be a cheap option. In comparison to sushi where you eat at a counter seat, kaiten sushi is much more relaxed, casual, and accessible to everyone. The matter of fact, because of such nature, it is popular among families to go to kanten sushi. Of course it is a sushi restaurant, so you will have a lot of different sushi, but at kaiten sushi, many other options such as sides, soup, and desserts can also be ordered at an accessible cost as well.
Make sure to pay attention to the colors of the sushi plates!
One thing you might like to be aware of is the color of plates. Yes, kaiten sushi is much cheaper than other options, but depending on the colors of plates, some are more expensive than others so make sure you are aware of the colors of plates, thus prices. Otherwise, you could be eating all expensive options, thus at the end of the day, you will be paying a lot more than you were originally planning.
In general, at kaiten sushi, the different colors of plates indicate different prices. It is usually 3,4 different colors of plates that are rotating so it’s not that hard to keep a track of the price. You also keep all your plates at your table where you eat so that staff can count the number of plates at the end to calculate the cost.
This clear identification of price is so crucial and why kaiten sushi became so popular. For example, some or all of the items are market price so you may not know the price till the end at high-end sushi places like eating at a counter table. Kaiten sushi is created for its accessible/cheap cost and clear identification of price so different colors of plates is one of the key features of this venue.
History of kaiten sushi
So how did kaiten sushi come to life? Originally, sushi was an expensive food, which was not for everyone. However, everyone wanted to eat sushi and the idea of kaiten sushi came to life. At the beginning, it was more like “all 100 yen ($1),” but later on, different colors of plates, thus different prices of sushi, automatic tea dispensers, and sushi robots were introduced.
Interestingly, the idea of kaiten sushi was born in Osaka at a beer factory in 1948. 10 years passed since the idea emerged, the first ever kaiten sushi opened in Osaka in 1958, called “Mawaru Genroku Sushi 1st Store.” Since then, the first franchise opened in Sendai city in Miyagi Prefecture in 1968, followed by the creation and placement of automatic tea dispensers in 1973. From 1975 to 1985, the kaiten sushi boom came to Japan with the introduction of sushi robots, major chains entering the competition of the industry.
By 2007, kaiten sushi became a 500 billion yen industry and now it is becoming international. If you are around the Los Angeles area, you might have seen “KULA,” Japanese kaiten sushi chains. There are around 10 KULA stores around the LA area and is popular among American people. As well as KULA, another major chain “Sushiro” is focusing its international market expansion in Asia, opening stores in Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong in recent years. In 2018, there were 12 stores internationally and in 2019, there were 13 more additional stores opened, a total of 25 international stores operating outside of Japan. Currently the international market is expanding more than Japanese market in that each international store produces more revenue per year than a store in Japan.
So who is hungry for sushi after reading this article? As you learned, there are different chains of kaiten sushi in Japan so if you are so keen, you can try different chains of kaiten sushi when you are on the photography tour of Japan to see, which one suits you the best. Each kaiten sushi has unique features that are different from one another so try a few and let me know what you like about each kaiten sushi! Of course, with COVID19, kanten sushi is most likely not the same today, but let’s hope that in 2021 when we are on a photo tour of Japan, we can go to a kanten sushi to enjoy fresh fish together!Apr 15 | Evan | No Comments |
The most famous group of monkeys in Japan can easily be said to the group of monkeys at the hot spring at Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano. If you don’t know which group of monkeys I am talking about, these are the monkeys you might have seen in the photographs of monkeys relaxing at the hot spring in Nagano, Japan. Does it ring a bell? If not, take a look at the Jigokudani Monkey Park official website here to see what I’m talking about.
They are the only monkeys in the world, which are known to bathe in the hot spring to keep themselves warm during cold winter. The park opened in 1964 and there are currently around 160 monkeys in the area, which come to bathe only during winter. Yes, this scene of monkeys bathing in the hot spring is a rare view only seen at this park. So, if you are not sure winter is a time to travel to Japan, this could be a good enough reason for you to join Japan Photo Guide’s photo tour of Japan to witness and capture the rare scene of monkeys relaxing in a hot spring.
What is “Snow Monkey?”
So let’s learn more about the monkeys at Jigokudani Monkey Park. As already stated, the park opened in 1964 and there are 160 or so monkeys living in the area to use the hot spring. However, they do not all come down to the hot spring at once, but they come down in a group of 40 to 50 monkeys. The reason the monkeys come down to bathe is just like us humans, they want to warm their cold bodies during winter.
The term “snow monkey” is a term created by international media. Even before international media came to this spot, it was a popular destination for Japanese, but ever since the international media gave a spotlight to these one and only monkeys, the number of foreigners visiting Jigokudani Monkey Park has increased tremendously. For example, back in 2012, the total of 130,000 tourists visited the park while 30,000 of them were international visitors.
Nihonzaru = Japanese Monkey
The kind of monkeys you see at Jigokudani Monkey Park is Japanese monkey, Nihonzaru. They live over a broad area of Japan except for Okinawa and Hokkaido. If you want to see them, you simply need to head to the mountains. The matter of fact, when I was a child, I saw Nihonzaru in my town as my town is surrounded by mountains in Kanagawa Prefecture just south of Tokyo. They came down to human habitations and there was even a week-long town alert to warn us to be careful not to engage with monkeys when going home and after school. During that week, a group of us saw monkeys at the park, which had a back to the mountain. Even today, I hear that my town and surrounding towns have monkey sightings regularly.
Japanese monkeys are really everywhere in Japan except for Okinawa and Hokkaido. You get to see them at the zoo as well as randomly in mountainous areas. However, they are wild so you cannot easily spot them by simply heading to the mountains. A park like Jigokudani Monkey Park was created so that anybody can come and observe the monkey for pleasure, but also for research purposes. The truth is, Japanese monkeys have very high social ability, thus the zoo does not showcase everything for us to fully understand them.
Let’s learn more about Jigokudani Monkey Park!
Jigokudani Monkey Park is located in Yamanouchi town in Nagano Prefecture, which is at the altitude of 850 meters. During winter, the temperature drops as low as -10 degree Celsius/14 degree Fahrenheit and snow accumulates up to 1 meter/3.3 feet. Yes, the winter in this area is very severe and tough for monkeys as well as humans.
The park is a cage free park, where Japanese monkeys can come and go as they wish. It was created in 1964 and 1st received international recognition back in 1970 when it was covered by US magazine, LIFE. However, the biggest media exposure was in 1998 when the Nagano Olympics took place. This is when the park received a lot of visitors from the Olympic players, Olympic spectators as well as media.
The reason the monkeys return to the park is because they are fed in the park. However, the park is just a part of their entire life, thus they go in and out of the park freely. As stated earlier, the Jigokudani Monkey Park area is very cold, thus the monkeys come down to the hot spring to warm their cold bodies. This scene is unique to winter as the monkeys are not so keen to hop in the hot spring during other seasons. So if you want to capture monkeys in a hot spring, you want to visit the park during the cold winter.
Dos and Don’ts when visiting the park!
They are wild so please remember the points below when you visit the park or whenever you encounter wild monkeys in Japan. Below points are listed on the official website in Japanese, but they are not translated to English so hope you spend some time before you make your way to the Jigokudani Monkey Park!
- Don’t feed them
- Don’t touch/frighten them
- Don’t look straight into their eyes at close distance
- Don’t get too close to them
- Can’t bring in dogs and cats
- You can do photography & videography even with flash
- Can’t use a selfie stick
At the park, even photographing using flash is allowed, but when photographing using a phone, please be careful not to get too close. Additionally, a selfie stick is not allowed in the park as it can potentially frighten monkeys as they could look like a weapon to them. People often tend to lose the idea of distance when using a selfie, thus it’s not safe to use around the monkeys.
When visiting the park, you need to always remember that they are wild. Little monkeys are curious, thus they may get close to you, but if that happens, please remove yourself away from them so that you can avoid any harm. They can call adults to help if anything happens. Also, looking straight into their eyes means an indication of hostility as well as opening your mouth big. Don’t get too close, always keep distance from them.
Lastly, since you cannot get too close to the monkeys, bringing a binocular is a good idea suggested by the park to observe them from a distance.
After seeing photos and videos of monkeys bathing, you might be thinking “I want to go to a hot spring too!” Well,l don’t worry! Even though the park is away from any human habitations, in the same town, there is Shiga Kogen Snow Ski Resort where you can enjoy skiing/snowboarding while warming up your cold body at the hot springs. Going to see the monkeys in the wild is exciting, but if you get to enjoy other aspects of Japan when visiting Nagano would be a bonus, right? By the way, if you want to learn more about Japanese monkeys before you head to Japan with Japan Photo Guide’s Japan photo tour, follow the park official Instagram here and/or watch the live camera of the park so that you can dream of the day to visit and capture the snow monkeys!Apr 07 | Evan | No Comments |
What is the difference between the two?
Maiko and geisha are one of the most iconic symbols of Japan. They are mysterious, beautiful, elegant, and perfect photographic subjects for your photo tour of Japan. With 300 years or so of history, we can learn so much about Japan through them. In this article, let’s learn about maiko and geisha so that when you are on your next photo tour of Japan, you have more knowledge of Japan, and furthermore, you are more prepared to photograph them and/or even become one for a day!
Let’s learn about maiko!
In short, a maiko is the girl who is training to be a geisha, an apprentice of geisha. Most of the girls start training to be a maiko after graduating from Jr. High School for 5 years or so. Back in the day, the training started as early as 10, but in today’s modern world, the girls who dream to be a geisha start their training as a maiko after graduating from Jr. High School, which is age 15 and then by age 20 or so, they turn into a geisha.
So what do they do during those 5 years of training? Well, the first year is all training, they don’t even go anywhere near the customers. The girls learn traditional dance, dressing kimono, tea ceremony, flower arrangement, etiquette, and how to treat customers. After 1 year of training, then girls debut as a maiko to be in front of a customer for the first time. In the 2nd year onwards, the girls continue training as well as work as a maiko in front of customers until they make a decision to continue or discontinue working in the industry as a geisha or end the career around the age 20.
Some fun facts about maiko is that maiko hair is not a wig. It’s all her natural hair and once the hair is made, a maiko wears the hair without washing it for a week! Additionally, a maiko wears a seasonal “kanzashi,” hairpin. If you are trying to differentiate between a maiko and geisha, check out their hairpin to see what kind of hairpins they are wearing. Furthermore, one clear difference between a maiko and a geisha is what they are wearing on their feet. Those ones with very thick platow heels are maiko. Geisha wear geta or zouri, which are much more flat compared to maiko’s footwear.
Can you guess if she is a maiko or geisha?
Let’s learn about geisha!
In short, a geisha is the woman who graduates from being a maiko. After 5 years or so of training being a maiko, then you become a geisha. Yes, everyone starts from maiko and then eventually turns into geisha. As well as a word, geisha, you also hear “geiko” and “geiki” which all mean the same. The difference is the area, which part of Japan you are in. Just to make things easy, let’s stick to geisha here.
Geisha are the traditionally trained hospitality professionals. Not everyone can be one and those who are named as geisha have extensive training as described earlier in the maiko section. Besides its mysterious beauty and elegance, they are the living traditions who are passing down Japanese traditions.They also act as ambassadors to the world when international events take place. There is no age limit to being a geisha, thus some people continue to be a geisha even in their 80s! However, in general, once a woman marries, she graduates from being a geisha.
If you want to meet a geisha and a maiko, you might be lucky enough to run into them randomly on the streets of Kyoto, but if you really want to spend time with them, then you need to go to ozashiki where geisha and maiko entertain guests. Back in the day, only a handful people with fame, money, connection, and power could spend time with maiko and geisha, but time has passed that there are some services offered today that with an interpreter, you can also enjoy ozashiki with geisha and maiko. I don’t know the cost involved, but if you are looking for one and only experience, perhaps request this in your private photo tour of Japan?
Maiko for a day – Let’s try to be a maiko in Kyoto!
One of the most popular activities for females visiting Kyoto is to become a maiko or a geisha. There are many companies, which provide full make up, wig, and kimoto service to magically turn you into a maiko or a geisha for a day. You get to do a photoshoot with the full look and/or get out of the streets of Kyoto. No, you don’t need to be Japanese to be one. Anybody can be one if you use any of these services below. Don’t worry, all these companies below have English websites so you will be able to get a feel for what to expect. Additionally, if males also want to try wearing a kimono, some companies also offer services for males too.
For those of you who want to know more about the actual experience, below is the YouTube video from Gion AYA Maiko & Geisha Makeover. This is from when American reality big family star, “19 Kids and Counting,” the Duggars girls as well as the mother and the grandmother are all trying this Maiko experience.
So hopefully you learned something new about maiko and geisha in this article. Maybe we can travel to Japan later in 2021 or the following year on Japan Photo Tour so that you can capture beautiful maiko and geisha then. Of course, if you get inspired and interested in being one for a day, perhaps it’s not a bad idea to turn into one on your tour too. Just a note to remember is that there has been a significant number of complaints from the maiko and geisha of the Kyoto community in the recent years that some travelers have been too aggressive when it comes to approaching maiko and geisha. Besides the obvious facts, it’s not appropriate to touch their hair, kimono, and/or body, if you meet them on the streets of Kyoto or anywhere else, please be respectful and mindful. If you are photographing them, please always ask first so that it’s a pleasant experience for both sides.