Jun 30 | Evan | Comments Off on The Old Capital in Bloom: Experiencing Kyoto during Cherry Blossom Season 2023 |
The next stop on our 2023 Cherry Blossom Photography Tour was Kyoto, the old capital of Japan and a city steeped in history, tradition, and breathtaking beauty. After a challenging start with the weather, we were greeted with sunny skies and blossoming sakura trees upon our arrival in Kyoto. However, with each passing day, the cherry blossoms were shedding their petals, slowly transitioning from peak bloom to the ephemeral beauty of falling sakura.
Yet, this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it turned out to be a blessing during our portrait session with a local geiko, a woman I’ve had the pleasure of photographing for several years now. She is always composed and elegant, but when a sudden “blizzard” of falling cherry blossom petals occurred, she burst into genuine, joyous laughter. The moment was pure magic, the falling sakura petals serving as the perfect backdrop to her radiant smile. It was truly a unique and heartwarming moment, reminding us of the spontaneous beauty that can occur in photography.
Kyoto, once the capital of Japan, is a city rich in cultural heritage. It boasts over 1,600 Buddhist temples, 400 Shinto shrines, and 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, each with its own unique story and beauty. This abundance of historical and cultural sites makes Kyoto a photographer’s paradise, providing countless opportunities for both classic and unconventional shots.
Of course, we made sure to visit the iconic sites like Kinkaku-ji (the Golden Pavilion), Ginkaku-ji (the Silver Pavilion), the Philosopher’s Path, Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, Kiyomizu-dera, Ninna-ji, Ryōan-ji, and Fushimi Inari Taisha. Each location offered its unique blend of nature and architecture, the cherry blossoms adding a touch of seasonal charm to these timeless landmarks.
But our journey through Kyoto wasn’t limited to the well-known spots. We also ventured to some lesser-known sites, hidden gems that offered unique photographic opportunities away from the crowds. Whether it was a lesser-known shrine tucked away in a quiet neighborhood or a beautiful garden off the beaten path, these hidden spots allowed us to experience and capture a different side of Kyoto.
Our time in Kyoto was filled with memorable experiences, beautiful sites, and unforgettable photographic moments. As we witnessed the city’s transition from peak cherry blossom season to the fleeting beauty of falling sakura, we were reminded of the transient nature of beauty and the importance of capturing these moments through our lenses. As we packed our bags for the next leg of our journey, we carried with us the images and memories of Kyoto, a city that beautifully blends the old with the new, the iconic with the hidden, and the transient with the timeless.
While traveling to Kyoto for the private and custom tour of Japan, I arranged for a tea ceremony and private portrait session with a real maiko (geiko apprentice) in Kyoto. I’ve taken herportraits many times before and she is almost finished with her apprenticeship and will be a geiko soon, I think by the time I see her again in the 2018 cherry blossom season in Japan! It’s been a wonderful experience working with her over the years and seeing her progression through the maiko/geiko culture and profession in Kyoto.
We met our maiko at her tea house for a short tea ceremony and dance performance. After chatting a little we went to a temple in Kyoto for our portrait session. Having photographed her before in Kyoto at this temple, I knew some of the poses I wanted to try again and some new poses I wanted to try. In this sense, photography locations for me can be similar to returning to a restaurant I like in that I know what menu items I already had and enjoyed but interesting in trying something new.
Taking a step back with restaurants in general, even more so when I do tours in Tokyo and Kyoto as I know my favorite restaurants to eat in Japan but there is always a new place I want to try and visit! Back to photography though! Luckily, with photography, especially now it’s digital, I can try as many poses as time permits and get the instant feedback on how the portraits are coming out. In this case, working with a professional model, our maiko made it hard for us to take bad portraits!
Kyoto. More than 30 trips to Kyoto since 2004 and I’m still amazed every time I travel to Japan’s old capital. The mix between modern and traditional Japan is is probably the main reason why Kyoto is my favorite city in the world though it’s always exciting to see what first time visitors to Kyoto will fall in love with. Everyone comes to Kyoto with high expectations, but somehow tours in Kyoto never disappoint!
Whether it’s the temples and shrines themselves like Golden Pavilion, Nanzenji or Fushimi Inari Taisha, or the nature/gardens within or the food and shopping of Kyoto or the Kyoto arts and crafts or the old style buildings like in Ishibei Koji or Ninenzaka or the bamboo forest in Arashiyama, Kyoto has it all. Of course then there is Kyoto for photographers….
Photographers tend to move at a different pace than normal tourists. We look at things differently and for longer periods of time and then want to go back to some places for more sometimes! For a photographer, Kyoto is almost like shooting fish in a barrel. There are almost too many great opportunities which can be overwhelming at first because there are so many sights to see in a limited time. While Kyoto does have an extensive bus network and a subway, for efficiency, hiring a car is my preferred way to get around Kyoto and having a car this time certainly helped us to get in as much as possible. We had four nights in Kyoto, but no matter how many nights in Kyoto, it’s never enough and already looking forward to the next chance I have to spend time photographing and exploring this magical city!
Even after experiencing it a few times, I’m still amazed with the image stabilization on my Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II. The first two photos in the gallery below of the waterfall were taken at 1/6th of a second and 1/4th of a second, handheld!
After meeting in Tokyo and spending a few days in Kanazawa our private tour of Japan headed to my favorite city in Japan, Kyoto! With it’s mix of modern and tradition, along with what seems like an endless supply of beautiful gardens, shrines and temples, Kyoto is a photographer’s dream. Kyoto is also great for a foodie tour, which this guided tour of Japan was kind of turning into along with the photography aspect!
During the tour of Kyoto we visited as far west as Arashiyama for the bamboo grove and Moss Garden Temple (Kokedera), as far north west as Kamigamo Jinja and north east as Sanzenin and as far south as Fushi Inari Shrine. Of course we visited lots of other places in the center of Kyoto and east side of Kyoto as well! Eating lot’s of delicious food along the way and with a few special experiences arranged for the tour of Kyoto.
Meeting and making Japanese friends is part of my tours that I always try and encourage. After all, the people of Japan are certainly part of what makes Japan such a great place to visit! I arranged for a ikebana (flower arrangement) demonstration, calligraphy lesson, tea ceremony with an English speaking maiko and also a portrait session with a maiko in Kyoto. More on the portrait session with a maiko in Kyoto coming later as that will get it’s own blog post!
As with most of my trips to Kyoto, visiting Fushimi Inari Shrine and the bamboo groves of Arashiyama early in the morning provide the best chance of great photographic opportunity. Not only because of the obvious better light earlier in the morning but also because these places just get too crowded during the day, or really even from 8am or perhaps a little earlier!