The Old Capital in Bloom: Experiencing Kyoto during Cherry Blossom Season 2023

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.

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.

A Photographic Journey through Japan’s Landscapes and Culture

Nov 29 | Evan | Comments Off on A Photographic Journey through Japan’s Landscapes and Culture |

In the fall of 2022, I had the unique opportunity to lead a photography tour of Japan for a small group of passionate photographers. This was the first photography tour of Japan I was able to lead post COVID and I couldn’t have been more excited! Our journey took us to some of the most picturesque locations across Japan, from the bustling streets of Tokyo to the serene landscapes of Fuji Five Lakes to the cultural hub of Kyoto. As a photographer myself, I was thrilled to share my knowledge and experience with this talented group, and together we captured some unforgettable moments and memories.

Our first stop was Tokyo, a vibrant and energetic city that offers endless opportunities for street photography. Japan’s bustling metropolis, Tokyo, is a photographer’s paradise. From the serene Showa Memorial Park to the neon-lit skyscraper district of Shinjuku, the city offers a variety of stunning sights and experiences to capture. From the classic architecture of the Imperial Palace to the neon lights of Shinjuku, Tokyo never fails to inspire. We explored some of the city’s most iconic landmarks, visited a Japanese chef’s home for a private cooking lesson and meal. The first stop on our photography journey was the Showa Memorial Park. Located in the suburbs of Tokyo, the park is a peaceful and serene oasis amidst the hustle and bustle of the city. It’s a great spot for nature lovers who appreciate the beauty of autumn leaves and cherry blossoms in the spring. As we walked around the park, we captured some amazing moments of locals and tourists alike enjoying their day out. And the wide open spaces allowed me to experiment with different angles and perspectives to create some truly unique shots.

Next up was Fuji Five Lakes, a breathtaking mountainous region that boasts some of Japan’s most iconic landscapes. We had a chance to photograph the stunning Lake Saiko with its turquoise waters and rich foliage, as well as Lake Tanuki and its picturesque reflections of Mount Fuji. We also visited the Itchiku Kubota Art Museum, where we marveled at the intricate beauty of the kimono artistry.

After taking photos of Mt Fuji from the Fuji Five Lakes, we transferred to Hakone via Gotemba. Unfortunately, our photography tour was met with a lot of rain in Hakone but we at least had a nice sunrise while visiting Hakone Shrine.

Nagoya was our next stop, where we immersed ourselves in Japan’s rich cultural heritage. We visited the Nagoya Castle, a magnificent example of feudal architecture that has stood for over 400 years. We also toured the Korankei Valley, a magical forest that puts on a dazzling display of autumn leaves each year.

Our stay in Okayama was equally inspiring, as we explored the Okayama Castle and the tranquil gardens of Kurashiki. We also visited the Bitchu Matsuyama Castle, one of the few surviving mountain castles in Japan. In the autumn seasons is the best chance to photograph the sea of clouds along with the castle in Okayama prefecture. We went two mornings, the first morning we had too many clouds but the second morning was a nice experience and provided photographic opportunities with this amazing Japanese castle.

Our final destination was the ancient capital of Kyoto, a city that never ceases to amaze with its beauty and charm. We visited some of the city’s most iconic landmarks, such as the Kiyomizu-dera Temple and the Fushimi Inari Shrine. We also explored some of Kyoto’s hidden alleys and backstreets, discovering the city’s intricate architecture and rich history.

We had a chance to witness the traditional geisha culture up close, as we attended a private portrait session with a geiko. The trip concluded with a farewell dinner where we shared our favorite photos and memories from the tour.

Leading a photography tour of Japan was a truly unforgettable experience, and I feel grateful to have shared it with such an incredible group of photographers. Japan’s landscapes and culture are truly unparalleled, and I hope that our journey has inspired others to explore this magical country through the lens of a camera. From the bustling streets of Tokyo to the tranquil gardens of Kyoto, Japan’s beauty is truly beyond compare. I look forward to returning to this incredible country and discovering even more hidden treasures along the way. Thank you to all the participants of our photography tour for making it such a special and rewarding journey. I hope that everyone has taken away plenty of amazing photos and memories from this experience.

Thinking about visiting Japan on a guided tour? Whether you want a private photography tour, a group tour of Japan, reach out to Japan Photo Guide to help create the experience and trip of a lifetime in Japan.

Traveling to Japan Post COVID

Oct 05 | Evan | No Comments |

Step by step traveling procedures in June and Oct 2022

Yes, it might be still too early to say it’s “Post COVID” particular in Japanese standard, but things are clearly changing in the right direction even in Japan when it comes to international traveling! We just recently shared the exciting news about Japan finally opening its border to international tourists without any restrictions (tour groups or individuals) after the country finally opened its borders on June 10th 2022 to tour groups only. This time though, it is completely open without any restrictions. Since the country has been so strict about international travelers entering Japan for such a long time, we thought it would be helpful to get an inside experience of what exactly you have to do when traveling to Japan. 

In this article, we provide actual pictures and steps of a traveler who traveled from Hawaii to Japan in June 2022 so that you can also prepare yourself for your journey to the country. Yes, it’s from a few months back so things have changed, but you can get a sense of what the traveling procedure is like so that you can start thinking about a photo tour of Japan. (Note: the traveler holds a Japanese passport, but as of Oct 11th 2022, procedures are the same for any individual travelers if he/she is a Japanese citizen or not so this is still informative for anybody.) 

What you need to prepare before traveling to Japan 

If you were traveling to Japan as of June 2022 below items were needed to enter Japan. (This article is only focusing on tourists, thus we are omitting the information for business personnel and international students/interns.) 

  • PCR test within 72 hours before traveling to Japan (+-$150 per test) needed to use the particular certificate (updated June 2022) 
  • Vaccine & booster record (upload to the app MySOS) 
  • MySOS
  • Q&A
  • Pledge

However, as the Japanese Prime Minister made an announcement on September 22nd 2022, the requirements for entering Japan have changed dramatically (individual tourists will be finally welcomed back, no daily limit of entry, no more visa applications for those who have not had visa requirements prior to COVID, and no more PCR test if you have 3 vaccines done) and below items will be required as of Oct 11th. There are slight differences between those who have had 3 COVID vaccines or not so you need to know what is required in your case. 

Those who have had 3 COVID vaccines: 

Those who have not had 3 COVID vaccines: 

  • Proof of negative test within 72 hours of departure (not antigen test) 
  • Questionner 
  • MySOS

As you probably noticed, you still need to download the app MySOS for traveling to Japan. This was not required prior to COVID, but this is something you must have to travel to Japan today. With the app, everything is smooth as you can provide the proof of vaccine/proof of negative test as well as submit the questionnaire so everything is in one spot. As you use the app, it starts from the red screen shown below and as you provide information and documents, the screen color changes to yellow and so on. In order to enter Japan without any hiccups, the screen needs to turn to blue by the time you are passing immigration so that you can avoid extra steps to pass through the immigeration. 

*This is the actual smart phone app screen for MySOS. It starts from Red, but once you submit all the necessary documents and they review, the color changes to Yellow. Further, the color changes to blue and green so know the colors of MySOS and what each means. 

Traveling from Hawaii/Daniel K Inouye Airport 

When international travel first opened up in June 2022, only 5 airports were accepting international flights in Japan. These were Haneda(Tokyo), Narita(Tokyo), Kansai(Osaka), Fukuoka(Fukuoka), and Nagoya(Aichi). To follow these airports, at the end of June, both Naha (Okinawa) and New Chitose (Hokkaido) opened up to allow international flights to depart/arrive. As Oct 11th fast approaches, Japan welcomes any travelers from around the world, we are expecting more airports opening up as well as more flights being available for travelers. 

Here is an experience of traveling from Hawaii, Daniel K Inouye Airport to Haneda Airport in Tokyo Japan as of June 20th 2022. The waiting time in line to get everything sorted out before passing immigration was 30 minutes total. As indicated above, if you have everything ready in MySOS you won’t have any problem and it should be smooth. However, every airport is different so come prepared to arrive at the airport early! 

Things hopefully have changed since then, but one thing that was inconvenient traveling in June through Daniel K Inouye Airport was that they didn’t open the gated waiting area for this particular flight to Japan till an hour before the flight so that not everyone had a comfortable chair to sit and wait until an hour before the flight departed. As more fights become available and COVID measures get relaxed, hopefully airport functions like how it used to be so that we don’t need to worry about stretching legs before being on an international flight in a restricted position on a plane for hours. 

Procedures at Haneda Airport 

Entering Japan during and post COVID time (current) is quite different from how it was before, prior to COVID time. It’s a lot better in the last few months, but you might need to be prepared to cover a long distance of walking from A to B to C and even D and further. One great thing though is that it has improved dramatically over the last months and it is expected to get better so the time it takes to pass the immigration is way shorter than how it used to be. Now that you no longer need to take a PCR test at the airport and staff at the airport are getting more used to the new normal, it won’t be as stressful for visitors as it was before.  

In this individual’s case, she traveled with a toddler, thus she had a priority to pass the immigration with COVID measures a lot more quickly than others. Even though they had to cover the same distance of endless walking around the airport, the time it took them to pass everything was only 10 to 15 mins, when it used to take hours and hours. However, you need to have everything prepared to be able to pass each station of checks with MySOS ready in hand so be prepared to have everything listed above so that you don’t need to waste extra time at the airport. 

A useful tip you might like to know is that MySOS requires the internet. Haneda Airport like other airports have free Wifi so connect to the free Wifi as soon as you get a chance so that everything is smooth. If you are planning to rent a pocket Wifi, until you pass the immigration, you can’t get there so you first have to use free Wifi at the airport unless you are fine paying high cost of international roaming from your home country! Furthermore, when you return to your home country through Haneda Airport, the airport is yet operating at a full capacity as of Aug 2022 so if you travel at night, you may not have all the options available to eat and shop so make sure to finish your souvenir shopping before arriving at the airport as well as don’t get disappointed with the food choice the airport provides in the evenings. 


Hopefully this article has provided you with some insightful information about what it is like traveling to Japan in 2022 and gave you confidence to plan a trip there. Yes, things are constantly changing and for the better so let’s hope next year we don’t even need to download MySOS app etc, but for now, follow the simple procedures and finally enjoy the time to visit Japan! Yes, it’s time to go and capture beautiful Japan on the photo tour of Japan that we all long been waiting for. 

For those of you who want to know the changes that will take place starting Oct 11th 2022, there is another article in detail that you can read about so check out the article here

No more travel restrictions to Japan!

Sep 30 | Evan | No Comments |

Oct 11th 2022 onward, all the travel restrictions will be removed

Yes, it is official! A long awaited travel restriction will be removed on October 11th 2022 to travel to Japan. Yes, it is legit, not fake news. Finally, we can plan a photography tour of Japan that we have long awaited!! This is an official announcement made by the Prime Minister Kishida who announced this big news in New York on September 22nd 2022. 

As well as Japan finally opening its borders to the entire world in October, Japan’s neighbor, Taiwan, also finally opened its borders to the international visitors a little earlier than Japan on September 29th. Asia, which has been having a lot tighter restrictions than elsewhere to the international travelers, is finally opening up! Are you ready to travel as well? Are you ready to be on a photo tour of Japan? 

NASA Satellite View of Japan Captured March 5, 2011
NASA Satellite View of Japan Captured March 5, 2011 by NASA Goddard Photo and Video is licensed under CC-BY 2.0

What will be removed starting on Oct 11th, 2022? 

So what will exactly change starting Oct 11th, 2022? As the Prime Minister Kishida announced, there will be no more daily limit to entering Japan, which is currently set to 50,000 people per day. In addition, the international tourists no longer need to obtain the visas (up to 90 days) for those countries previously not needing to obtain visas prior to COVID. Furthermore, so far only tour groups have been allowed to enter Japan, but Japan will completely open up the borders so that individuals can travel without any restrictions as well. Japan has already removed the PCR test for those who have done 3 COVID vaccines starting September 7th 2022, and this will remain for those who have already taken the 3 COVID vaccines. For those who have not gotten the vaccines, a proof of a negative test within 72 hours of departure is required for entering Japan. 

These changes are dramatic considering how slow Japan has been opening up its borders compared to the rest of the world. A lot of people have been waiting for Japan to open up, but when the country announced in spring that they were only allowing tour groups, many were disappointed and not keen on traveling to the country in a group so many have been waiting. These no restrictions to any groups of people entering Japan will definitely attract everyone who has long been waiting for this update as well as those who want to take advantage of historically weak Japanese yen that Japan has been experiencing in the last few months. 

So what do you still need to enter Japan? 

With these changes, what do we need to prepare to enter Japan? The preparation to enter Japan differs depending on your COVID vaccine status so the requirements are separated by the individual’s vaccine history. Below is what is decided for October 11th 2022 onward as of October 3rd 2022. 

Those who have done 3 COVID vaccines 

Those who have not done 3 COVID vaccines 

  • Proof of negative test within 72 hours of departure (not antigen test) 
  • Questionner 
  • MySOS

Downloading MySOS for Japan trip will be crucial as everything can be uploaded and managed on your phone regardless of your vaccine status. Below is an example of MySOS screens on a smartphone when traveling from Hawaii, USA. As you complete each task of uploading the required fields and authority checking your submissions, the screen colors change from Red, Yellow, Blue, and Green and you eventually want to get to either Blue or Green to easily enter Japan. 


For those of you who want to learn more about the details for entering Japan with these new guidelines,it is highly recommend to check the official government website from the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare on COVID-19: Current Japanese Border Control so that you know what vaccines are recognized as vaccines in Japan as well as which tests are approved as a form of negative COVID test.

Tourism and entertaining promotions October 11th onward 

As well as these new changes to international travel, the Prime Minister Kishida also announced on September 22nd that there will be promotions to support domestic travel industries and entertainment industries that have been impacted significantly due to COVID in the last three years. These special promotions also start on October 11th and the details and duration of these promotions are handled by Prefectural basis. 

The travel promotion allows Japanese citizens and residents to get discounts to travel around Japan for accommodations and transportations up to 11,000 JPY a day including coupons so this is a favorable discount for those who are eager to travel domestically. The entertainment promotion is for entertainment such as concerts, theme parks, museums, theaters, zoos, aquariums, movies, and sports that people can get up to 2,000 JPY per person to get discounts for the tickets. Certain venues and entertainments won’t cost the full amount so you might be able to enjoy free entertainment! By the way, the catch is that in order to enjoy these discounts, one must finish the vaccines with a booster shot or need to provide proof of a negative PCR test. 

Unfortunately, these promotions only target Japanese citizens and residents of Japan, thus it won’t impact international travelers, but from what you see, Japan is really trying to push its economy back to where it used to be and it is an encouraging news for international travelers too as you can expect many entertainments to open up that have been closed or operated at smaller scales by the time you get there. 

Are you ready to travel to Japan? 

So what do you think? With these positive changes, are you ready to travel to Japan this fall or do you want to wait a little bit to see how the new change will  impact travelers like yourself to finally make a way to Japan? The Japanese yen is at an all time low so the advantage of going to Japan right now is to fully enjoy this special time. Hopefully, we will be able to make an exciting announcement of a photography tour of Japan tour plans shortly so that you will be able to finally travel to Japan and enjoy taking photographs there soon! It has been so long! The time is here. 

Btw for those of you who want to know what it’s like to actually travel to Japan in 2022, check this article here so that you can get a better feel of what you expect with traveling to Japan today.

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