Winter Festival in Japan: Sapporo Snow Festival

Feb 19 | Evan | No Comments |

Sapporo Snow Festival is one of the most well known winter festivals of Japan. The first snow festival took place in 1950 with only 6 sculptures created by local high school students. It has now grown to attract over 2.7 million people each year and just like snow monkeys, Sapporo Snow Festival attracts many international tourists as well as domestic tourists. In this article, let’s learn about Sapporo Snow Festival so that when it’s time for you to join Japan Photo Guide’s photo tour of Japan, you will be well informed about this festival so that you can share your knowledge with others! 

Sapporo Snow Festival 

Sapporo Snow Festival generally happens at the end of January to the beginning of February for a week. However, the 72nd Sapporo Snow Festival, which is tentatively planned for Feb 4th to 11th 2021is little different from usual. Because of the global pandemic and thus difficulties collaborating with large scale sponsors and international collaborations, the 72nd Sapporo Snow Festival is held at a much smaller scale without large snow sculptures but only with small to midsize sculptures. 

Sapporo Snow Festival has become growingly international, not only because of popularity among international visitors, but also international sponsors and collaborations that have impacted this festival over the past years. The 1st time international communities got involved in this festival, there were only 6 countries involved, but over the years, more people got involved that by the 49th festival, there were 20 countries with 80 international individuals participated, and overall, there have been 37 countries and/or regions have participated to create a truly magical atmosphere. 

It’s all free!  

At Sapporo Snow Festival, there are 3 sites where there are a total of 200 snow and ice sculptures. You can walk around, observe, and even play and all of these sites are free! The theme of each site is a little different and these sites are called Odori Site, Susukino Site, and Tsudome Site. 

“Odori Site” is where there are usually large scale snow sculptures and this can be considered a main site having approximately 120 sculptures. At “Susukino Site,” there are approximately 60 ice sculptures. The last site is little different from the two as is more focused on visitors actually being able to do fun snow activities and is called “Tsudome Site.” It is held earlier from and is little away from the main site, requiring you to take a subway to get there. Tsudome site has 20 or so snow and ice sculptures. It is very family friendly, thus if you are visiting with children, this would be the perfect site to enjoy playing with snow. Of course, adults can enjoy playing there as well! 

The main site is “Odori Site” and this is where impressive large scale snow sculptures are built. Unfortunately this coming one, the 72nd festival won’t have large scale sculptures, but generally, this is where you can witness impressive large scale snow sculptures that will for sure impress you. The snow sculptures are impressive both day and night, but the nighttime is when the street is filled with magic. With the technology of projection mapping, the night time is when the real fun happens, the snow comes alive! Both Odori Site and Susukino Site sculptures are illuminated each day until 11:00p.m. on Odori Site and 10:00p.m. on Susukino Site so if you get a chance, definitely try to visit at night as well as during the day. 

Can’t miss the street food!

One thing you definitely cannot miss by going to Sapporo Snow Festival is the street food! I mean it’s literally impossible to miss the street food as there are many colorful food stalls with impossible to ignore smell coming from every stall you walk by. You will most likely be trying a lot of Japanese food when you are on a photography tour of Japan, but you definitely have to try Hokkaido delicacy when you are at the festival! 

Hokkaido’s food is definitely well known among Japanese to be the top quality when it comes to almost every food! The vast nature of Hokkaido provides rich food, from seafood like Hokkaido crab to a local food like gengiskan. Of course, you cannot miss Hokkaido ramen! It’s street food so a lot of them are accessible and reasonably priced that you can comfortably find food between 500 yen to 1,000 yen (5 to 10 USD). Some are even below 500 yen so you must try a variety of food before you indulge yourself in one thing! 

Dos and Don’ts of Sapporo Snow Festival 

When you attend Sapporo Snow Festival, definitely layer up! However, don’t forget that you will be walking around the festival or playing at the snow activities so think about comfort as well. It is suggested that wearing a t-shirt, a sweater, and a jacket/coat, having 3 layers is ideal. It’s not good to have a thin jacket/coat, but if you have a thick one, that is what you want to choose. Additionally, having a hat, gloves, and earmuffs would further protect you from the cold. If your main focus is Tsudome Site to play, then it’s not bad to dress in snowboard or ski wear. For more info, please take a look at here from the official website for how to dress. 

It is a snow festival so if you happen to have snow boots, it might not be a stupid idea to bring them as the streets are often frozen. However, they can take a lot of space in your suitcase so if that doesn’t work well with you, why don’t you get anti-slip straps for your shoes! Around the snow festival, they sell shoe clippers called “suberidome,” which can be attached to most of shoes to act as snow stoppers. These are around 1,000 yen and can be purchased at anywhere including convenient stores so if you don’t have proper shoes, definitely spend 1,000 yen to protect yourself from falling. 

One thing you also want to know at the festival is that you cannot use a drone. Being on a photography tour of Japan, I’m sure you want to photograph a lot at the festival. Well, you can use your camera to photograph and videography no problem, but the use of a drone is prohibited. If you are keen on seeing the drone image of the festival, below is the official YouTube video of the 70th Sapporo Snow Festival for you to see. It’s truly spectacular. 

Summary 

As Japan Photo Guide talks about Sapporo Snow Festival being one of his favorites, this festival is truly magical and one and only to Sapporo Japan. As well as impressive snow and ice sculptures, the fact it is held in Sapporo makes a big deal! This is the place to enjoy Hokkaido food! 

You may not like the cold very much, but the sculptures are so impressive to see and it’s hard not to be amazed by its beauty. With the technological advancements, as well as beauty, projection mapping has added excitement that any age group would appreciate. If you are more into activities, you can also head to Tsudome Site to try snow slides and snow rafting. Sapporo Snow Festival is definitely a highlight of the Japan photo tour during winter and let’s hope Japan Photo Guide can take you all there soon! 

Photographing Mt. Fuji from Yamanashi Prefecture

Jan 14 | Evan | No Comments |

If you had some time to already look through Japan Photo Guide’s past photography tours of Japan, you probably noticed that he has many beautiful photos of Mt. Fuji at Fuji Five Lakes. As you might have already guessed, Fuji Five Lakes are the lakes around Mt. Fuji in Yamanashi Prefecture, which are known for the outstanding locations to see and photograph the mountain. In this article, let’s discuss photographing Mt. Fuji from the Yamanashi Prefecture and let’s find out what’s so special about touring and capturing the beauty of Japan in Yamanashi. 

Fuji Five Lakes

As introduced already, Fuji Five Lakes are the lakes around Mt. Fuji, which stretches over the northern side of the mountain on the Yamanashi Prefecture. These lakes include Kawaguchiko, Saiko, Yamanashiko, Shojiko, and Mototsuko and are said to be the best places to view Mt. Fuji as well as photographing the mountain. Japan Photo Guide’s photography tours also visit the Fuji Five Lakes almost annually where he and his guests can photograph stunning images of the mountain. Just look at the photograph he captured at one of the lakes at Kawaguchiko below. Yes, you can photograph a beautiful reflection of Mt. Fuji in the lake at this location. 

Of all the lakes, if you are new to Japan and not sure how to get around, the easiest and the most accessible lake is Kawaguchiko. It is the most developed of all the lake areas. However, if you join Japan Photo Guide’s Japan photo tour, you don’t need to worry about how to get around etc. by yourself. He will take you to other lakes as well so you get to photograph many faces of the mountain! For example, if you are curious to know how the Mt. Fuji looks like from Shojiko, take a look here at the 2015 Cherry Blossom Tour of Japan!  Additionally, during 2017 Cherry Blossom Tours of Japan, Japan Photo Guide took his tour not only to Kawaguchiko, but also to Shojiko and Yamanakako. 

Btw before going forward, let’s have a mini Japanese lesson here! 

If you look at 5 lakes listed already, you might have already noticed that all of the lakes end in “ko.” This stands for “lake” in Japanese, thus you know it is a lake we are talking about. If you are wondering what is the Japanese character, it is “こ” in hiragana, and “湖” in kanji. If you are visiting a lake, you will see this character “湖” so you might like to keep an eye on it when you are looking for a lake in Japan! 

The best location to photograph “sakasa fuji” 

Have you ever heard of a Japanese term “sakasa fuji?” Sakasa in Japanese means “upside down.” Thus, sakasa fuji is the Mt. Fuji, which is reflected in the lake of Kawaguchiko and is one the most popular Mt. Fuji photographers enjoy capturing. Japan Photo Guide has of course photographed sakasa fuji many times and has taken his photography tours of Japan to Kawaguchiko annually. Below are some of Japan Photo Guide’s sakasa fuji images as well as those who have joined his previous Japan photo tours. As you can imagine, this is something you definitely have to go close enough to Mt. Fuji in Yamanashi at these lakes to view and photograph a flipped/reflected mountain in the beautiful body of water.

Photo created by and courtesy of Dan Leffel

For those of you who cannot wait till the photo tour of Japan to see sakasa fuji, why don’t you check out the live camera dedicated to Kawaguchiko’s sakasa fuji here

Tell me more about Yamanashi! 

Of course, there is more to learn about Yamanashi! The best thing about the photo tour of Japan is how you can enjoy photographing all the beauties of Japan, but also actually feel and experience Japan as you tour. So let’s learn some of Yamanashi’s delicacies and other unique spots you want to know before you make your way to Japan with Japan Photo Guide. 

If you have already visited Japan, many of you know that fruits in Japan are so sweet and delicious. Yamanashi offers a lot of fresh fruits such as strawberries, cherries, peaches, pears, and grapes to just name a few. It is because Yamanashi of all Japan has the longest daylight hours, thus providing ample Sun for sweet fruits to grow. Of all these fruits, Yamanashi grows the most grapes in Japan and they are in season now during August to October. Yes, as you have guessed, since Yamanashi grows the most grapes, there are wineries in Yamanashi too! Wine making started in Japan during the Meiji Era (Jan 25th 1868 – Jul 30th, 1912) and today, Yamanashi’s wine is internationally well known for its rich taste, which matches perfectly with washoku, Japanese food.  

And for those of you who enjoy outdoors, Yamanashi offers many outdoor activities such as fruit picking, camping, BBQ, golfing, and even riding on an Olympic road cycle race track! It may not have the Ocean, but Yamanashi still offers abundant nature, which is so fun to tour and photograph the beautiful nature including lakes, waterfalls, and depending on the season, you get to see beautiful cherry blossoms in spring and colorful changing colors of leaves in autumn. 

Photo created by and courtesy of Daniel Leffel

Finally…

Just by going over what Yamanashi has to offer, I am getting hungry for Yamanashi’s delicacies and dreaming of the fresh air by Kawaguchiko looking at sakasa fuji. When you are in Yamanashi, you need to be always ready to photograph Mt. Fuji because as well as the famous sakasa fuji, there will be many faces of the mountain with unexpected collaborations that Yamanashi has to offer. If it is during cherry blossom season or rich summer green with blue sky reason or even during vividly colored autumn leaves season and snow white winter season, Yamanashi always provides picture perfect locations for us photographers. 

If you are now more than eager to join Japan Photo Guide’s tour in 2021 or 2022, find out more details about the photo tour of Japan from here

Photographing Mt. Fuji from Shizuoka Prefecture

Sep 14 | Evan | No Comments |

Mt. Fuji (Fujisan in Japanese) is without a doubt the most famous mountain and the landscape of Japan. It is also one of the most photographed landscapes of Japan and is a very popular destination for Japan Photo Guide’s Japan photo tour. 

Unfortunately, due to the global pandemic, Mt. Fuji is closed for 2020 and traveling to Japan is very restricted at this time, in September 2020. We can’t climb the mountain nor get close enough to photograph the mountain any time soon, but why don’t we take this time to revise the best spots and concepts of photographing Mt. Fuji from the Shizuoka side. 

Where is Shizuoka? 

Before going in depth, for those of you who do not know the geography of Japan, let’s take a look at the map of Japan to familiarize yourself with where Mt. Fuji is located and what I mean by the Shizuoka side. 

As you can see from the map, Mt. Fuji is located SouthWest of Tokyo and is over two Prefectures, Shizuoka to the South and Yamanashi to the North. As it is the highest mountain in Japan, even from Tokyo, you might be lucky enough to see this national symbol in the distance on a sunny day such as from the observatories.  However, if you really want to get close to Mt. Fuji and experience the majestic beauty up close, you definitely want to travel to Shizuoka and/or Yamanashi to capture its beauty. 

In this article, we want to focus solely on the idea of photographing from the Shizuoka side. (Yes, don’t worry! I will be visiting the best spots and concepts to capture Mt. Fuji from the Yamanashi side in the other article. ) Btw for those of you who are hoping to not only photograph Mt. Fuji, but also eventually climb to the summit of Mt. Fuji, Shizuoka Prefecture has 3 routes called, “Subashiri Trail,” “Gotenba Trail,” and also “Fujinomiya Trail,” which offer more options than 1 route that starts on the Yamanashi side called “Yoshida Trail.” 

Let’s learn about Shizuoka 

Shizuoka Prefecture is a huge prefecture of abundant natural beauty, which is located SouthWest of Tokyo, next to Kanagawa Prefecture. It attracts many Japanese tourists as well as international guests for its delicious seafood, rich green tea, fresh wasabi, relaxing hot springs to just name a few. With its rich nature, many Japanese often find Shizuoka as the resort spot that is easily accessible from the busy city life of Tokyo. Thus, if you are interested in photographing Mt. Fuji, but also enjoy Japan’s delicacy like wasabi and tasty seafood, Shizuoka is the perfect location to join the photo tour of Japan with a finishing touch of onsen, hotspring to relax your mind and body at the end of the day. 

Btw, if you don’t know much about Japanese food, wasabi is the green spicy paste when you eat sushi. You can’t grow wasabi just anywhere. You can only grow wasabi with truly clean water. Shizuoka grows the most wasabi in Japan and its traditional cultivation is recognized by FAO(Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) back in 2018 March. So yes, there is so much to learn about and eat in Shizuoka! 

Anyways, if you are hoping to join Japan Photo Guide’s Japan photo tour when the pandemic is over, you have more to expect from touring Shizuoka than simply photographing Mt. Fuji (even though photographing Mt. Fuji is most likely the highlight of the tour). You will for sure enjoy amazing Japanese food in Shizuoka and the best hot spring experience one can imagine. 

What’s so special about photographing from the Shizuoka Side 

Well, we got side tracked a little so let’s get back to why photographing Mt. Fuji from the Shizuoka side is so special. As I pointed out, Mt. Fuji is over Shizuoka and Yamanashi prefectures. When you photograph from the Shizuoka side, you can photograph Mt. Fuji with the ocean (Yamanashi does not face the ocean), the mountains, cities, and also shinkansen, the bullet trains. If you have already traveled to Japan previously and have been on shinkansen, you know you can also photograph Mt. Fuji with shinkansen at some locations in Shizuoka by the railways as well as photographing the mountain from the train. 

 The Mt. Fuji and shinkansen combination is fun, but you can also photograph Mt. Fuji with the famous tea fields such as below in Shizuoka. Like wasabi, Shizuoka produces the most green tea in Japan, which is approximately 40% of the entire nation. This is from one of Japan Photo Guide’s previous Japan photography tours he has led. Yes, the rich green of the tea field and the majestic Mt. Fuji combinations are also stunning, right? 

Conclusion

So are you now excited about traveling to Shizuoka and photograph Mt. Fuji and perhaps enjoy onsen? The photo tour of Japan is of course to photograph the beauty of Japan, but also a way to learn about Japan. There is obviously so much more to learn what Shizuoka has to offer, but I wanted to give you an introductory course of Shizuoka with the idea of photographing Mt. Fuji as a base. 

By the way, some of you might have been curious if the famous Japanese painter, Hokusai’s Mt. Fuji and waves are from the Shizuoka side or not, right? The answer is No! The title of the painting is called “The Great Waves of Kanagawa,” so the angle of the painting is from Kanagawa Prefecture, which is located right next to Shizuoka. Having said that, Shizuoka faces the ocean too so from the Shizuoka side, you will be able to photograph a great combination of the Pacific Ocean and Mt. Fuji as well. 

Finally, for those of you who cannot wait till the Japan photography tour, and want to check how Mt. Fuji looks from the Shizuoka side, you can check the Shizuoka Prefecture’s official website here to see Mt. Fuji Live View

2019 Cherry Blossom Photo Tour | Kyoto Geiko Portrait Session

Jul 21 | Evan | No Comments |

In 2014 I received a request to arrange a private tour in Japan for a photographer and his family. There were a few photography opportunities requested such as spending time with a master sword smith as he worked to to take portraits of a real maiko, geiko or geisha in Japan. So it was in 2014 I first started working with this (at the time) maiko and during the 2019 cherry blossom photography tour of Japan I took portraits of her for the first time as a geiko (she finished her apprenticeship and earned new title).

I’ve really enjoyed working with her and creating portraits in Kyoto with her year after year and hope to continue to bring small groups of photographers to take portraits of her for many years to come in Kyoto.

The photo below is courtesy of and created by one of our group’s photographers, Daniel Leffel. Take a look at Daniel’s website for more excellent photography not only of Japan but all over the word.

Kyoto Japan

The 2019 Cherry Blossom Photography Tour took a small group of photographers to Japan. We started in Tokyo and continued to Hiroshima, Miyajima, Himeji Castle, Kyoto and Mt. Fuji from Shizuoka and from Fuji Five Lakes. Here is the trip report from the 2019 Cherry Blossom Photography Tour of Japan and the 2018 Cherry Blossom Photo Tour of Japan. The 2020 Cherry Blossom Photo Tour of Japan is already planned and live! Limited spots are available for the 2020 Cherry Blossom Photography Tour of Japan, with first booking already reserved!

Here is a gallery of more geiko portraits taken during the 2019 cherry blossom tour of Japan.

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