Cherry Blossom Tour of Japan | Maiko Portrait Session

Apr 20 | Evan | No Comments |

Maiko Portrait Session-13-japanphotoguide

The 2014 cherry blossom tour of Tokyo and Kyoto  in Japan had been going great and filled with special experiences so far.  When planning this trip to Japan, one of the experiences I was most excited about was this portrait session with a real maiko!  A maiko is an apprentice geisha or geiko as they are referred to in Kyoto.  Many westerners think that these women are prostitutes, but this is not the case (and has not been for quite some time).  Maiko, geisha or geiko are really entertainers that not only must know how to perform songs and dance, but also how to social interact and talk with high ranking politicians and members of elite society.  For more information about maiko, geisha, geiko and their history, the wikipedia page is a good place to start.

Maiko Portrait Session-20-japanphotoguide

To schedule time with a maiko is not so easy.  First, you have to know somebody with a connection.  I had a few interactions with maiko and geiko, and because of my experience with some geisha houses and my Japanese, I could have scheduled something by myself, but like many things in Japanese culture, the most direct way is not always the best.  So even for me,  the best way for me to arrange time with one is to go through one of my connections in Kyoto.  Even if you have a connection or two like myself, availability can be a problem as there are not so many maiko around!   Thanks to my connections, we were able to arrange 2 different portrait sessions with 2 different maiko.  Now that we had the time scheduled, the difficult part was finding a beautiful place, where we wouldn’t be overrun by tourist rushing to take photos!  So all the popular places were out of the questions, but we were able to find some more isolated areas that allowed us to make beautiful portraits in Kyoto.  Here are just a few of my favorite portraits of the two maiko in Kyoto during cherry blossom season:


Tour of Japan | Samurai Experience

Apr 20 | Evan | No Comments |

After spending some time as a Ninja, I was able to stop by for a few minutes to check out the samurai experience being offered by the same group that introduced me to the Ninja Experience, IJCEE.  The Institute for Japanese Culture Experience and Education has an office in Tokyo, but can help to arrange special experiences all over Japan, especially in Kansai area as well.  I was able to meet with some of the staff in the Tokyo office for a brief time and since there was a Samurai Experience going on at the same time, I stopped in for a few minutes to see that and take photos.  Like with the Ninja Experience, there was a master/teacher and a translator to handle the explanation and history.  I think since I was there taking photos, they let their customer wear the traditional armor, so if you do this experience, not sure you can wear it or not!

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I could only stay for a little while, so I didn’t really see any of the action, but I’m sure there was some sword action and teachings about fighting/samurai culture and history.

Tour of Japan | Ninja Experience

Apr 19 | Evan | No Comments |

While still in Tokyo for the cherry blossom tour, I arranged an experience at a small dojo to learn about life as a ninja, the tools/weapons ninjas used and even to learn a few moves.   For this special experience, it was just the boys as the girls had their day to go shopping in Tokyo.  Actually, it worked out nicely as this was one of the few rainy days we had in Tokyo, so it was nice to have something to do inside.  The ninja lesson started off with a brief ritual and demonstration of the master’s abilities.  The master that was our instructor comes from from a family whose lineage has been a family of ninjas and was eager to share their history and way of life from back in the day.   Of course, you cannot have a ninja lesson without looking the part!Ninja Experience-12-japanphotoguide

Once we looked the part, we learned about throwing ninja stars, drawing/using swords and other weapons as well as some of the techniques used for surprise attacks and of course defense.  The whole experience lasted a little more than an hour and was enjoyable and not really cheesy.  Another option we had considered was going to the Ninja Restaurant in Akasaka, but I think this is better for a guys day, especially if kids are involved.

Tour of Japan | Japanese Sword Smith Demonstration

Apr 17 | Evan | No Comments |

The family I was guiding around Japan during cherry blossom season was interested in participating in quite a few experiences. One of which I was really excited about was visiting with a real Japanese sword smith and getting a demonstration while we were able to take photos. When I was first asked about this, I immediately told them that I would certainly look into finding a Japanese sword smith but also told them I was not overly optimistic about finding one open to allowing us to visit and take photos. I had attempted to contact quite a few and received no response before coming across

Sword Smith Experience-06-japanphotoguide

I did receive a response back very quickly and after describing what we were looking for, they thought that they could help me arrange something. I was also informed, like with many things in Japanese culture, there is a certain procedure to be followed when attending a demonstration and after agreeing to their terms to respect the artist, his creations and culture, we were able to arrange a private demonstration!

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The good folks at Tamahagane Arts introduced us to Fusataro san and arranged for us to visit his workplace. Much like the art of photography, a master sword smith needs to be able to control the available light to create the best swords to judge temperatures among other factors. So inside was always dark but sometimes he opened the window a little so that there was a little more light, but as you can see from the photos, the lighting conditions were always challenging. That being said, we came away with some great photos and also had a wonderful time. I love spending time with anyone that puts as much passion into their work, whether it is a coffee barista or sword smith. It was certainly an unforgettable experience that I hope to be able to introduce others to as well. Fusataro san has a warm and welcoming personality and speaks English well so that he could explain most aspects of his work to us but if you can’t speak Japanese or have a good understanding of Japanese culture, you would need to go with an interpreter or guide like myself.

You can see the full gallery after the break: More

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