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The Autumn season is my favorite time (okay tied with cherry blossom season maybe) to visit Japan and I am excited about the opportunity to bring a small group (max of 5 participants) to experience Japan in November of 2020!
Japan is great all year long, but in the fall you can expect moderate temperatures, low humidity and chances of rain and of course the leaves are spectacular as they change colors!
The timing of the fall leaves changing color isn’t an exact science and we can’t always count on mother nature to be on time, but the places we plan to visit will have fantastic photo opportunities even if we are a little early or late for the leaves. Also, I don’t think it is enough to just visit Japan, but always like to include optional cultural experiences as well. These will be arranged depending on the preferences of the group but could be such experiences as cooking lessons in a Japanese home, tea ceremony, flower arrangement, traditional Japanese music/art, or something more along the lines of ninja/samurai experience or even visiting a master sword smith.
Another popular option is to have a portrait session with a real maiko/geiko (geiko is the commonly used term for geisha in Kyoto) while in Kyoto or some locals wearing Japanese traditional clothes like kimono or yukata. If you have other interests or requests, please let me know as it might be possible!
Intro & Highlights
14 Nights, 15 days
Tokyo - Nov 12
Fuji Five Lakes - Nov 13 - 14
Hakone - Nov 15 - 16
Miyajima - Nov 17 - 18
Okayama - Nov 19
Kyoto - Nov 20 - 24
Tokyo - Nov 25
You will want to arrive in Tokyo no later than November 12th (HND is preferred and much closer airport but NRT is okay too). If you arrive earlier, I can help with hotel arrangements so you can stay in same room the entire time in Tokyo.
The tour officially ends Nov 25th but there is a hotel for you in Tokyo that night, so you will want to depart Tokyo November 26th or later (HND is preferred and much closer airport but NRT is okay too).
If anyone really wants to be home for Thanksgiving, you could maybe leave a day early from Osaka (ITM or KIX) on November 25th.
Breakfast is included everyday and most likely 4-6 dinners depending on the final hotel choices.
Tokyo | First and Last Night
If New York is the city that never sleeps, Tokyo is the city the doesn't even slow down! A truly unique megalopolis, full of energy, lights and more food experiences that you could hope to try. For a city of this size (greater Tokyo area is around 35 million), Tokyo is amazingly clean, safe, provides ample and on time public transportation. When we arrive we will most likely be too early for fall colors but by the time we return, colors should be nice in Tokyo.
Fuji Five Lakes | 2 Nights
Perhaps Japan's most iconic symbol, Mt. Fuji is best seen from afar rather than climbing! Though the mountain has a reputation of being "shy" by hiding behind clouds, October - February offer the best percentage of days to see the mountain clearly. We will base our stay in the resort town on Lake Kawaguchi though we could also stop by some of the other five lakes searching for spectacular views of the mountain, hopefully with fall leaves, which in an average year we should have good timing for some areas of elevation in the area.
Hakone | 2 Nights
In Hakone we will still hope for great views of Fuji but also provides different photographic opportunities. We will visit some temples and shrines but there are also a few museums that have gardens or outdoor exhibitions that make for some interested photos normally but even more so with fall colors around. There is also a torii gate in Lake Ashinoko which we can photograph hopefully with fall colors and Mt. Fuji in the background.
Miyajima & Hiroshima | 2 nights
Miyajima is considered by many to be one of the 3 most scenic places in Japan and is famous for it's tori gate in the sea that appears to float when the tide is in and we can walk up to it when the tide is out. Whether the tide is in our out, numerous photographic opportunities are available. Miyajima is also famous for it's maple leaves along the side of Mt. Misen appropriately called, Maple Leaf Valley (Momijidani). Also, Miyajima is home to hundreds of wild deer which are free to roam the island. Unlike the deer found in Nara, these deer are not fed by tourists and as a result, while still not afraid of humans, are much calmer. During the day, Miyajima is quite crowded with tourists so we will take a day trip to Hiroshima to visit the peace park and memorial museum, but early in the morning and late in the evening when the tourists leave, Miyajima is magically peaceful.
Okayama | 1 Night
Okayama is where we can find one of Japan's three most scenic landscape gardens, Korakuen. Okayama also home to Okayama Castle and both the castle and Korakuen garden are lit up in the evening during the fall season. This will be a short stay for us to break up travel but we still will have photographic opportunities to explore here.
Kyoto | 5 nights
Kyoto is my favorite city in Japan and perhaps the world. It has a wonderful mix of modern and traditional Japan with food that is just as rich as Kyoto's history. Truly a unique place that really you could spend your entire trip in and not run out of things to do ad see! Since you mentioned you enjoyed them, there are 17 UNESCO sites in Kyoto (unless more have been added recently).
Highlights include some spectacular temples and shrines like the Golden Pavilion, Ryoanji, Nanzenji, Kokedera and Fushimi Inari Taisha. Also we will check out some of the historic areas of Kyoto like the Geiko District (Geisha in Kyoto are referred to as Geiko) of Gion, beautiful Higashiyama neighborhood and the relaxing Path of Philosophy. Of course an early visit to the bamboo groves is always full of photographic opportunities no matter the time of the year. With so many photo spots in Kyoto, the exact plan remains fluid and changes based on the weather and what we did the day before. Kyoto is also where we will also have a portrait session with a Maiko or Geiko, Japanese Tea Ceremony, Japanese Calligraphy Lesson and day trip to visit a real sword smith.
Tokyo | First and Last Night
We will return to Tokyo on November 25th for our final night together and the tour officially ends when we say goodbye on our last day. If you'd like to stay longer, this should be perfect time for fall colors in Tokyo and I'm happy to help you arrange something for you to enjoy yourself or perhaps an extension together if anyone is interested.
Currently not one planned, but ask if interested!
Japan is a very clean and safe country and any accommodations we stay in would of course be clean and safe. In general, we will stay in 3.5 - 4.5 star hotels though as it is a tour with an emphasis on photography, some hotels will be picked with an emphasis on location instead of luxury. Depending on our plan and size of group, I always pick the best hotel that is in the location we want to be in. I also continue to monitor the hotel situation/prices as we approach the trip in case something better becomes available or exchange rate has moved in our favor.
Fall Tour (14 nights) | $7700 USD
Single Occupancy Fee | $800 USD
Your investment per person, for this tour included:
- 3.5-4.5 star accommodations for 14 nights for two people per room. Single rooms are available for a supplement of $800 USD and are due to availability.
- Services of your photo leader and other local guides when applicable.
- All transfers within Japan when we are together as a group, which will likely include a combination of bullet train (shinkansen), chartered transport or express highway bus.
- Breakfast on all days and some dinners (at least 4, maybe more depending on final hotel choices).
- Temple, shrine and park fees are included unless there are some optional experiences you wish to take part in.
Your investment does not include:
- Airfare to/from Japan or any fees associated with your tickets. Japan Photo Guide does have a relationship with a travel agency in Japan and can help you with airfare, but this is completely optional. If making your own reservations, it is very important to contact Japan Photo Guide before doing so to make sure times will work with the group.
- Participants from from some countries may need a visa to visit Japan. Japan Photo Guide can help you with the process, but there may be additional costs.
- Any meals/activities/experiences during free time are not included and some of these while together are optional and are not included.
- While some meals will be included, often there are additional beverages that are not included like alcohol and sometimes soft drinks.
- All personal expenses are not included.
- Medical or travel insurance is not included.
Other Notes About Your Investment
These prices are in United States Dollars are based on a group of 5 or more participants. If the group turns out to be 3 or less participants, there is small group fee of $500 USD per person. 5 would be the maximum number of participants.
Evan Pike, professional photographer and founder of Japan Photo Guide will be your main guide in Japan. Evan spent more than 4 years living and traveling around Japan as a freelance photographer. Though currently living in the USA, Evan returns to Japan 2 - 4 times a year for weeks at a time (30+ times since 2010). On average, Evan spends almost 3 months of the year in Japan. Through personal experiences and connections gained by living/traveling within Japan, Evan offers guidance, assistance, and photography tips, to create a much more meaningful vacation for those visiting Japan. The main idea behind Japan Photo Guide is to create unique experiences and memories that will last much longer than the vacation itself. When not in Japan, Evan runs a boutique portrait studio in Cary, NC and is a photographer for USA Today Sports Images. Evan can speak intermediate Japanese--conversational, situational and functional.
Japan Photo Guide has helped more travelers from more 10 different countries visit and experience Japan. Please take a look at the testimonial page for the most recent reviews of guided tours of Japan, but here are a few quotes taken from the reviews:
Our group had a strong interest in landscape photography and he prepared many options and locations so that we could create our art in a variety of different locations. Other highlights of the trip were a portrait session he planned with locals as well as introducing us to Japanese food and culture including a private cooking lesson with a Japanese chef in her home. I am looking forward to visiting Japan with Evan’s easy going personalty and warm smile!
Your ability to bridge the gap between U.S. and Japanese culture made the country come alive for me. You made it easy for me to see and do things that would have been extremely difficult and in some cases impossible.
Nothing is more valuable when visiting a new place than someone with first-hand knowledge of and experience with the geography, the culture, the people, and the sights. Your energetic and enthusiastic guidance through Tokyo made our trip effortless and maximized our enjoyment of this amazing city.
Earthquakes occur daily in Japan but high majority of them are so small they are not felt. In most cases, buildings in Japan are built to strict regulations to withstand moderate earthquakes but of course no place is completely safe nor can we predict earthquakes. In the unlikely event that we experience an earthquake of significance, it is important to be familiar with safety procedures. Japan Photo Guide highly recommends searching the web for this information but here is a good place to start your search.
The Tour and What to Expect
Japan Photo Guide tours are designed with specific photography goals in mind but to simply photograph Japan isn't enough. When possible and depending on the make up the group, cultural experiences will also be available to participate. These experiences are option and in some cases may come with an additional cost. In addition to time spent together in photography opportunities, there will be built in free time to explore Japan on your own if you wish. These other experiences and free time and built in the tours so that if spouses/friends/partners want to come that aren't as serious about photography, can still come along and have a good time, but also so that everyone can get the most out of the trip to Japan.
In regards to photography sessions, planned schedule with preferred places to go, but it is important that due to weather, lighting conditions or other circumstances that we stay flexible. In some cases, the next day plan may not be decided until the evening before or even morning of. There will be some cases where we have a few options and will leave the decision up to a group vote.
Autumn is considered one of "peak" seasons for travel to and within Japan. Most popular places will be crowded but we will take advantage of early morning or late evening light to hopefully avoid crowds but it won't always be possible. In some cases we may leave our hotel before sunrise and then after morning photography session we will return to hotel for breakfast and some rest.
All accommodations and hired transit (as well as public transit) will be clean, safe and hotels will have private bathrooms and showers. In general, Japan is a very safe and clean country, but still be mindful of valuables and your camera gear.
Please be aware that while we will not be taking place in any extreme workouts, there will be a considerable amount of walking and participants should be in good physical condition and health. In addition to walking quite a bit, both on flat surfaces and uphill/stairs, we will also be waking up before sunrise for some of the better photographic opportunities.
Autumn Leaves Timing
Autumn color forecasts are impossible to predict so far in advance, but we do know the average dates from previous years. It was using these average dates that this tour was created in hopes of having good timing for all places. That being said, mother nature can always do her own unexpected thing. Even if we are too early or too late, the places we will visit will still be beautiful and our experiences will still be unforgettable.
Terms and Conditions
Japan Photo Guide requires you to have health insurance that covers you while traveling. Travel insurance is strongly encouraged to help reduce risk of financial losses that could occur. Different restrictions and limitations apply to travel insurance so please contact your insurance provider of choice and read over the details of their policy carefully. Take into account factors such as weather, missed connections, unable to travel due to sickness, family emergency, injury, unexpected financial problems, airline strikes, or other personal issues.
In most cases, tours in Japan require moderate activity levels but there will be a lot of walking. Additionally, you may find it difficult to adjust to multiple time zone changes depending on your country of origin. Waking up before sunrise for morning photography sessions also need to be taken into consideration as well as carrying your own photography equipment.
It is important to contact Japan Photo Guide before booking with any health or dietary concerns.
Most of the trip we will not be too far from hospitals or medical facilities, but there could be some days and time during transit where we are not within close range of immediate medical care.
Booking, Deposits, Cancellations and Refunds
Booking is available by first come first serve basis. To book a tour, you must submit the booking form and your deposit of $800 USD per person. Your spot is not reserved until you have submitted a form for your party and deposit per person. When booking less than 4 months in advance, payment in full is necessary.
If you need to cancel, you must submit the cancellation form and agree to the following conditions:
100 Days or more | You can receive a refund minus a $275 USD minimum cancellation fee per person plus any associated costs/fees (including credit card fees) charged by companies providing services, accommodations and experiences in Japan. Depending on the trip, fees could be in the amount of 25% to up to 100% of tour cost.
61 - 99 Days | You can receive a refund minus $550 USD minimum cancellation fee per person plus any associated costs/fees (including credit card fees) charged by companies providing services, accommodations and experiences in Japan. Depending on the trip, fees could be in the amount of 25% to up to 100% of tour cost.
60 Days or less through end of trip | No refund.
Tour Plan and Potential Changes
Japan Photo Guide designs tours with specific plans and goals in mind to experience all Japan has to offer, but in some cases, changes may need to be made without advance warning. Such changes could include but not limited to, accommodations, sightseeing schedule and experiences. When these changes need to be made, especially if weather is the factor for change, when possible, Japan Photo Guide will try to get input from the group when possible.
Model Photography Release
Japan Photo Guide reserves the right to use your picture, portrait, or photograph taken on tour in all forms and media and in all manners, including composite or distorted representations, for advertising, trade, or any other lawful purposes. Any photographs submitted to Japan Photo Guide also may be used online or printed for promotional use.
Note about the use of the word "Guide" in Japan Photo Guide:
Recently Japan has relaxed their laws about guides. The amended law allows people without a national tourist guide license to guide international travelers in their native language. That being said I still like to include the follow though it doesn't hold exactly as before:
I am not an official licensed guide in Japan or anywhere else! Japan has very strict guidelines on becoming an official guide. Basically there are 3 levels which now are all somewhat "grey areas" since the amended law:
1. English Speaking Guide(ESG): Officially licensed guide. She/He can do guiding, escorting, interpreting or doing anything
2. English Speaking Escort(ESE): Non-Licensed. She/He can escort the group and give them the instruction or information but cannot provide the history, culture, tradition and so on. With new laws, as long as I'm speaking to you in English, I an provide additional information.
3. English Speaking Assistant(ESA): Non-Licensed. She/He will just help boarding train or bus, or helping check-in etc.
I am number 2, ESE. This means that I cannot be paid to teach you about Japanese history, culture, traditions and so on. The "guide" in Japan Photo Guide is meant for photography location guide, not guide of Japan. Any payment is not to hire me as an "Official English Speaking Guide" in Japan.
Photography Tour vs Photography Workshop
While Evan is happy to share any advice and techniques related to photography, this is a photography tour designed for photographers to enjoy Japan. There are currently no "classes" or "workshops" planned though if interested, group discussion and reviews are always welcome.