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- Concluding our Photo Tour: Cherry Blossoms and Mt. Fuji at Fuji Five Lakes
- The Old Capital in Bloom: Experiencing Kyoto during Cherry Blossom Season 2023
- Capturing the Ethereal Beauty of Himeji Castle with Adobe Photoshop’s AI Generative Fill
- A Castle in the Blossoms: Capturing Himeji Castle in Cherry Blossom Season 2023
- Island Life and Urban Reflections: Cherry Blossoms in Miyajima and Hiroshima 2023
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Apr 20 | Evan | Comments Off on Embracing the Unexpected: Cherry Blossom Photography Tour in Rainy Tokyo 2023 |
Back in March of 2023, I had the unique pleasure of guiding a photography tour in Tokyo during the cherry blossom season. This was the first cherry blossom tour I lead in Japan since covid so we were all super excited to be in Tokyo for Now, Tokyo in cherry blossom season is nothing short of magical, but this year was different. What made it stand out? Rain. And lots of it. From gentle drizzles to dramatic downpours, rain was our constant companion, redefining our adventure and pushing us to think outside the box.
As a seasoned guide, I’m always prepared for a curveball from Mother Nature. After all, one of the joys of photography lies in embracing the unexpected. And so, we took the wet weather in our stride, swapping sunny cherry blossom picnics for moody rain-soaked shots, reflections, and indoor explorations.
We found ourselves, umbrellas in hand, wandering towards the Tokyo International Forum one day. Inside, I spent hours experimenting with slow shutter speeds and panning techniques, capturing the pulse of the city in a way that’s impossible under the bright sun. The rain may have pushed us indoors, but it also pushed us creatively, and I couldn’t have asked for more.
Another favorite spot of ours was the grand Tokyo Station. The rain-soaked ground in front of the station turned into a natural mirror, reflecting the splendid architecture and bustling city life. The sight was awe-inspiring, and our cameras were thrilled with the unexpected gift from the skies.
With our eyes set on indoor locations, we sought out buildings with interesting architecture that could offer us unique photographic opportunities. The rain had given us a chance to explore Tokyo’s architectural marvels from a different perspective, and we relished the chance.
In between our photographic escapades, we were invited into a local Japanese chef’s home for a meal. The delicious, home-cooked meal was a welcome break and a heartwarming experience, making us feel a little bit more at home in the sprawling city.
However, the rain did grant us a few free moments to catch the cherry blossoms. We seized these precious opportunities and headed to Chidorigafuchi, Aoyama Cemetery, and the Meguro River. We may have been damp and a little chilly, but seeing those delicate blooms against the grey sky was worth every drop.
The 2023 Cherry Blossom Photography Tour in Tokyo was unlike any other. We may have been rained out, but we didn’t let that dampen our spirits. Instead, we found beauty in the unexpected, captured memories in the rain, and left Tokyo with a newfound appreciation for the unpredictable nature of photography.
If you’re a photographer who loves a challenge, I highly recommend visiting Tokyo during the cherry blossom season – rain or shine. You never know what surprises you’ll find, and that’s the real magic of photography in Japan.
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.Mar 06 | Evan | No Comments |
Japan is easing restrictions with border control.
At last, we are excited to share some positive news with Japan’s border control with the COVID measures. Yes, finally, a lot of positive movements towards opening up Japan are happening. Unfortunately, Japan is not yet open for tourists as of March 1st 2022, but the country is finally reopening its border to international students, interns, and business personnel. Furthermore, travel restrictions for Japanese residents and travelers entering the country have eased greatly so hopefully in a few months down the line, we will be able to inform everyone happy news of Japan opening its borders to the tourist so that we can plan a photo tour of Japan by the end of year or even sooner!
Updates that took place on Feb 10th, 2022
Let’s go step by step to illustrate the updates that have taken place in the last month. We will focus on the travel restrictions of travelers from the U.S. to Japan. Below updates took place on Feb 10th, 2022.
1) The travelers from below states are required to stay at the government specified location for 3 days after the entry (previously 6 days) before moving to their own place of quarantine.
Hawaii, Texas, and Massachusetts
2) The travelers from below states are required to stay at the government specified location for 6 days (the duration of stay didn’t change) before moving to their own place of quarantine.
California, Illinois, New York, and Florida
*The number of quarantines remains the same for 7 days in total and those travelers from any other states not listed above could quarantine of their choice for the entire 7 days.
Information released on Feb 12th, 2022
1) Business & international students’ travel may ease as early as some time in Feb 2022, if not March 2022
2) The government will make a decision some time in the week of Feb 12th about opening the borders to international travelers. This change will take place sometime in March.
Some of the things that are going to be discussed are:
– Shortening quarantine to 3 or 5 days with COVID vaccinations & booster
– Increase of daily number of people coming into the country from 3500 to 5000
Major changes that took place on March 1st, 2022
A significant change to Japan’s brother control took place on March 1st, 2022. Besides shortening quarantine time, the Japanese government allowed people to use public transportation after landing in Japan to move to a quarantining location as well as finally opening a previously tightly closed border to certain groups of international people. Let’s take a look at each point of change that took place on March 1st focusing on quarantine first. (Below are cases for people traveling from the U.S. Depending on where people travel from, even with full vaccination and a booster, conditions may differ so if you are not traveling from the U.S., you need to check what conditions apply to where you are traveling from.)
- As of March 1st, people traveling from the U.S. no longer need to quarantine at a government specified location once they travel to Japan.
- If you are vaccinated and boosted, you no longer need to quarantine at all. Furthermore, you have no restrictions on using public transportation once you land in Japan.
- If you are not vaccinated and boosted, you need to be quarantined for 7 days. However, if you get a PCR test on Day 3 and get a negative result, you can get out of quarantine. Furthermore, within 24 hours of landing, you can use public transportations.
- At the time of arrival, you need to show your vaccine passport, the PCR test result within 72 hours of pre-travel, PCR test at the airport, a letter of decoration, registering smartphone applications, and also answering Q & A.
*Japan accepts below vaccines:
- 2 times of Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca or 1 time of Janssen
- Booster shot of Pfizer or Moderna
*Antigen tests are not adequate for replacing PCR tests.
Finally opening its border to international people
Let’s next take a look at what changes are brought to international travelers. A long awaited change finally took place on March 1st 2022, which is to reopen its borders to certain groups of international people. It’s a small, yet large step for Japan as the country has closed its border completely to international people since the rise of Omicrone in Dec 2021. This has placed Japan in a difficult spot at the global stage as Japan has been criticized by many countries around the world for its actions that Japan has been discriminatory towards foreigners.
So who can travel to Japan and how can they travel to Japan? Let’s find out!
International students and interns are finally welcomed back to Japan as of March 1st 2022. This is a significant step forward clearly to international students and interns who have been waiting a long time for the last two plus years despite being given a visa to enter. It is also a long awaited significant change for the Japanese economy and education as well. Furthermore, international business personnel are now allowed to travel to Japan for up to 3 months as long as the receiving side, a company or a sponsor can vouch for the individuals. Unfortunately at this time, international tourists are not yet allowed to travel to Japan. Furthermore, international people who have family members in Japan are not yet allowed to travel and visit their family or significant others in Japan.
The changes brought by Japan may be still too small to some people, but this is definitely a right move towards reopening the country pre-COVID stage that has long been awaited. From where Japan was a few months ago, the fact the country is now allowing international people to travel to or move to the country being a student/doing an internship is significant. Also the changes in procedures of quarantine once a traveler lands in the country are significant that a lot of people who were formerly hesitant to travel to Japan will be more willing to travel now. So… when will it be a time for tourists? That is unclear at this point, but Japan has indicated to reopen the country step by step so let’s hope we can plan a photography tour of Japan very soon!Feb 16 | Evan | No Comments |
When the pandemic broke out two plus years ago, nobody expected it to last this long. While the US is slowly getting back to some level of normalcy, Japan has been extremely strict when it comes to opening its borders to the outside world. As of Jan 23rd 2022, Japan is completely closed to foreigners. The country only allows its citizens and residents to travel internationally with strict monitoring once they enter the country. What can we expect from Japan in the coming months and when will we be able to plan a photo tour of Japan? Let’s find out what’s happening in Japan today and what may happen in the upcoming months.
Japan’s current situation with the pandemic
Of course this could change anytime….
Japan is currently not open to any foreigners regardless of the purpose of the trip (okay, there are a very few exceptions). The only people who can travel to and from Japan are Japanese citizens or residents. It was though once opened up to foreigners when the Olympics was held in the summer of 2021 to those who were athletes or a part of the Olympics and further Japan decided to open its borders to business people and international students in November of 2021, but it was quickly shut down a month later with the rise of Omicron.
Although the 14 days quarantine recently changed to 10 days quarantine on Jan 15th 2022, overall measures Japan is proposing such as not allowing any foreigners to enter the country does not seem to change at least till the beginning of March 2022. However, there is a movement by foreign nationals such as American researchers petitioning to open Japan’s borders as the President Biden and the new Japanese Prime Minister Kishida’s meeting is approaching (Kaori, Yoshida 2022, “Requesting Japan to relax its borders” a petition by American researchers ,Nihon Keizai Shimbun, accessed Jan 23rd 2022. Also, two hours before publishing this post, some positive news came out: Japan to cut 7-day quarantine period to 3, allow in more foreigners.
COVID Vaccines in Japan
Japanese people’s vaccination rate is extremely high in comparison to the world wide average of 52.4%. As of January 23rd 2022, 79.2% of Japanese people, which is equivalent to 99.6 million people, are fully vaccinated. However, the booster shot is taking a while for the Japanese to get started. In December 2021, finally those in the medical fields started to receive a booster shot while the everyday citizen has not had a chance to receive a booster shot. It is only recently, the elderlies are given priorities to get the booster shot in January 2022.
Besides the issues of delayed booster shots, Japanese children aged between 5 to 11 are finally approved to get COVID vaccines as of Jan 21st 2022, thus there are still large groups of vulnerable populations that are at risk of COVID, thus Japan seems to be extra cautious with opening its borders.
14 days quarantine to 10 days quarantine
The length of quarantine just recently changed from 14 days to 10 days when entering Japan. There was a movement for 7 days quarantine instead of 10 days, but at the end, 10 days quarantine was chosen as Japan is still very cautious with the rise of the Omicron variant and people’s movement from abroad.
This change took place on Jan 15th 2022. Though this quarantine is not so simple. Most travelers cannot choose the place of quarantine for the first 3, 6, or the whole 10 days. What this means is that depending on where the travelers come from, they are sent to the government specified quarantine hotels to monitor their health condition for the 3 days, 6 days, or 10 days after their arrival with day 1 starting from the next day of the arrival. Apparently, It is so strict that only one person can stay in a room with the exception of a young child. Otherwise, even families cannot stay in the same room in a hotel to quarantine.
Traveling from the US as of Jan 2022
So what’s happening to those who are traveling from the States? For those who can travel to Japan from the U.S., there is currently a 6 days or 3 days quarantine period at the government specified hotel before they can move to their own home to finish up the 10 days quarantine. People who travel from below states have to quarantine for 6 days at a government specified hotel to monitor their condition with day 3 and day 6 PCR tests as these states experience high omicron outbreaks.
People traveling from any other states only need to quarantine for 3 days at a government specified location before they move onto their homes to finish up the 10 days quarantine.
So what’s next?
Despite other countries’ pressures, Japan’s new prime minister and his team seems to be pretty clear on how they want to handle the pandemic and it doesn’t look so bright for any foreigners to be able to freely visit Japan any time soon. Even though there seems to be a change in the beginning of March 2022, it would be certain groups of people such as business people and international students who will be prioritized before any American travelers for pressure can visit Japan.
We never anticipated that the photo tours of Japan, and just traveling to Japan in general, wouldn’t be an option for this long but hopefully things will improve in March and we’ll hear some exciting news in the coming spring to summer to visit Japan during cherry blossom season!Apr 07 | Evan | No Comments |
What is the difference between the two?
Maiko and geisha are one of the most iconic symbols of Japan. They are mysterious, beautiful, elegant, and perfect photographic subjects for your photo tour of Japan. With 300 years or so of history, we can learn so much about Japan through them. In this article, let’s learn about maiko and geisha so that when you are on your next photo tour of Japan, you have more knowledge of Japan, and furthermore, you are more prepared to photograph them and/or even become one for a day!
Let’s learn about maiko!
In short, a maiko is the girl who is training to be a geisha, an apprentice of geisha. Most of the girls start training to be a maiko after graduating from Jr. High School for 5 years or so. Back in the day, the training started as early as 10, but in today’s modern world, the girls who dream to be a geisha start their training as a maiko after graduating from Jr. High School, which is age 15 and then by age 20 or so, they turn into a geisha.
So what do they do during those 5 years of training? Well, the first year is all training, they don’t even go anywhere near the customers. The girls learn traditional dance, dressing kimono, tea ceremony, flower arrangement, etiquette, and how to treat customers. After 1 year of training, then girls debut as a maiko to be in front of a customer for the first time. In the 2nd year onwards, the girls continue training as well as work as a maiko in front of customers until they make a decision to continue or discontinue working in the industry as a geisha or end the career around the age 20.
Some fun facts about maiko is that maiko hair is not a wig. It’s all her natural hair and once the hair is made, a maiko wears the hair without washing it for a week! Additionally, a maiko wears a seasonal “kanzashi,” hairpin. If you are trying to differentiate between a maiko and geisha, check out their hairpin to see what kind of hairpins they are wearing. Furthermore, one clear difference between a maiko and a geisha is what they are wearing on their feet. Those ones with very thick platow heels are maiko. Geisha wear geta or zouri, which are much more flat compared to maiko’s footwear.
Can you guess if she is a maiko or geisha?
Let’s learn about geisha!
In short, a geisha is the woman who graduates from being a maiko. After 5 years or so of training being a maiko, then you become a geisha. Yes, everyone starts from maiko and then eventually turns into geisha. As well as a word, geisha, you also hear “geiko” and “geiki” which all mean the same. The difference is the area, which part of Japan you are in. Just to make things easy, let’s stick to geisha here.
Geisha are the traditionally trained hospitality professionals. Not everyone can be one and those who are named as geisha have extensive training as described earlier in the maiko section. Besides its mysterious beauty and elegance, they are the living traditions who are passing down Japanese traditions.They also act as ambassadors to the world when international events take place. There is no age limit to being a geisha, thus some people continue to be a geisha even in their 80s! However, in general, once a woman marries, she graduates from being a geisha.
If you want to meet a geisha and a maiko, you might be lucky enough to run into them randomly on the streets of Kyoto, but if you really want to spend time with them, then you need to go to ozashiki where geisha and maiko entertain guests. Back in the day, only a handful people with fame, money, connection, and power could spend time with maiko and geisha, but time has passed that there are some services offered today that with an interpreter, you can also enjoy ozashiki with geisha and maiko. I don’t know the cost involved, but if you are looking for one and only experience, perhaps request this in your private photo tour of Japan?
Maiko for a day – Let’s try to be a maiko in Kyoto!
One of the most popular activities for females visiting Kyoto is to become a maiko or a geisha. There are many companies, which provide full make up, wig, and kimoto service to magically turn you into a maiko or a geisha for a day. You get to do a photoshoot with the full look and/or get out of the streets of Kyoto. No, you don’t need to be Japanese to be one. Anybody can be one if you use any of these services below. Don’t worry, all these companies below have English websites so you will be able to get a feel for what to expect. Additionally, if males also want to try wearing a kimono, some companies also offer services for males too.
For those of you who want to know more about the actual experience, below is the YouTube video from Gion AYA Maiko & Geisha Makeover. This is from when American reality big family star, “19 Kids and Counting,” the Duggars girls as well as the mother and the grandmother are all trying this Maiko experience.
So hopefully you learned something new about maiko and geisha in this article. Maybe we can travel to Japan later in 2021 or the following year on Japan Photo Tour so that you can capture beautiful maiko and geisha then. Of course, if you get inspired and interested in being one for a day, perhaps it’s not a bad idea to turn into one on your tour too. Just a note to remember is that there has been a significant number of complaints from the maiko and geisha of the Kyoto community in the recent years that some travelers have been too aggressive when it comes to approaching maiko and geisha. Besides the obvious facts, it’s not appropriate to touch their hair, kimono, and/or body, if you meet them on the streets of Kyoto or anywhere else, please be respectful and mindful. If you are photographing them, please always ask first so that it’s a pleasant experience for both sides.