The Photographer’s Guide to Visiting JapanJuly 12, 2017
Have you dreamed of photographing the blush pink cherry blossoms in Japan? Or perhaps the breathtaking sight of Mount Fuji as it peeks above the dense cloud?
If you’ve got your sights set on visiting this magnificent destination, then you’re in luck. Today we’re going to share our in-depth photographer’s guide to visiting Japan.
We’ll be covering which destinations you can’t miss, along with specific photography-related attractions and other helpful tips. Let’s get started!
Why Will Photographers Love Japan?
Other than the unique locations and experiences we’ll be listing below, there are a number of reasons why photographers will want to visit this country with their camera in tow.
According to writer Rebecca Milner, Japan “prides itself on constant renewal and reinvention”, meaning that it is ever-changing and continuously surprising visitors.
From hot springs, to mountains, gardens, rainforests, and even beaches, Japan’s landscape is certainly diverse. When photographers visit the region, they have the ability to experience these polar opposites, serving as major inspiration and motivation for their work. Trust us when we say you will never run out of things to photograph in Japan!
The Must-See Destinations and Experiences of Japan
Let’s face it, a visit to Japan just wouldn’t be complete without experiencing the following list.
Kyoto Temples and Gardens
Perhaps one of the most famous attractions in the district of Kyoto is the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. We’ve all seen those stunning images of this walkway featuring bright green bamboo shooting up into the sky as far as the eye can see. Photographers will love having this place as the setting to their whimsical shots and words really can’t do it justice.
Another iconic destination within Kyoto is the shrine gates of Fushimi Inari-Taisha. Dubbed as “one of the most impressive and memorable sights in all of Kyoto”, Fushimi Inari-Taisha will leave photographers feeling awe-struck as they make their way through these atmospheric sub-shrines which seem to take on a life of their own.
If open fields and plenty of bright blooms are desired, then Kyoto Imperial Palace Park will be right up any photographer’s alley. This is the place to be during cherry blossom season (late February and late March) and its abundance of stunning natural elements (such as ponds) also make it the perfect picnic spot.
Speaking of cherry blossoms…
Cherry Blossom Season
While it may be one of the busiest periods in Japanese tourism throughout the year, can you really blame people wanting to flock to the country during this breathtaking time?
Photographers will want to be up bright and early to capture these blossoming flowers before the crowds arrive in their masses. While images of the celebrated cherry blossoms won’t quite be able to do the experience justice, just being there in-person in front of these natural works of art is enough to fill you with wonder.
While we mentioned previously that the Kyoto Imperial Palace Park is a great place to experience the cherry blossoms, Mount Yoshino is actually the most popular destination to view the blooms. It’s covered in over 30,000 cherry trees after all!
Shinjuku Gyoen in Tokyo is another popular cherry blossom viewing destination, as is Kenrokuen Garden in Kanazawa and Takato Castle Park in Nagano.
The City of Tokyo
For something a lot faster-paced, photographers will also enjoy experiencing and photographing some of the weird and wonderful sights that this cityscape has to offer.
While the nightlife and bright lights are a visual treat for any eye, so too are the colorful shops in the Harajuku district and the ever-bustling Shibuya Crossing.
This is a place to explore, seeking out inspiration as you wander down shop-filled alleyways and find yourself in some of the craziest cafes you can imagine.
Perhaps one of the most worshiped mountains in the world, Mount Fuji is also the largest in Japan, making it a sight that all visiting photographers should set their eyes upon.
While you can spot this volcanic mountain from various regions throughout Japan on a clear day, two of the best places to get a good view of Mount Fuji include the Fuji Five Lake (Fujigoko) region, along with Hakone, a nearby hot spring resort. Admiring the picturesque mountain from a hot spring certainly sounds good to us!
You can also climb the mountain from July to mid-September when the mountain huts are operating and there is little to no snow. During this official climbing season, hundreds of tourists and Japanese locals flock to the mountain trails each and every morning.
During the Obon Week in mid-August is when the crowds reach their peak for the season. If waiting in queues isn’t really your thing, then it’s best to avoid this time and head there when the crowds are quieter (usually early July before the school vacation period). This way, you’ll also have less people walking in front of your shot!
Japan is also famous for its abundance of friendly deer, particularly in places such as Nara Park where thousands of them roam free and enjoy affection from visitors. These deer are treasured creatures, particularly as in Shinto, they are believed to be messengers of the gods.
Visitors can also buy deer crackers from various points throughout the park. Some of the deer have even learned to bow to visitors to ask to be fed. How cute is that?
If you’re interested in seeing deer but Nara Park isn’t on the agenda, then there are also some other destinations you can visit for a similar experience. These include: Kashima shrine, Mishima Taisha, Kinkasan, and the island of Miyajima.
Just think of the ethereal images you can capture with deer present in your images, not to mention the stunning and scenic locations which they’re living in. Wildlife photographers will also love having an abundance of tame deer coming up to them for a photo!
Zenko-ji Temple and the Famous Snow Monkeys
If photographing animals is your thing, then here’s another wildlife-related experience unique to Japan that you just can’t miss!
When you visit the tranquil grounds of Zenko-ji near Nagano, you don’t only get to enjoy the historic and famous Buddhist statue. Venturing with a tour group along a beautiful forest trail nearby will also bring you to the home of the snow monkeys. As TripAdvisor explains, they are “a group of local macaques known for their willingness to live in the snow and bathe in the local hot spring.”
Photography Related Events and Attractions
As you might have already known, the Japanese love photography and regularly celebrate the medium through various events each year. Some of these major events are discussed below.
CP+ Camera & Photo Imaging Show
This event is Japan’s largest camera show, making it a must-attend event for photographers if they happen to be visiting the region during February. Hosted at Pacifico Yokohama (neighboring Tokyo) by the Camera & Imaging Products Association, it’s an event which mostly showcases camera gear and equipment.
We’ve been told that this photo equipment show is for the pros, and it’s especially “geared [towards] portrait studios, wedding photographers, photofinishers, school portraiture, photo accessory makers, and more.”
If you’ll be visiting the region in June, you can find this expo at Pacifico Yokohama.
Tokyo’s Month of Photography
As we mentioned before, photography is a very special art form in Japan. It’s so important, in fact, that they even dedicate a whole month of activities and celebrations to it!
June 1 has been designated as Photography Day for a long time now, however from the mid-90s it was decided that the special event needed a whole month to celebrate it in style. Because of this, tourists visiting Japan between May and June can find a whole range of photography-related things to do, including: special photo exhibitions at some of the leading museums and galleries, symposiums, and award ceremonies.
One of the most popular exhibitions is the 1000-Person Photo Exhibition held at Yebisu Garden Place, along with Shinjuku Park Tower which showcases photographs taken by female photographers. For those interested in attending, the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography issues a pamphlet showing the complete schedule of events and exhibitions.
The Daikanyama Photo Fair
Daikanyama is a very fashionable and ‘hip’ region of Japan, making it the perfect home to this awesome photo fair. With a strong focus on fine-art photography, the event features everything from reviews of photo books to talk sessions by curators from international art museums. It’s hosted by FAPA (Fine-Art Photography Association), so you know it’s going to be a good one!
Last year’s event was held on the weekend of September 30–October 2, but be sure to visit the website to keep up-to-date with the latest events once they’re scheduled.
The IMA Concept Store
As a photographer, you may be familiar with the famous Japanese photography magazine, IMA. Thankfully, the brand has also got a concept store (which operates more like a contemporary art gallery) based in Tokyo for photographers to come and visit.
More than just a gallery and store, however, this place also runs exhibitions and other photography-related events throughout the year. It’s certainly one to put on the list!
The I.C.S. Camera Fair
Organized by the Import Camera Society, this camera fair occurs three times a year, including in February, May, and October. We’ve been told by Photojpn.org, “For camera collectors and people looking for used cameras, this 6-day fair in Tokyo can’t be beat.”
Whether you’re after an old school Leica or a Kodak Brownie, or even Japanese and English guide books for camera collectors, you’ll apparently find it all here.
Additionally, there are also a number of photography-related places to attend, all of which are open to the public all year. We’ve included the best of these below.
Tokyo Photographic Art (TOP) Museum
The Tokyo Photographic Art Museum is known as one of the largest, most prestigious museums of its kind, making it an important place for any photographer to visit. It has a permanent collection of over 33,000 works, along with a giant library filled with everything photography-related. You’ll also find lectures, workshops and other cool photography events being organized by the museum.
Photo Gallery International (PGI)
This is just one of the few galleries specializing in fine art photography in Japan. Located in Minato, it showcases the work of both Japanese and international photographers specializing in this medium. Visitors also love the gallery’s shop, which has a wide range of stunning photo books and other photography-related materials available for attendees.
The PGI also runs around ten photo exhibitions a year, celebrating fine art photography on a regular basis.
There you have it – our photographer’s guide to visiting Japan! While this is a good overview of the sights and spaces that photographers will want to add to their to-do list, we still encourage you to do your research and see what other amazing attractions you can find to put your photography inspiration into overdrive. Have fun!