Japan is strangely familiar and utterly strange. Mythical traditions, futuristic cityscapes, Zen gardens, bullet trains, holy mountains, onsen hot springs, sake and sushi, bamboo forests, geisha dancers, tranquil temples and shrines, tea ceremonies, and respectful and polite people await you.
Join Jennifer Spelman for her second time leading a group in Japan. Jennifer and our local guide take you on an extraordinary expedition to experience and photograph iconic as well as hidden Japan. Our itinerary gradually reveals the rich variety of Japan as you visit the well known and the little seen parts of Tokyo, Hakone, Kyoto, and Osaka.
We begin our adventure in the endless city of Tokyo. The electrifying energy, the skyscraping architectural marvels, the neon frenzy and vibrant colors of the city lights at night are all interpreted with our cameras. From our hotel, we explore the city with carefully timed morning visits at first light and nighttime excursions to visit Shibuya Crossing, Ginza, Shindome, and Mori Tower. Street photography becomes our focus as we navigate Takeshita Street. Hie Shrine offers iconic red shinto gates, purification fountains, and other traditional elements. A short train ride away lies Yushima Seido, a Confucian temple. In stark contrast to Hie Shrine, this temple is painted black and imposes a bold presence on visitors.
After two full days in the pulsating megalopolis of Tokyo we board a bullet train to Hakone, a quiet lakeside town in the Owakudani Valley near iconic Mount Fuji. We stay in a simple Japanese ryokan and experience sleeping on tatami-mat floors, eating traditional Japanese cuisine, and unwinding with a long soak in an onsen hot spring.
Recharged and ready for more adventures, we board the bullet train to Kyoto, the “City of Peace and Tranquility,” for our four-night stay. Considered by many to be the spiritual center of Japan and one of the world's most culturally rich cities, Kyoto is home to 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites, more than 1600 Buddhist temples and over 400 Shinto shrines.
Kyoto is a city that lends itself to walking, and from our centrally-located hotel we venture out every day to experience traditional “old Japan” in Kyoto. Four-hundred year old Nishiki market is one of the most picturesque food bazaars in Japan. The Gion district is one of the most well-known geisha districts in all of Japan. Tofuku-ji Temple features Zen and Japanese contrasting gardens and is also well known for its colorful display of Japanese maples in mid-November.
A highlight of our time in the imperial city is an afternoon and early evening spent in a geisha’s life. The geisha in Kyoto do not refer to themselves as geisha; instead, they use the local term geiko. While the term geisha means "artist" or "person of the arts", the more direct term geiko means essentially "a woman of art." We slip behind the mask and step into a geiko’s private world. We meet, share tea, and discuss her training and present day life. We make portraits of her in this informal setting, then meet again as night falls to photograph her in full splendor as she moves through the lantern-lite back streets of Gion.
As our time in Japan nears its close, we edit our photographs for a final image review with Jennifer and make a day-trip excursion to Osaka. We visit Umeda, a lively district with picturesque arcade-covered streets and labyrinthine alleyways. As the day ends, we dive into Kitashinchi, a neighborhood well known for its patchwork of improbable architecture. For our final evening together we celebrate our many experiences in Japan with a special group dinner.
Japan is at once modern and ancient, sacred and profane, resounding and silent, transparent and circuitous. To travel to exotic Japan for the first time is a once in a lifetime trip. Join us for the journey.