View Full Version : Suggestions for travel in Japan

5-Feb-2014, 06:21
I have been invited to be part of an art show in Japan in March. I have not been there before and I'm curious about possible places to go and how to get there. Also any help on inexpensive places to stay. I would like to get out in the country away from the large cities and I'll have 2 weeks to do so. Any suggestions would be appreciated. I will be taking 4x5 equipment with me.


5-Feb-2014, 08:11
These two photographers put up nice landscape/nature photos from Japan. Perhaps it would give you some ideas.


5-Feb-2014, 09:10
Thank You

John Olsen
5-Feb-2014, 09:20

Go to Nikko for sure. You can get there by train from Tokyo. Ask your show-hosts to make hotel reservations for you at an English-speaking hotel, e.g. "Annex Turtle of the Hotori-An" at (81) 288-53-3168. I shot there on four excursions and always was pleased.

Stay two days at least, one for the temples and one for the streams and small waterfalls in the surrounding nature preserve. I recommend the ""Kirifuri/Mt. Oyama" path for several small waterfalls. You won't need to walk the entire thing as you'll shoot all of your film by the half-way point. You'll only need your wide angle lens.


5-Feb-2014, 09:56
Kyoto is an absolute must. Especially the golden temple. If you stay in tourist areas most signs are in kanji and roman characters but in the country side every thing is just kanji.

John Olsen
5-Feb-2014, 10:46
Kyoto is an absolute must. Especially the golden temple. If you stay in tourist areas most signs are in kanji and roman characters but in the country side every thing is just kanji.

I agree with this as it's easier for foreigners. And the nice thing about the Golden Temple is that there are really only a couple of tripod locations to consider, what with it being mostly surrounded by water. Consider also shooting at the locomotive museum if you choose Kyoto.


Renato Tonelli
5-Feb-2014, 10:53
I second Kyoto and Nikko. Nikko has a stunning landscape; the nearby nature preserve is an easy hike.

The food is excellent (but that's true in all of Japan).

I also second the suggestion to travel by train - train travel in Japan has no equal when it comes to efficiency, convenience and comfort. Where trains cannot take you, buses will.

...and have a nice trip.

5-Feb-2014, 11:01
Forgot to recommend Nara which isn't that far from Kyoto. ..even if you get bored with all the temples you won't get bored with the wild deer that bow in front of you for biscuits.

5-Feb-2014, 19:25
Where is your show, and how far are you willing to travel?


5-Feb-2014, 23:19
Kyoto, Nara, Himeiji for sure. Nikko is nice but kind of far even from Tokyo. I'd spend all my time in the area around Osaka and KIX airport area like the cities mentioned above. You could easily spend a week in Kyoto alone. I can give you a list of the best temples and shrines if you want.

6-Feb-2014, 00:35
Nara is great but forget the deer ... if you don't hand out the biscuits fast enough, they'll chase and bite you ... been there, done that

All kidding aside, I spent three days in Kyoto ... just fabulous.

Found a taxi driver (2006) that loved photography and he took me everywhere and didn't charge for the wait time between trips.

Miyajima is also good if you have the time.

Forgot to recommend Nara which isn't that far from Kyoto. ..even if you get bored with all the temples you won't get bored with the wild deer that bow in front of you for biscuits.

John Olsen
6-Feb-2014, 09:23
Nara is great but forget the deer ... if you don't hand out the biscuits fast enough, they'll chase and bite you ... been there, done that.

I'll second that about the Nara deer. They chased my wife and nipped at her until she had to start punching them in the nose. But returning to the original request for getting out of the big cities, let's remember that Kyoto/Nara is hardly the unspoiled countryside.

Here's one that's more off the beaten path: An hour North out of Nagoya there's a temple dedicated to the penis god. It's at Tagata. You'd have to get some unique pictures there. There's a parade of huge dimensions (if you get my drift) in March.

Good luck.

6-Feb-2014, 10:53
Nara has the Daibutsu - biggest old Buddha statue - but it's quite dark inside the building. I guess the question is with all these temples/shrines/imperial gardens is what permission would you need to set up a big LF camera? Most of these places are enclosed with walls - some have crowds unless you get there very early. There are a few places that are open and I don't think you would have much trouble e.g. in Kyoto: Fushimi Inari http://www.kyoto.travel/2009/11/fushimi-inari-taisha-shrine.html I lived in Japan for five years and visited Kyoto often but never with an LF camera....but it would be magical to do so.

6-Feb-2014, 11:11
Hi Kumar

I plan to get a 2 week train pass and have no plans so anything would be open. I arrive on March 1st and fly home on March 17th

I'm going to be part of an art fair in Yokohama on March 15th and 16th. At this point I'm working out the detail to get my framed photographs to Japan. I think I have those details pretty well worked out.


John Olsen
6-Feb-2014, 18:03
Hi Kumar

I plan to get a 2 week train pass and have no plans so anything would be open. I arrive on March 1st and fly home on March 17th

I'm going to be part of an art fair in Yokohama on March 15th and 16th. At this point I'm working out the detail to get my framed photographs to Japan. I think I have those details pretty well worked out.


Bad timing: the fertility festival is March 15. Do a Google search on "Tagata Honen Sai" and consider sweeping by after your big show in Yokohama. You can do that as a day trip based out of Nagoya, which is convenient to reach from Yokohama. Otherwise, stick to Nikko.

Or if you really wanted to expand your photographic concepts, consider going up to the devastated areas of the earthquake/tsumami. It won't be pretty, but your results might be the most interesting thing you've ever done.

Good luck.

Ron Marshall
6-Feb-2014, 21:04
Strongly agree with both Kyoto and Nara.

7-Feb-2014, 01:06
Actually, John is right. Fukushima would be a great opportunity to do some interesting work. If not, a few random suggestions:
Yokohama Nature Sanctuary, a small place in Sakae-ku, practically within the city
Fuji-goko: the 5 lakes area near Mt. Fuji
Kamakura, and the Miura peninsula
Nara, not for the deer, but Todaiji is wonderful - try not to go on weekends
Hiroshima and Miyajima
Koya-san in Wakayama

You may be a little too early for the cherry blossoms, perhaps you could get lucky.


Jim Andrada
10-Feb-2014, 00:45
Just some rambling thoughts

One of my favorite places is Kōryū-ji in Kyoto. Not sure whether you could use a LF camera (probably not) but it's well worth seeing even if you can't photograph. Maybe a bit off the usual beaten path of most foreign tourists, but a great place to reflect on life. From the sublime to the ridiculous - Kiyomizudera (Pure water temple) - crowded, noisy, beautifully situated, everyone has fun. Enormous balcony, very dramatic. The (loosely translated) Japanese expression for taking an action from which there is no going back ("Crossing the Rubicon") is to "Jump from the balcony of Kiyomizudera". Taxis are available for hire for several hours or all day at the Kyoto JR station - Kyoto is really quite spread out and it's hard to just catch a cab at some of the more interesting areas that tend to be scattered around the outskirts of the city so hiring a cab is the way to go. I'm pretty sure they can line you up with an English speaking driver if you ask at the information desk. The brother-in-law of one of my friends was a priest in Kyoto and had his own temple. He was a ham radio operator and ran his antenna up inside the temple's spire as i recall.

Kinkaku-ji (the famous "Gold pavilion" is pretty but overrun with foreign tourists mostly I think from China lately. Avoid it. Ginkaku-ji (the silver temple) is much less crowded, but then again they never got around to covering it in silver foil, they just intended to do it.

There are several gardens (Shugakuin is one) managed by the Imperial Household Agency in the Kyoto area. You need to apply in advance for the tours and you have to stay with the group - probably not suitable for LF photography but quite beautiful and you might be OK with a Super Graphic or similar in rangefinder mode - not sure if you'd get away with a monopod or not, but most likely not.

The town of Kakunodate in Akita - beautiful old Samurai homes in a lovely scenic setting. Some of the most beautiful cherry trees in Japan, but you're probably 4 to 6 weeks too early. Just as well because the tiny little town gets so crowded at cherry blossom time that you wouldn't find space for a tripod. It's near Tazawako (Lake Tazawa) which is I believe the deepest lake in Japan. It doesn't freeze over due (according to legend) to a couple of deities whose endless amorous activities in the depths of the lake keep it too warm to freeze.

Another classic caldera lake is Towadako in Aomori. The Oirase stream nearby is quite beautiful and rather crowded in the foliage season.

Takayama (Hida-Takayama) in Gifu Prefecture has a beautifully preserved "old town". The "yatai kaikan" is worth a visit, but probably no formal photography allowed - I'm not sure.

The area around Kamakura is interesting - lots of old temples and trails running through the hills. Hasedera near the 2nd largest Buddha statue in Japan has some nice views over the ocean and hundreds of little clay statues grouped here and there on the grounds - each one representing a child lost by abortion (or stillbirth)

There's Nihon Minka-en in Kawasaki, a large collection of old farmhouses that have been been moved to the city-run park including several with traditional thatched roofs.

Some nice parks in Tokyo itself (Hama Rikyu, Shinjuku Gyoen)

San-riku Kaigan is one of the prettiest areas I can remember - but sections were hit hard by the 2011 tsunami and I don't know what the current status of tourism in the area is now - haven't been there for quite a while.

Heck - the whole country is photogenic. Just wander. The place is safe, the folks are friendly, you can't lose. If I ever get time for a vacation I'm planning to spend a few weeks with the camera up and down the country.

10-Feb-2014, 19:07
Listen to Jim. Boy, I want to go now. Haven't been to Japan since 1989.

Jim Andrada
11-Feb-2014, 13:53
We get Japan TV (NHK) and they were saying that the cherry blossoms are starting in Okinawa (which is pretty much tropica), so a few weeks earlier than the main islands.

Another thought is Mt Takao about 45 minutes by train (Keio-sen) from Shinjuku to the Takao-san Guchi station (By the way, -san is the word for mountain, not to be confused with the -san attached to names as a form of respect. The characters for Fuji-san for example, could be read as Fuji-yama but they aren't unless used as a family name. Confusing? Welcome to Japan!) from which a funicular takes you partway up the mountain. Main path connects to a network of trails that run up and down the main island. There are all kinds of shrines along the main route - little statues of gods poking out of the rocks, etc. Strange but fun. Great restaurant a few miles from the station by shuttle bus. Restaurant is Ukai-Toriyama and its a cluster of separate traditional buildings along the banks of a stream. They light burning branches in metal baskets as walkway lights just before sunset so you can get some interesting photos before dinner. They have English speaking staff. Haven't been there in a long time but checked the internet and it looks like they're still going strong. Expensive but very good. Unless you like sitting on the floor ask for a "hori-kotatsu" which is a table with a pit in the floor under it so you can sit "normally".

11-Feb-2014, 20:37
If you want an interesting town with a lot of history and some great Zen temples not too far from Tokyo, I would suggest Kamakura. It is about 20 minutes of local train ride south along the coast from Yokohama, and I assume to get there from Tokyo you would take one of the JR lines that goes through Yokohama (probably 40-50 minutes by train from any of the major stations in Tokyo). Kamakura was the seat of the first military Shogunate government of Japan back in the late 12th and early 13th Centuries, and so it has a lot of history and some great temples, shrines and associated gardens. It is also a beach and surfer (for Japan's standards) community, so has a laid back vibe. Some of the other replies have mentioned other good cities for photography like Nara, Kyoto and Nikko. I'd go back to Nara and Kyoto anytime, though have not been to Nikko (even though my Japanese hosts last October suggested it). If you have time and interest, on the northern side of the main island is a fairly affluent town called Kanazawa, which has some really nice temples, shrines and other sights, as well as some nice neighborhoods to walk through with your camera. If I recall correctly it is where the Kubota tractor company is headquartered. I think Japan is one of the best places to travel and photograph! And as others have said, the whole country is safe to travel in, and you can have fun and enjoy. For example, if you walk around in Tokyo and notice, you'll see that none of the many many bicycles that are used and left around along the sidewalks are locked!!! The only caution I'd have is that outside of Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto, where English is fairly commonly spoken, most other cities and areas of Japan are not that English-friendly. But this does not mean people are not friendly, the Japanese are very much so, but only that you need to stay at a place where you can communicate and get help in English, and plan out your days and itinerary carefully so that you will be able to get around okay locally. Many/most cab drivers don't speak English, but if you have notes written out by your hotel concierge you can get get around fine. Similar to my observation about no bicycle locks in Japan, I have yet to find a taxi driver who will accept a tip, so I no longer try to offer one - it is not part of their ethic. Enjoy...

11-Feb-2014, 22:46
Lived in Kamakura for a few months and second it as a worthwhile short trip Tokyo. But my general advice to people who are in Tokyo for business is to get on the bullet train and head directly to Kyoto / Nara and that general area. Tokyo was burned to the ground by the US during WWII so there is almost nothing old left to see. Now on the way down you might consider going to Meijimura, it's near Nagoya (30 minutes away) and has a great number of buildings that were rescued and rebuilt in a park setting - perfect for a LF photographer in that there is lots of space around the buildings and I don't remember much in the way of crowds. The Meiji period was 1868-1912 but many of the buildings are far older. The lobby of the original Imperial Hotel designed by Frank Lloyd Wright is there as well. See this website in English: http://www.meijimura.com/english/

evan clarke
12-Feb-2014, 05:27
I was thinking about all the camera stores, ;)

John Olsen
12-Feb-2014, 09:17
I was thinking about all the camera stores, ;)

When I was back last year the LF stuff was crammed into Yodobashi's basement and the prices were no different from major vendors right here at home. However, it's useful to know the names "Yodobashi" and "BIC" in case you break something, as I did. Just don't expect a thrilling bargain (or a USA warranty).

12-Feb-2014, 09:19
When I was back last year the LF stuff was crammed into Yodobashi's basement and the prices were no different from major vendors right here at home. However, it's useful to know the names "Yodobashi" and "BIC" in case you break something, as I did. Just don't expect a thrilling bargain (or a USA warranty).

Too true, the words Japan and bargain should never be uttered in the same sentence or even paragraph!

Jim Jones
13-Feb-2014, 20:40
Study a variety of guide books. Spending a hundred dollars on them beats wasting a hundred dollars in wild goose chases in your short stay. I tried to spend as much time studying the places I could visit as was available to actually be there.

14-Feb-2014, 08:11

When I was in the US Air Force, I was stationed at Tachikawa Air Base from January 1966 to January 1968 so I would like to bring up a few things that have not been mentioned.

You will be arriving in March so it will very likely be cold in the Yokohama / Tokyo area. Think of the weather there as being similar to Ohio USA - there will be cold days and warm days so plan for layers of clothing that you can add or subtract as needed as the temperature fluctuates.

You asked about somewhere inexpensive to stay. Good luck with that.

If you ever need directions or help, stop and ask someone of school age. Most study English as a second language and will be happy to assist you. As a matter of fact I often had youngsters stop me to ask me how to "properly" pronounce words or phrases.

As a fellow photographer, may I suggest you spend an hour or two at a Kabuki performance? You can not take photos there but it is an amazing show to see. The staging and lighting will wow you. The performances go on for several hours and people come and go during it so don't worry about trying to sit through the whole show.

Trains go everywhere in Japan. It is one of the best planned transportation systems I have ever seen. Once you get to your town then inexpensive cabs will be able to take you to your final destination. Assume no cab driver will speak English so as mentioned before, have something in writing to show the driver.

In case you do not know, the roads and railroads are as those in Britain - the vehicles are on the opposite side of the right of way from USA. Learn to look to your right before crossing a road. The first day I was in Japan I crossed a road after looking to my left (habit) and almost got hit by the proverbial bus coming from my right!

Jim Andrada
16-Feb-2014, 19:24
You can get 8 x 10 Fuji Acros at Yodobashi.

Travel in Japan is easy, you almost never see anyone on the train schlepping heavy suitcases. That's because the baggage delivery system is so good. When you check out of one hotel in the AM you just take an overnight bag. They'll send your suitcases to your next destination and they'll be there the next morning. Price is reasonable. Train system is superb. Clean/fast/punctual/safe (no robbers stealing your stuff while you sleep.) One thing to watch out for is that several trains separate into two at some station and front and back halves go their separate ways. There is typically no announcement in English. As I recall, some of the trains to Hakone (big tourist destination near Mt Fuji) separate. The Yamagata Shinkansen (Bullet train to us, although it means literally something close to New Main Line) separates at Fukushima with the front cars going to Yamagata (nice area) while the rest of the train continues on to Sendai.

You CAN travel economically in Japan if you work at it. I think the total cost of living in Japan is lower than in the US. Stuff you buy is pricey, but medical care is great and inexpensive. My wife was there for most of October and got sick one night and went to the hospital. They gave her IV's and some oral medication. Total cost - $46.00. And she doesn't have Japanese insurance, that was the whole price. I came down with a nasty case of pneumonia while in Japan on a business trip. Too stubborn to be hospitalized (which I should have been) but went to a local clinic. X-rays, blood tests, medication, consultation - total bill was $80. And ambulances are free. Don't plan on getting sick, but it's one of the best places in the world to be if you do. My wife was hospitalized for 3 months shortly before we got married - she said it cost less than her apartment rent.

Andrew O'Neill
20-Feb-2014, 00:01
If you were going to be anywhere near Kyushu, I could tell you a million places to check out.

John Olsen
22-Feb-2014, 17:26
One last input and I apologize for taking so long to find my old link. There's a custom film and print person on the outskirts of Tokyo, Kubo san, at www.theprints.com. If you need film developed while you're there, he's the guy to see. His web site has his address and your hotel concierge can convert that to a Google map for getting to his place. Think of it as an adventure/quest. Commercial labs there may ruin your film - it's a total gamble.

Post your results when you get back.

22-Feb-2014, 19:43
Jim Jones made a good suggestion, get some guide books and spend some time with them to figure out where you want to go and what to do - it will be time and money well spent. One other practical consideration those guide books will tell you is that, as a visitor from the US, your ATM card will not work in most of the ATM machines you will see (they are everywhere in Japan as in many/most other places around the world). For US travellers you have to be aware that only the Japanese Post Office branches and (interestingly) the Citibank outposts and their ATMs will work with US ATM cards. The good news is that if you take trains to get from one city or town to the next, there is usually a Post Office right next to each central train station, and the you can find your way to other local Post Office branches when you are in whatever location. All Post Offices have some ATMs in their lobbies that will accept a wide variety of ATM and credit cards, but you need to know that those lobbies are not open 24/7, so don't get caught out late at night with insufficient folding money. You'll need cash to get around, and in many local restaurants (though credit cards are accepted in most restaurants), but it is an important consideration to understand that you won't be able to get cash just everywhere. ...

Jim Andrada
22-Feb-2014, 20:30
And unless things have changed remarkably in the last few years, Traveler's Checks are pretty useless. You can get them cashed at major banks but it's a a back office process that takes an hour or two. Japan is still largely a cash society and nobody even blinks if you hand them a 10,000Y ($100) bill for a small purchase.

Another trick to remember. If you need to ask someone something, write it down legibly. Six years of English is standard in Jr High/High School but most people don't speak it. Many people however can read it.

And don't be surprised if you ask for directions and someone just takes you where you want to go. I remember one night my wife and I were going to a show with friends and all except my wife were in front of the theater on schedule. My wife didn't show up for 20 minutes. She said some American guy was looking confused in the subway so she just took him where he wanted to go - it was easier than explaining how to do it.

That brings to mind something very important. Punctuality is essential. Being 10 minutes late to an appointment is considered extremely insulting without some really good reason (like rescuing lost foreigners, I guess).

We had a party one day and a half hour beforehand I took our Great Dane out for a walk in nearby city park. I noticed several of our guests sitting on benches looking at their watches, but they didn't see me.

I went home and just as the clock struck 2PM the doorbell rang and all our Japanese friends were there. The Americans straggled in over the next 30 minutes. Unlike the US where classes start 10 minutes after the hour, my wife tells me that Japanese classes start exactly on the hour and end a few minutes before the hour. Trains leave on time. If you're 3 seconds late you've missed it. If you get to the station only a minute or two before train time they'll exchange your ticket for a later train - but if you show up even a second after the posted departure time you're out of luck and your ticket is worthless. Don't ask how I know. Be on time!!!!!

David R Munson
31-May-2014, 06:40
Now that the thread has been resurrected, a few notes for future readers:

Be aware that taxis in Japan are typically a luxury service. Do not be surprised if you drop $80-100 on what seems like a relatively short ride, considering the price. Not a problem if you arrive with a good budget and expect to pay as much. If you're a miserly traveler like I tend to be, explore other options.
Hostels are a great option for travel in Japan. Hostelworld.com is a great resource and has allowed me to do things like average $22/night for lodging in Tokyo in the last few years. If you immediately recoil from the idea of a hostel, it's time to take another look - hostels now aren't necessarily what you expect. In particular in Tokyo and Kyoto I recommend the Khaosan hostels. They're often booked months in advance, so plan and book early.
The well-traveled, must-go sites are well-traveled must-gos for a reason, but I've found at least as much enjoyment in the more pedestrian (read: everywhere else) areas. Pick a street, pick a direction, pick a subway stop (etc) and go wandering. It's my method wherever I go and it has brought me so many happy surprises I cannot recommend it enough.
Don't forget about Osaka. Tokyo is practically mythological, and the history and cultural significance of Kyoto make it a no-brainer, and I feel like Osaka gets short-changed. Great city, great local culture, great local food. Even Tennoji and Shinsekai, the "bad" (ha!) parts of Osaka have a special charm to me. Dotonbori is great, but again, don't forget about everyday Japan.
If you have time and the inclination, learn a little Japanese before you go. Don't worry about reading and writing, though learning the hiragana (a phonetic syllabary) would be both manageable and extremely useful. Basic functional language will go a long way toward getting along day-to-day and building relationships along the way. There are many resources now, take your pick. I recommend japanesepod101 (Google it!) for functional language and a free Anki deck or smartphone app for the hiragana. This is something that should be fun. Language isn't something you learn, it's something you live.

Jim Andrada
31-May-2014, 21:20
And as an add-on to David's post, the easiest way to learn Hiragana (and Katakana) is to get a pack of flash cards and spend a few hours with them. Use the cards honestly (Don't cheat and look slyly out of the corner of your eye at the reflection of the flip side in your mirror) and like you mean it - work at it for three or four hours. I guarantee you can learn them in one long day each. I did and I was 50 years old when I started.

Oh yeah - why would you want to know them! Because both sets of simplified symbols are PHONETIC, unlike the Kanji which have absolutely no obviously rational system for ferreting out the pronunciation. Particularly when used for male first names. Even the Japanese are often stumped by how to pronounce someone's name - I kid you not! And place names are another horror show - if you don't live nearby you probably can't pronounce the printed name in the JR station map. I remember once walking though the town of Yufuin - very nice scenic area on Kyushu - and noticing a sign pointing to the left to the Yufuin Town Hall, and right to Yufuin Station. Of course they used different characters for the town name on each sign. I asked the stationmaster about it and he told me that area around the station used to be a different town, and when it merged with Yufuin, the railroad decided it was too much trouble to change the maps so they just changed the pronunciation of the characters. Sounds like BS, but this is Japan - it's probably true

Which brings us back to why you want to learn the Kana (besides the fact that one of the earliest literary works in Japanese was written in a precursor of the modern Hiragana.)

And you REALLY want to know them, because (Drumroll) when you nervously look out the window of your train at the sign with the name of the station on it, said sign will be in Kanji - and there will always be Hiragana written nearby with the phonetic name of the station, and you will know where you are and whether you should get off the train or not. Which are good things to know!

And grammatical word endings are written in Hiragana, so it's pretty handy stuff.

Oh yeah - Katakana is used mainly for writing non-Japanese words borrowed from English or some other language, but with the vast majority I believe coming from English. So you can find your hotel (ホテル = Ho Te Ru) Ah yes, L's and R's - a different issue.