Capture the dreamy and authentic, historical and contemporary during your 12-day Japan photography tour. Your camera will accompany you with specialist guides on a custom-tailored tour as you uncover majesty from traditional inns to the snowcapped Japanese Alps. Discover Geishas strolling beneath blossoming cherry blossoms and witness neon lights shining above a traditional sushi restaurant. From artisan masters to bullet trains, you will discover the picturesque in Japan.
Tokyo – Welcome to Japan!
Your plane arrives in Japan in mid-afternoon. In the arrivals lobby, our airport representative greets you. While at the airport, you activate your Japan Rail Pass, giving you unlimited access to Japan during your 12-day adventure. You travel from the airport by train or shuttle bus, arriving at your hotel in the early evening.
For the rest of the day, you are free to relax. Dinner this evening is on your own. Our representative is happy to tell you about dining opportunities close to your hotel.
Tokyo – One Metropolis, Many Angles
Tokyo is a seamless blend of past, present, and future. After breakfast, your guide picks you up to start exploring this amazing city. Situated in the city center, Meiji Park is an oasis of calm in the middle of Tokyo’s hustle and bustle. Just off the dirt path are over 365 species of trees. As you gaze into the woods, it is possible to imagine a time before people. You can’t help but feel in harmony with nature as the morning light filters down through the trees.
Finally, you reach the center of the park, home to Meiji Shrine. Dedicated to the spirit of Japan’s first modern emperor, this Shinto shrine is still attended to daily by Shinto priests, who perform ceremonies and give offerings. The classical architecture makes for wonderful photographs. You may even see other photographers taking advantage of the good lightening, along with young couples taking their wedding pictures.
From the past, you head into Tokyo’s wonderfully chaotic present: Harajuku. Home to the city’s youth culture, expect to find young men and women dressed in the wildest of fashions. Just steps away are countless stores catering to the latest fashion trends.
From Harajuku, Omotesando is only a short ride away on Tokyo’s efficient metro system. Like Paris’s Aux Champ-Elysees, expect long, tree-lined boulevards flanked by high-end stores, cafes, and restaurants. It is a perfect place for people watching and photo opportunities
When it comes to shopping, though, nothing beats Tokyo’s Ginza District. Named after a silver mint which once existed there, an abundance of money is still the Ginza’s best-known feature. Expect to see the flagship stores of many luxury brands. If you arrive on the right day, the streets are closed to traffic, giving you extra angles from which to capture the Ginza’s iconic buildings.
In the early afternoon, you head to the Imperial Palace, home to Japan’s emperor since 1868. Though much of the palace grounds are off limits, visitors can still admire the palace’s beauty from afar. Included is a walking tour of the East Gardens, where you find impeccable sights of beauty and serenity.
Your final stop is Asakusa, home to Senso-ji Temple. The largest Buddhist temple in Tokyo, Senso-ji has seen many changes since fisherman founded the temple over 1,300 years ago. The Senso-ji of today is a lively place full of small shops and impressive structures. You pause to admire the Kaminarimon, the Thunder Gate which contains the largest paper lantern in the city. Though surrounded by skyscrapers and other signs of modern life, it is easy to focus in and appreciate the significance Senso-ji holds in Japanese Buddhism.
This evening, you are free to continue exploring Tokyo. Dinner is on your own.
Tokyo – Beyond the City Limits
Today you are free to take a self-guided tour of Tokyo. From the top of the Tokyo Skytree to the neon-hued streets of Shinjuku, there are many wonderful places to both make memories and take photographs.
If you should wish to see what lies outside the city limits, there are two exciting opportunities available to you on this day. The first is a day trip to Nikko. Two hours away by express train, Nikko contains the burial sites of Japan’s shoguns. The shoguns were powerful warlords who ruled Japan from 1603 to 1868. Even in death, their authority was put on display through their ornate tombs. Nature envelops you from all sides as you enter the Toshogu Shrine Complex. Here, you find some of the most intricate architecture in all of Japan, perfect for many close-up shots.
Another option on this day is to visit Kamakura, Japan’s capital from the 12th to 14th centuries. Situated on Sagami Bay, ocean breezes relax you as you gaze upon the Kamakura Daibutsu, the Great Buddha. The second largest bronze Buddha in Japan, the statue has survived centuries of earthquakes, fires, and tsunamis. For a unique picture, climb inside the Buddha to gaze upon the intricate craftsmanship that has given it such a long life.
Matsumoto – Imposing Castles
This morning, you board an express train for Matsumoto. The two-hour journey flies by, as the scenery gradually changes from the flat Kanto Plain to the rugged terrain of the Japanese Alps. Known as the ‘Roof of Japan,’ they extended throughout Honshu. Not only beautiful, these mountains are one of the many reminders of the geological and volcanic forces that have shaped Japan’s landscape for millions of years.
You arrive in Matsumoto just before noon. As the sun ascends to its highest point in the sky, it is the best time of day to visit Matsumoto Castle. Constructed during the Warring States Period in the 16th-century, this fortification is an imposing symbol of the shogun’s power. Even so, the castle’s wide black roof does not mute the surrounding beauty. In springtime, the castle is an ideal spot for hanami or cherry blossom viewing. The petals’ brief lives perfectly encapsulate the Japanese idea of mono no aware. This phrase means an ‘awareness of things’ when one is mindful of temporary beauty. The petals fall like rain, the snow-capped Japanese Alps as their backdrop.
Japanese cuisine, especially sushi, would not be the delicacy it is today without wasabi. Wasabi is a pungent root originally used for its antimicrobial properties, which were required before the introduction of refrigeration. At the Daio Wasabi Farm thirty minutes outside Matsumoto, see how this essential plant is grown using traditional methods. While there, try fresh wasabi in a variety of dishes, including wasabi juice and ice cream.
The hotel for your two nights in Matsumoto is western-style. Lunches and dinners are on your own.
Matsumoto – Photogenic Wildlife
Today you take an exciting day trip to see Japan’s most famous wildlife. For centuries (if not longer), macaque monkeys have enjoyed Jigokudani, the ‘Hell Valley’ where thermal vents heat vast pools of water. The macaques are present year round, meaning that capturing these majestic creatures in your viewfinder is not difficult. If you should bring your tripod, don’t be surprised if a few curious monkeys should try to climb it.
In the afternoon, you return to Matsumoto.
Takayama – A City Frozen in Time
For centuries, the Japanese Alps’ harsh terrain isolated the city Takayama from the rest of Japan. Though your bus ride takes only two hours, you quickly discover that Takayama is a Japanese city like no other. With a sprawling old town untouched by modern progress, you feel transported back into the past. Step inside a sake brewery (or two), and sample this iconic beverage. While there, see master brewers at work using traditional methods.
Your accommodations this evening are a treat: A Japanese ryokan. In this traditional inn, your room is a work of art: tatami mat floors, sliding rice paper doors, and views of nature greet you. Don a comfortable yukata robe before dinner. This evening, you have the dining experience of a lifetime, a kaiseki feast. Kaiseki, or kaiseki ryori, is traditional Japanese cuisine featuring many small plates of stunningly beautiful food. It is a meal where you definitely want to have your camera ready. One of the meal’s many treats is Hida beef, known worldwide for its fine marbling and melt-in-your-mouth texture.
After dinner, take advantage of the ryokan’s onsen baths. You feel like the snow monkeys of Jigokudani as you relax in the warm water and pleasant scenery. Later, tucked into your futon, only pleasant dreams await you.
Shirakawago – A Blend of Past and Present
Though today is a self-guided day, you can’t help but rise early to visit Takayama’s famed morning market. Every day, farmers and artisans from around the valley gather here to sell their produce or other wares. Perhaps you buy a souvenir or a culinary ingredient for a meal you make back home.
Only a short bus ride away is the Takayama Festival Floats Museum. In this museum, get up close and personal with the ornate floats on display. Brought out only twice a year in April and October for the city’s festivals, you don’t want to miss the opportunity to see (and photograph) these works of art.
In the afternoon, you say goodbye to Takayama as you board a bus for Shirakawago. Nestled in a small mountain valley, Shirakawago’s homes are famous for their gassho-zukuri roofs. These thick thatched roofs, maintained by the village’s population, were originally designed to hold up the weight of the heavy winter snow that collects each year. Today, they are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In any season, they are an awe-inspiring symbol of Japanese workmanship and community pride.
The inside of a gassho-zukuri house is just as impressive as the outside. Tour Wada house, once home to the richest family in the village. The attic has a unique attraction: a silkworm museum. For centuries, silkworm farming was essential to the local economy. The smoke from cooking fires would drift into the attics, protecting the precious silkworms against harmful insects. Though the villagers no longer practice this art, the tools of their trade are on full display so that you may gain a deeper appreciation of the intensive work of silkworm farming.
This evening, your hotel is a minshuku, or family run inn, in Shirakawago. Dinner is provided and features a variety of vegetables harvested by Shirakawago’s farmers.
Kyoto – Contemporary Art, Delectable Sushi
This morning you catch a bus for Kanazawa, a city located on the Sea of Japan. Over the next two hours, your bus makes its way out of the mountains, and you begin to smell the cold sea air.
Getting off at Kanazawa Station, we recommend catching the Kanazawa Loop Bus. For only 500 yen, you can get on and off as many times as you please. With buses arriving every 20 minutes at all major stops, it is an excellent way to get around the city.
Kanazawa has many amazing sites, but there are a few you simply cannot afford to miss. The first is Kenroku Garden. Rated as one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan, it once belonged to a wealthy family. Since 1871, generations of Japanese and foreign guests have been able to enjoy its beauty. In spring an abundance of plum and cherry blossoms add to the garden’s beauty, while in the fall, the foliage is nothing less than breathtaking. Both seasons are a photographer’s delight.
For lunch, there are a variety of restaurants right outside Kenroku Garden. Yet for sushi lovers, Kanazawa is home to some of Japan’s finest fish. Whether you can spend a little or a lot, the city’s sushi chefs create a delectable plate for you.
No matter which of Kanazawa’s attractions gain your attention and the focus of your camera lens, in the late afternoon, you board a train for Kyoto. During the two-hour journey, you briefly reenter the mountains before emerging in the Kansai Plain. This vast area is not only home to Kyoto but Osaka and Kobe, as well.
Kyoto is a city of endless treasures, and if you feel up for it, we suggest exploring the city on your own this evening.
Kyoto – Elegant Temples and Breathtaking Nature
This morning, you meet your guide at Kyoto station. After greetings, you pick up your rented bike, your means of transportation for the day. Your first destination is only a short ride away, the Nishi-Hongaji Temple. Headquarters of one of Japan’s largest Buddhist sects, this temple is an excellent place to learn more about the influence of Buddhism on Japanese life. The large sweeping roof and elegantly appointed interior to make for many excellent photographic opportunities. Also, the surrounding gardens inspire peace and relaxation, which they have been doing for over 400 years.
Your next stop is Nijo Castle. Though the Shogun lived in Tokyo, then called Edo, Nijo Castle was his residence while in Kyoto. While there, your guide points out the secret passageways and rooms used by the shogun’s bodyguards. Another security measure which still survives are the ‘chirping’ floors, which make the sound of nightingales no matter how quietly one steps on them.
After lunch, you head to Kinkaku-ji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion. Covered in gold leaf, is it arguably Kyoto’s most striking temple. You may think that you are dreaming as you watch the sunlight reflect off its surface, creating a perfect reflection in the moat that surrounds the temple.
Ryoan-ji Temple may not have any gold, but its rock garden has inspired monks and visitors for the last five centuries. 15 large stones surrounded by pebbles, one can only see 14 stones at any given time. This curiosity is a visual metaphor. Man, in his limited capacity, can never perceive all of existence at the same time.
Your final stop for the day is the Arashiyama District in western Kyoto. Here you find majestic bamboo groves and preserved temples; the surrounding natural landscape represents the way Kyoto was meant to be enjoyed. Since it is off the beaten path, there are fewer travelers to contend with as you line up some amazing shots.
At the end of the day, you return your bikes to Kyoto station. Dinner this evening is on your own.
Hakone – Panoramic Views
Today you leave Kyoto behind as you board the Shinkansen, one of the fastest trains on Earth. Even as the train travels close to 200 miles-per-hour, you feel only the slightest vibration. Transferring onto a local train for the last few miles of your journey, you arrive in Hakone.
For centuries, Japanese have traveled to Hakone for its hot spring baths and splendid views of Mt. Fuji. No matter the season or time of day when you first see it, you immediately realize why the mountain was once revered as a god. The surrounding dense forests, hilly landscape, and mild weather bring to mind the Swiss Alps.
Hakone offers visitors many activities, but none are more appealing to photographers than the Hakone Open Air Museum. Featuring sculptures from artists all over the world, the natural setting provides an ideal backdrop for some of the best photographs you take during your time in Japan.
No day in Hakone would be complete without an overnight stay in a ryokan. Expect excellent nature views, a kaiseki dinner, and spacious onsen baths to relax feet and sore muscles.
Tokyo – Stunning Vistas
Today is a self-guided day, where you could spend the majority of your time exploring Hakone National Park and its many wonders. Whether riding a replica pirate ship on Lake Ashi or taking a ride on the Hakone Ropeway, soak in the view of the surrounding countryside and Mt. Fuji. Before arriving in Hakone, you are given a list of the best places to capture amazing photographs of Mt. Fuji.
While in Hakone National Park, walk through ‘Hell Valley,’ a volcanically active zone where the smell of sulfur is heavy in the air. While there, try a hard-boiled egg turned black by the sulfuric waters. Though it may look strange, the taste is very subtle, and the eggs are rumored to greatly extend one’s life.
In the late afternoon, you return to Tokyo by express train. Your final hotel is in the city center and has splendid views as the sun sets on your last day in Japan.
Tokyo – Still Much More to Capture
Your time in Japan may have come to an end, but you leave with priceless memories and countless photographs. You have seen just a sliver of what Japan has to offer. Even before your plane takes off, you know that there is another trip in your future.
- Spend several nights in ryokans, traditional Japanese inns with tatami floors and onsens, thermal hot springs
- Enjoy a guided bike tour of Kyoto, allowing you to enjoy the visually stunning region at your own pace
- Photograph the Japanese Snow Monkeys as they enjoy a leisurely rest in naturally-occurring thermal hot springs
- Ride the famous Shinkansen, a high-speed bullet train that is able to run at speeds up to 200 mph
- Embark on tours throughout Matsumoto, home to the “Crow Castle” and learn about the history of the Samurai
- Capture the image of Tokyo's fashion culture when visiting Harajuku, a district famous for showcasing young men and women dressed in the wildest of fashions
- Visit Shirakawago’s homes to find gassho-zukuri , thick thatched roofs designed to hold up the weight of the heavy winter snow that collects each year
Your tour begins in Tokyo, the largest city in the world. There is no shortage of photographic opportunities here, from peaceful shrines to the vibrant youth culture. With a guide and on your own, you see what makes this city one of the most talked about places on Earth.
Your journey then extends to Matsumoto, home to an imposing medieval castle nicknamed ‘crow castle’ due its broad black roof. Within, learn about the daily lives of samurai and the shoguns who ruled Japan hundreds of years ago. The castle grounds are strikingly beautiful, especially in the spring, as millions of cherry blossoms turn the area into a paradise.
While in Matsumoto, take a day trip to Jigokudani Park, home to Japan’s famous snow monkeys. Living around humans for so long, they are quite tame and are used to having people take their picture. You may inadvertently make a few monkey friends if you should bring anything they can climb onto.
Takayama is buried deep within the Japanese Alps, and until recently was cut off from most of Japan during the winter months. This isolation has ensured that Takayama has not lost its small town charm. Also, with blocks of preserved city streets to explore, you feel transported back into the past.
Shirakawago is an even more secluded village, where traditional construction methods have produced some of Japan’s most beautiful homes. Not only do you find yourself taking pictures, but you also briefly join their way of life as you stay in a centuries old ryokan, or Japanese inn, for the night.
Though you only have half a day in Kanazawa, the city’s efficient transportation system means you can see the best sites. The city is home to one of the most beautiful gardens in Japan, and the seafood is second to none. You leave this city feeling at peace, and your stomach full of delicious sushi.
Kyoto is home to more than 2,000 shrines and temples. With a guide and on your own, see the most beautiful sites in the city on foot and by bicycle. There is plenty of time to take many splendid shots of Kyoto, as your guide knows how to avoid the crowds and make sure you have the best experience possible.
From Kyoto, you head to Hakone, home to Mt. Fuji and rolling hills of densely packed trees. In the shadow of the mountain, have a traditional Japanese dinner and soak in relaxing onsen baths. The next morning, tour the area by ropeway or lake cruise. If the weather is just right, you may get the perfect picture of the mountain. Your final night in spent back in Tokyo.
This tour is perfect for couples of all ages. It is best taken in the spring or fall when Japan’s natural beauty is at its peak, and the temperature is just right for outdoor activity.
$4,795 per person (excluding international flights)
Your Zicasso trip is fully customizable, and this sample itinerary is a starting place for your travel plans. Actual costs are dynamic, and your selection of accommodations and activities, your season of travel, and other such variables will bring this budget guideline up or down. Throughout your planning experience with your Zicasso specialist, your itinerary is designed around your budget. You can book your trip when you are satisfied with every detail. Planning your trip with a Zicasso travel specialist is a free service.
- In-country transportation
- Some or all activities and tours
- Expert trip planning
- 24x7 support during your trip
Your final trip cost will vary based on your selected accommodations, activities, meals, and other trip elements that you opt to include.
Reviews of Zicasso's Referral Service
4.81 stars based on 519 reviews
Reviewed By Peter M.
Reviewed By Cari O.
Reviewed By Azarmeen P.
Reviewed By ANH T.
Reviewed By Bess U.
Reviewed By Shari S.
Get Weekly Inspiration and Expert Advice on Travel
during the COVID and post-COVID era