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Japan is a land of ancient traditions and breathtaking beauty. And its rich cultural heritage provides an abundance of photographic opportunities. From serene temples and shrines to vibrant festivals and bustling markets, Japan offers an incredible range of traditional spots. There are many photography tours that offer the chance to experience and photograph the country’s cultural treasures.
Traditional Photography Tours and Places in Japan
Capturing the Essence of Tokyo’s History and Tradition
Tokyo is a bustling metropolis that blends the traditional and modern elements of Japanese culture. The city is a treasure trove for photographers seeking to capture the essence of Japan’s traditional culture. One of the best places to start is Asakusa, a district in the northeastern part of Tokyo. Asakusa is home to the famous Sensoji Temple, one of Tokyo’s most famous landmarks. The temple’s main gate,”Thunder Gate,” is an impressive structure that visitors often capture. Beyond the gate lies the Nakamise shopping street, a bustling market that leads to the temple’s main hall. Photographers will love the colorful buildings and traditional architecture of the market. It offers endless opportunities for capturing the vibrancy of Japanese culture.
Discovering the Old Tokyo Charm of Yanaka
Another traditional area of Tokyo worth exploring is Yanaka, a neighborhood located in the northeast of the city. Yanaka is famous for its historic charm. With traditional homes and narrow streets that are perfect for capturing the traditional side of Tokyo. The area is also home to several historic temples and shrines, such as the Tennoji Temple and the Nezu Shrine. In Yanaka, photographers can capture the beauty of traditional Japanese gardens and architecture. As well as street scenes that showcase the daily lives of Tokyoites.
Kamakura: A Coastal City Rich in History and Culture
Kamakura is a coastal city located in Kanagawa Prefecture, just south of Tokyo. The city was once the political center of Japan during the Kamakura period, which lasted from 1185 to 1333. Today, Kamakura is a popular tourist destination popular for its many historic temples and shrines. One of the most famous attractions in Kamakura is the Great Buddha. Its a bronze statue that stands over 11 meters tall. The statue is located in the Kotokuin Temple, which is one of Kamakura’s most visited temples.
Other notable temples and shrines in Kamakura include the Hasedera Temple, the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, and the Zeniarai Benten Shrine. In addition to these historic sites, Kamakura is also home to some of Japan’s most scenic beaches. Photographers visiting Kamakura will have plenty of opportunities to capture the beauty of Japan’s traditional culture and natural scenery.
Kyoto: Exploring Japan’s Cultural Heartland
Kyoto is a city that’s full of history and tradition. It was the former imperial capital of Japan, wit many of temples, shrines, and other cultural sites. This makes Kyoto an ideal destination for photography tours that focus on capturing the essence of Japan’s traditional culture.
One of the most iconic and popular spots in Kyoto is Kinkaku-ji, or the Golden Pavilion. This temple is a stunning sight to behold. Photographers can capture the reflection of the pavilion in the surrounding pond. Or focus on the intricate details of the temple’s architecture.
Another must-see destination in Kyoto is Fushimi Inari Taisha, a Shinto shrine that’s famous for its thousands of torii gates. The gates create a tunnel-like path through the forested hillside. It makes a perfect spot for photographers to capture the play of light and shadow.
For those interested in Japanese gardens, the Ryoan-ji Temple is a great spot to visit. This Zen temple is home to a famous rock garden that’s designed to encourage meditation and contemplation. Photographers can focus on the geometric shapes and patterns in the garden. Or try to capture the interplay of light and shadow on the rocks.
Nara – Exploring the Ancient Capital of Japan
The city is full of history and is home to many ancient temples and shrines. It is an ideal location for those looking to capture the traditional side of Japan through their lens.
One of the most iconic spots in Nara is the Todai-ji Temple. It is home to the famous Great Buddha statue. The statue stands at an impressive 15 meters tall and is made of bronze and gold. The temple itself is also a work of art. With intricate details and beautiful architecture that is sure to inspire any photographer.
Aside from the Todai-ji Temple, Nara is also home to many other temples and shrines that are worth photographing. The Kasuga-taisha Shrine, for example, is famous for its many lanterns that line the paths leading up to the shrine. The Nara Park is also a popular spot for photography, as it is home to over 1,000 tame deer that roam freely throughout the park.
Takayama – A Photogenic Gem in Japan
Takayama is a picturesque city that will take you back in time to the Japan of old. The city is famous for its well-preserved Edo-era streets, traditional houses, and quaint shops and restaurants. The old town is a perfect spot for photography, with its narrow streets lined with traditional wooden buildings, sake breweries, and shops selling local crafts. One of the best times to visit is during the Takayama Matsuri festival, held twice a year in spring and autumn, which features beautiful floats adorned with intricate carvings and decorations.
The city is located in the Hida region, which is famous for its mountainous landscapes and pristine forests. You can take a walk in the nearby Hida-Takayama countryside, which is full of traditional farming villages, rice paddies, and fruit orchards. For even more breathtaking views, take a trip to the nearby Shirakawa-go village, a UNESCO World Heritage site famous for its thatched-roof houses and stunning mountain scenery.
Shirakawa-go and Gokayama – Experience Traditional Gassho-zukuri Farmhouses
Shirakawa-go and Gokayama are two rural villages located in the mountains of Gifu Prefecture, famous for their traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses. These unique structures feature steep thatched roofs resembling hands in prayer, which were built to withstand heavy snowfall during the harsh winters of the region. In recognition of their historical and cultural significance, both villages were designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1995.
Visitors to Shirakawa-go and Gokayama can stroll through the charming villages and observe the daily lives of the local residents. Many of the farmhouses are now museums, showcasing the region’s rich history and culture. In addition to the traditional architecture, visitors can enjoy stunning views of the surrounding mountains and forests, particularly during the autumn months when the leaves change color. For those interested in traditional Japanese crafts, the villages are also home to a number of artisans who create handmade pottery, textiles, and other products using traditional techniques.
Tsumago and Magome – Exploring the Edo Period
Tsumago and Magome are two post towns located along the Nakasendo Trail in Nagano Prefecture, offering a glimpse into Japan’s rich history and traditional way of life. The towns are well-preserved, with Edo-period architecture and narrow streets that make them perfect for photography.
As you stroll through the towns, you’ll see traditional houses and buildings with thatched roofs and wooden walls, some of which have been standing for hundreds of years. The towns’ narrow streets are lined with old-fashioned shops and restaurants, offering a glimpse into the daily life of the locals. With the beautiful mountainous scenery in the background, these towns offer plenty of opportunities for capturing Japan’s traditional side through your lens.
Photographers can also hike between Tsumago and Magome, following the ancient Nakasendo Trail that connects the two towns. The trail passes through beautiful forests and fields, and there are plenty of opportunities to capture stunning mountain views along the way.
Matsue Castle – Capturing the Dark Elegance
Matsue Castle is a must-visit location for photographers looking to capture the traditional side of Japan. This beautiful castle, located in Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, is famous for its black exterior and impressive moat system. Built in the early 17th century, Matsue Castle has remained remarkably well-preserved over the years, making it a fantastic spot to capture a glimpse of Japan’s feudal past.
One of the most striking features of Matsue Castle is its unique black exterior. This distinctive color makes Matsue Castle stand out from other castles in Japan, which are typically white or gray.
Aside from its exterior, Matsue Castle is also famous for its impressive moat system. The castle is surrounded by a wide moat, which not only adds to the castle’s visual appeal but also served as a defensive measure back in the feudal era. Today, visitors can take a stroll along the castle’s moat and enjoy the serene views of the castle and surrounding nature. Photographers will find plenty of opportunities to capture the castle’s striking silhouette against the tranquil waters of the moat.
Kurashiki – Exploring Traditional Beauty
Kurashiki is a beautiful city in Okayama Prefecture that offers a glimpse into traditional Japan. It is particularly famous for its well-preserved canal district, which is lined with weeping willow trees and historic buildings. The area is a popular spot for photographers, who come to capture the beautiful reflections of the buildings in the canal waters.
Kanazawa – Preserved Edo Period Streets and Traditional Gardens
Kanazawa is a perfect destination for photographers who want to capture the traditional side of Japan. The city has a preserved Edo period street called the Nagamachi Samurai District, where you can see traditional houses and alleys that were once the homes of samurai families. The district is a great place to capture the atmosphere of old Japan and the elegance of the samurai lifestyle.
Another must-visit spot for photographers is Kenroku-en, one of Japan’s most beautiful gardens. The garden is a masterpiece of Japanese landscaping, featuring a large central pond, teahouses, and beautiful trees and flowers that change with the seasons. Photographers can capture the beauty of the garden’s cherry blossoms in spring, vibrant greenery in summer, and the fiery reds and yellows of autumn.
Travel photography essentials
- Camera body: A versatile, powerful, and lightweight full-frame mirrorless camera, such as the Canon EOS R.
- Lenses: A versatile zoom lens, such as a 24-70mm or 18-135mm, for capturing a range of subjects.
- Tripod: A lightweight and sturdy tripod, such as the Manfrotto BeFree series or the MeFoto Backpacker, for stable shots and long exposures.
- Memory cards: High-capacity and fast SD cards, such as the Sandisk Extreme Pro series or the Lexar Professional series, for storing large RAW files.
- Extra batteries: Bring extra batteries and a charger to ensure you never run out of power during long days of shooting.
- Camera bag: A comfortable and functional camera bag, such as the Peak Design Everyday Backpack or the Lowepro ProTactic series, for carrying all your gear and protecting it from the elements.
- Filters: A polarizing filter for reducing glare and enhancing colors, and a neutral density filter for capturing long exposures and creating motion blur effects.
Join one of the traditional photography tours in Japan and embark on an unforgettable journey through the country’s most iconic and historic destinations
Japan is a treasure trove of traditional and cultural sites waiting for you to capture them. From the bustling streets of Tokyo to the peaceful villages in the mountains, each region of Japan offers unique opportunities to experience and photograph the country’s rich heritage. We hope that this guide has inspired you to explore and photograph the traditional side of Japan, and to discover the many hidden gems that await you in this fascinating and beautiful country.
Ready to capture the beauty of Japan’s traditional side? Book your photography tour now and experience the country’s rich cultural heritage through your lens.