2016 Classic Japan Autumn Tour Report

13-28 November 2016

Tour Report – Part 1

We completed a fantastic Classic Japan Autumn Tour in November 2016. Peter and Michele from Perth, Australia, joined us on this tour as we explored Japan during its beautiful autumn season.

Over our 16-day journey, we explored many of the best autumn locations and photography sights in Tokyo, Hakone, Koyasan, Hiroshima, Miyajima, Okayama, Takamatsu, Osaka, and Kyoto. We will visit many of these amazing locations again in our 2017 Classic Japan Autumn Tour.

I would like to extend a huge thank you to Peter and Michele for joining our tour and being fantastic company as we photographed, talked, laughed, and ate our way through Japan.Thank you also for contributing some great photos to this tour report. I enjoyed seeing your different photography styles and the enthusiasm and passion you have for photography. Keep up the great work and next time round you’ll have to check out the cherry blossom season in Japan! :)

Koi at Kokoen (好古園の鯉)

Koi at Kokoen (好古園の鯉)

Tokyo(東京)

Futuristic Megacity

Our autumn tour started off with 3 days in Japan’s capital city, Tokyo (東京), home to 37 million people, making it the largest metropolitan area in the world.

It’s no surprise that there are endless things to do in Tokyo, and it is currently undergoing even more development in preparation for its role as the host city for the 2020 Olympic Games.

We based ourselves in Ginza, right in the heart of Tokyo and famous worldwide as a luxury shopping district. Peter and Michele arrived early to Tokyo so we were able to start our tour early.

The first place that we visited was Meijijingu Shrine, one of Tokyo’s most popular shrines located in a beautiful forest in the middle of Tokyo. We were here on the weekend before the Shichi-Go-San Festival (七五三, Seven-Five-Three), a traditional rite of passage and festival day for 3 and 7-year-old girls, and 3 and 5-year-old boys. Many families were celebrating this day with their children, who were beautifully dressed in kimono. There were several Shinto wedding ceremonies being held too and all the brides looked stunning wearing their traditional white wedding kimono and distinctive bridal hood.

After Meijijingu, we made our way to Odaiba Bay. This is the first time we’ve visited this part of Tokyo on a tour, and we were here to check out the fascinating architecture of the Fuji TV building, the ever popular Gundam statue, and enjoy the wide open space and atmosphere of Odaiba.

On Day 2, we started off with a morning visit to Tsukiji Market, the largest fish market in the world and famous for its tuna auction. It was a hive of activity inside the market with a seemingly endless variety of seafood on offer for sale. We finished our visit to Tsukiji Market with a delicious sushi breakfast.

Day 3 saw us visit the Tokyo Imperial Palace East Gardens in the morning, followed by Showa Memorial Park, where its famous ginkgo tree avenue were at their peak autumn colour, and had formed a tunnel of yellow to walk down.

In the afternoon we made our way to Tokyo Skytree to view the city from the 350m Tenbo Observation Deck. With the beautiful clear weather, we could see both the vast expanse of Tokyo below us and Mount Fuji in the background. We were treated to an amazing spectacle as the sun set behind Mount Fuji and created some beautiful “God rays” and vivid colours.

Hakone(箱根)

Views of Mount Fuji

Hakone was our next destination so we headed south on our first ride on Japan’s famous high speed train, the shinkansen.

Hakone is one of Japan’s most popular travel destinations owing to its scenery, onsen and views of Mount Fuji. We visited the Hakone Museum of Art again this year and were treated to a spectacular display of autumn colours at their very peak amongst the beautiful moss and landscape garden.

The following morning, we rose up early and caught a clear view of Mount Fuji. We finished off our time in Hakone with a trip up the ropeway where we were lucky enough to be able to visit the volcanic area of Owakudani. For much of 2015 and 2016, access to Owakudani was closed off due to excessive volcanic gases.

Himeji(姫路)

Japan’s most beautiful castle

Our next destination was Himeji, home to Japan’s most famous castle. One of only 12 original castles in the country, Himeji Castle is widely considered to be Japan’s most beautiful castle and has survived for over 400 years.

Himeji Castle has undergone a restoration and cleaning in recent years. Work is still continuing on the exterior walls and minor structures within the castle complex but the main keep really looks fantastic at the moment, befitting the castle’s nickname of “White Heron Castle” (白鷺城, Shirasagijo).

We finished off our time in Himeji with a visit to Kokoen Garden just next door to Himeji Castle. This small garden is often overlooked by visitors but is absolutely beautiful in autumn and features 9 separate walled gardens designed in Edo period styles.

Koyasan(高野山)

Centre of Shingon Buddhism

We spent a day and a half in Koyasan (高野山) where we could soak in the atmosphere of this holy place. Koyasan is the centre of Shingon Buddhism, an important Buddhist sect founded by Kobo Daishi in 805. Koyasan’s main attraction is Okunoin (奥の院), the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi, surrounded by the largest graveyard in Japan.

One of our tour highlights was an overnight stay in a shukubo or temple lodging, where we could experience some of the traditional lifestyle of Buddhist monks. This included trying the delicious vegetarian monk cuisine (shojin ryori), and joining in the early morning prayer and fire ritual.

The following morning was spent exploring Koyasan’s main sights including Okunoin, the Garan temple complex, Kongobunji Temple, and Banryutei Garden.

Hiroshima + Miyajima(広島と宮島)

Memorial to peace & the floating torii

Hiroshima and Miyajima were our destinations for the halfway point of the tour. Hiroshima has a tragic history being the first city to be attacked by an atomic bomb on 6 August 1945. Genbaku Dome (Atomic Bomb Dome) was one of the few buildings to survive the atomic blast due to being directly underneath the bomb’s hypocentre and has been preserved to this day.

The Peace Memorial Park surrounding Genbaku Dome commemorates the dropping of the bomb and its victims through several memorial buildings and monuments, including the Peace Memorial Museum, the Cenotaph for the A-Bomb Victims, and the Children’s Peace Monument.

Peter and Michele spent the morning exploring Peace Park and also checked out the newly opened Orizuru Tower Observation Deck which gives a fantastic view of Genbaku Dome from above.

In the afternoon, we made our way to Miyajima (宮島), an island that is home to the famous “floating” torii gate of Itsukushima Shrine along with its resident free roaming deer. We set up early at the best shooting spot for the torii gate and were soon joined by many other photographers as the sun set.

Takamatsu + Okayama(高松と岡山)

Great gardens of Japan

On Day 9 we visited two of Japan’s great gardens, located in Takamatsu and Okayama.

Ritsurin Koen (栗林公園) in Takamatsu, dates back to the early Edo period and was built by feudal lords beginning in 1625. It took 120 years to be fully completed as successive lords extended and improved the garden. Ritsurin features ponds, stunning pine trees, and teahouses, all set in front of Mount Shiun, which acts as “borrowed scenery”. The standout feature is the Nanko (South Pond) and the Crescent Moon Bridge spanning it.

Korakuen (後楽園) in Okayama, dates back to 1687 and like Ritsurin Koen, was constructed by a feudal lord and also features borrowed scenery with Okayama Castle in the background. It was interesting to see the similarities and differences between Ritsurin and Korakuen.

We finished our day in Okayama by staying at Korakuen until evening followed by Okayama Castle to view their special autumn illuminations.

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