2015 Classic Japan Autumn Tour Report

13-28 November 2015

Tour Report – Part 2

This trip report covers the second half of our 2015 Classic Japan Autumn Tour. Read the first part here.


Our halfway point of the tour was Hiroshima and Miyajima. Hiroshima (広島) is best known as the first city in history to be attacked by an atomic bomb on 6 August 1945.

The Peace Memorial Park commemorates the dropping of the bomb and its victims, with several memorial buildings and monuments on its grounds, including the Peace Memorial Museum, the Cenotaph for the A-Bomb Victims, and the Children’s Peace Monument. The A-Bomb Dome was one of the few buildings to survive the atomic blast and has been preserved to this day. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A-Bomb Dome (原爆ドーム)


The landmark of Miyajima (宮島) is its great floating torii gate which forms part of Itsukushima Shrine. Miyajima also has many free-roaming deer, which seem to be even hungrier than their cousins in Nara! We timed our visit to coincide with high tide and sunset, joining several other photographers in setting up the perfect floating torii shot as the sun set and the floodlights came on to illuminate the gate.

Floating torii gate of Itsukushima Shrine (厳島神社)


Koyasan (高野山) or Mount Koya, 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.

We stayed one night in Koyasan in temple lodging (shukubo), where we could experience a bit of the traditional lifestyle of Buddhist monks. This also included trying vegetarian monk cuisine (shojin ryori) – absolutely delicious!

Okunoin (奥の院) Cemetery

Great gardens of Japan

Ritsurin Koen(栗林公園)& Korakuen(後楽園)

Our tour also included visits to two of Japan’s great gardens, Ritsurin Koen in Takamatsu, and Korakuen in Okayama.

Korakuen is one of the “Three Great Gardens of Japan” along with Kanazawa’s Kenrokuen, and Mito’s Kairakuen. Ritsurin is also an outstanding garden and often considered the “4th Great Garden”.

The South Pond at Ritsurin Garden (栗林公園)

Autumn illumination at Korakuen (後楽園)

Autumn colours at Ritsurin Garden (栗林公園)

Koi at Korakuen (後楽園)


Historic temples

Kyoto (京都) was the capital of Japan for over a thousand years until it changed to Tokyo in 1868. It has been, and still remains, the cultural capital of Japan.

Thousands of temples and shrines dot Kyoto, many with significant historical and cultural value – so much so, that the city is home to 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, making it one of the largest collections of World Heritage locations in the world!

We spent several days in Kyoto and visited five of these World Heritage locations – Kiyomizudera (清水寺), Ginkakuji (銀閣寺), Kinkakuji (金閣寺), Ryoanji (龍安寺), and Saihoji (西芳寺). Each temple was selected for this tour for their unique features.

In addition to the World Heritage-listed temples, we also visited Tofukuji (東福), a temple in southeastern Kyoto famous for its autumn colours.

Autumn colours at Kinkakuji (金閣寺)

Sand garden at Ginkakuji (銀閣寺)

An exquisite winter sakura at Saihoji (西芳寺)

Kiyomizudera (清水寺)

The incredible moss garden at Saihoji (西芳寺)

Japan’s most famous rock garden at Ryoanji (龍安寺)

Autumn colours at Tofukuji (東福寺)


The flower and willow world

On the second last day of our tour, we enjoyed our main tour highlight – a private dinner with a Kyoto geisha (芸者). Geisha are traditional Japanese female entertainers skilled in various arts such as classical music, dance, games, and conversation. Apprentice geisha are called maiko (舞子), while fully trained geisha are called geiko (芸子).

Thanks to our special guide and interpreter in Kyoto, we were able to have geiko Toshikana from the Miyagawacho geisha district join us for dinner. Toshikana is a very photogenic geisha and has had a lot of experience working with photographers. She has also represented the geisha world overseas and has been featured on many posters and book covers.

We enjoyed our exquisite kaiseki (懐石) dinner and conversation with Toshikana before having a photo session, where she made our work easy with her professionalism and experience. We finished off the night playing a traditional drinking game against Toshikana, and were each, in turn, thoroughly beaten by her.

Our private geisha dinner was truly unforgettable experience for all of us!

Kaiseki (懐石) cuisine

2015 Classic Japan Autumn Tour members with geiko Toshikana


Our tour concluded in Osaka (大阪), the economic centre of the Kansai region. We visited the lively downtown area of Namba, which features Dotonbori (道頓堀) – an area both famous for its food and shopping, as well huge multi-storey neon billboards and crazy mechanised signs lining the Dotonbori Canal.

Prominent landmarks here include the Ebisu Bridge, the Glico Running Man billboard (recently upgraded from neon to high-tech LED), the huge Don Quixote variety store complete with built-in ferris wheel, and the Kani Doraku crab restaurant with its huge 6m mechanised crab billboard.

Glico Man sign in Dotonbori (道頓堀)

Tour Members’ Gallery

Our tour members took many fantastic images and we’ve featured a few of them here.

2016 Classic Japan Autumn Tour

13-28 November 2016 | Early bird pricing | Bookings now open!

I hope this tour report provided you with a good idea of what goes on during one of our Japan photography tours. We visit a wealth of amazing sights with the itineraries designed to give you the best opportunities to capture beautiful images of Japan.

We are running our Classic Japan Autumn Tour again in 2016. So if you’d like to be part of an amazing experience, book now and take advantage of our early bird pricing!

Maiko (舞妓) walking in Gion (祇園)

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