2016 Classic Japan Cherry Blossom Tour Report

28 March – 10 April 2016

Tour Report – Part 2

This trip report covers the second half of our 2016 Classic Japan Cherry Blossom Tour. Read the first part here.

Day 9: Kyoto (京都)

The Philosopher’s Path (哲学の道)

Day 9 saw us visit the Philosopher’s Path (哲学の道, Tetsugaku no michi) in north east Kyoto. This pedestrian path next to a canal is lined with cherry trees and connects Ginkakuji and Nanzenji, with several other shrines and temples along the way.

The Philosopher’s Path looked amazingly picturesque today with the cherry blossoms at peak bloom. The beautiful spring weather was perfect for a lovely walk as we made our way from Ginkakuji to Nanzenji, then finishing up at the Keage Incline, another one of Kyoto’s popular cherry blossom spots.

In the evening, we made our way to Yasaka Shrine and Maruyama Park to check out the amazing weeping cherry tree (枝垂れ桜 shidarezakura) that was in full bloom. Along the way some of our team tried some of the delicious match icecream on offer at the Tsujiri tea shop!

Cherry blossoms along the Philosopher’s Path

Replica of Mount Fuji in the garden of Ginkakuji (銀閣寺)

Keage Incline (蹴上インクライン)

Group shot at Nanzenji Temple (南禅寺)

Chochin (提灯) paper lanterns at Yasaka Shrine (八坂神社)

Matcha icecream from Tsujiri. Yum!

Weeping cherry tree (枝垂れ桜) at Maruyama Park, Kyoto

Day 10: Kyoto (京都)

Gion (祇園) & Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社)

Day 10 was a busy day for the team as we had several attractions to see in Kyoto.

Our first stop was to the famous geiko district of Gion, where we went to see a performance of the Miyako Odori at the Gion Kaburenjo Theatre. This is a dance performance held annually all throughout April by the maiko and geiko of Gion Kobu district. The Miyako Odori is a long standing Kyoto tradition and has been performed since 1872, making this year the 144th performance!

Photography isn’t allowed during the Miyako Odori so we all sat back to watch the beautiful dancing and performances of the maiko and geiko on stage.

Gion Kaburenjo Theatre (祇園甲部歌舞練場)

After watching the Miyako Odori, we headed down to southern Kyoto to visit Fushimi Inari Shrine, famous for its many vermillion torii gates that form seemingly endless tunnels as they snake their way up Mount Inari.

We arrived later in the afternoon so that we could see the shrine’s lanterns turn on and photograph the torii gates during blue hour. By this time, the crowds had thinned out, giving us plenty of time and space for photography. We met a lovely couple who were taking selfies in the tunnels and they were more than happy enough to pose for us under some atmospheric lantern light.

Beautiful lanterns at Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社)

Torii tunnel at Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社)

Couple at Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社)

Couple at Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社)

Our final stop for the day was Nijo Castle (二条城) in central Kyoto. Nijo Castle has a superb collection of cherry trees and during cherry blossom season these are beautifully illuminated at night.

Sakura at Nijo Castle (二条城)

Day 11: Kyoto (京都)

The Moss Temple

Day 11 saw much of west Japan hit by heavy rain including Kyoto. Our plan for today was to visit Saihoji (西芳寺), more commonly referred to as Kokedera (苔寺, “Moss Temple”). As its name suggests, this temple is famous for its moss garden, one of the finest examples of zen garden design that exists.

Saihoji takes a lot of effort to visit due to a strict daily visitor quota (we booked our places 3 months in advance!). In addition, before we could enter the garden, we needed to participate in a prayer ritual involving copying out a sutra (the Heart Sutra) in Japanese, before writing out a wish and offering it up to the temple.

An estimated 120 different varieties of moss can be found at Saihoji’s garden. The garden’s outstanding design is centred around a pond which is shaped like the Chinese character for “heart” (心 kokoro).

Weeping cherry tree at Saihoji (西芳寺)

Saihoji (西芳寺)

Asahi Island (朝日島) in the Golden Pond (黄金地) at Saihoji (西芳寺)

Day 12: Mount Yoshino (吉野山)

Day 12 saw us head south from Kyoto to the mountainous countryside in Nara Prefecture. Our destination was Mount Yoshino (吉野山), the most famous cherry blossom location in Japan.

Mount Yoshino has over 30,000 cherry trees of different varieties on its slopes. Due to the elevation change, the cherry blossoms bloom at different times depending on their location up the mountain.

Our timing was absolutely perfect as the cherry trees in the middle and upper parts of the mountain, called the nakasenbon (中千本 “middle 1000 trees”) and kamisenbon (上千本 “upper 1000 trees”) respectively, were in full bloom.

Cherry blossoms on Mount Yoshino

Yoshino Mikumari Shrine (吉野水分神社)

Cherry blossoms in full bloom on Mount Yoshino (吉野山)

Day 13: Kyoto (京都)

Kinkakuji (金閣寺) & Ryoanji (龍安寺)

For our final full day in Kyoto, we started by visiting two of the most famous temples in Japan.

Kinkakuji (金閣寺 “Temple of the Golden Pavilion”) is a Zen Buddhist temple in northern Kyoto and features a striking gold leaf covered pavilion located in a large pond, all part of a large zen garden.

Nearby Kinkakuji about 20 minutes walk away is Ryoanji (龍安寺), another Zen temple and famous for its karesansui (枯山水 “dry landscape”) garden. This is Japan’s most famous rock garden and dates back to the 15th century.

Photography at both Kinkakuji and Ryonaji is always tricky due to the large number of tourists that visit so we needed to take some time to get to the best spots to shoot.

Kinkakuji (金閣寺)

The famous rock garden of Ryoanji (龍安寺)

Geiko (芸妓)

The Flower and Willow World

On the final night of our tour, we enjoyed a private dinner with a Kyoto geiko (芸妓) at a traditional ochaya (teahouse). Geiko are Japanese female entertainers skilled in various traditional arts such as classical music, dance, games, and conversation. Apprentice geiko are called maiko (舞子). The term “geisha” is often used in the west to refer to geiko/maiko but this term is discouraged in Kyoto.

We were joined again this year by Toshikana, one of Kyoto’s most beautiful and popular geiko. She charmed us with her grace and elegance as we enjoyed a beautiful kaiseki (懐石) dinner and conversation with her. We also watched her perform a dance and had many questions for her about her life as a geiko.

I led the group through a portrait photography session, and Toshikana made our work easy with her extensive experience in front of the camera. We finished off the night playing a traditional drinking game against Toshikana, and were each, in turn, thoroughly beaten by her until Lisa came along and matched her!

We finished off this memorable night and our tour with some photos together with Toshikana.

I’d like to extend my thanks to Tim, Lisa, Sue, Robert, Maria, and Emma for making our cherry blossom tour such a fantastic experience! You guys were absolutely amazing and such great company!

Geiko photo session

2016 Classic Japan Cherry Blossom Tour members with geiko Toshikana

2017 Classic Japan Cherry Blossom Tour

28 March – 10 April 2017 | Book now

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 Cherry Blossom Tour again in 2017. So if you’d like to be part of an amazing experience, please book now!

Weeping cherry tree (枝垂桜) at Rikugien Garden (六義園)

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