People from across the globe come to explore Japan’s cherished history as well as its renowned modern cities. Earlier this spring I had the opportunity to visit Japan for one week with a group of friends. I knew that I would have the chance to create many unique images during my trip, and I tried to plan accordingly. Past experience taught me to travel light, so I brought just two lenses: Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G and Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G. Additionally, I purchased a travel tripod that was sturdy enough to handle a full-frame DSLR, but small enough to fit in a backpack. In this article, I will document my experience traveling and photographing in Japan, which will hopefully help in planning your trip to this beautiful country.
Tokyo was my first destination, and the first place I visited was the Meiji Shrine which commemorates Emperor Meiji who opened Japan’s doors to outside influence in the nineteenth century, helping to industrialize the country. These sake barrels were donated to the shrine by Japanese businesses. They are supposed to help channel spirits of the dead.
The Sensō Ji temple was another religious spot I visited in Tokyo. It is Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple, and a popular tourist location. At tourist hotspots you have two options when taking a photo: make people part of the scene or shoot over their heads. Standing at 6’2” tall in a country with an average height of 5’7” helps with the latter.
My first accommodations were in the Chūō ward of downtown Tokyo. The location reminded me of the financial districts of San Francisco and Manhattan. Tokyo is much cleaner, of course, and the skyline is not as pronounced as in many American cities where commercial and residential hubs are separate, leading to congested downtowns and sprawling suburbs.
I arrived in the middle of cherry blossom season which is a popular time to visit Japan. Aside from the beautiful cherry blossoms, the weather in spring time is not too hot or too cold. It was nice to see the cherry trees, but there were a lot of tourists. If cherry blossoms are not your priority, then you many want to consider a less popular season to visit as it will be cheaper and less crowded.
I spent a lot of time walking around the city looking for food and exploring interesting shops. My impression is that Japan is a more consumerist society than the United States. I do not have any facts to back this up, but it seemed like around every corner was another market. Even the subway stations had their own malls.
Mori Tower in Tokyo’s Roppongi district offers an amazing view of the city from its public observation deck. I went up here twice: once at dusk and once at midday. At dusk there was a huge crowd and the weather was hazy, so I left disappointed. On my second attempt it was relatively clear and there were no crowds.
Shinjuku has one of Tokyo’s busiest night life scenes. It is best known for its collection of small bars, called Golden Gai, and the red light district. Having experienced the night life in numerous American cities, I can safely say that Tokyo takes things to another level, and there is something for everyone.
After visiting Tokyo I went to the city of Kyoto. It took about two hours to get there on the Shinkansen, often called the bullet train. As a child I was fascinated by trains. I remember watching VHS tapes of the Shinkansen; getting to ride it was an amazing experience. My iPhone showed a speed of 186 MPH, and I did not feel a single bump.
In Kyoto I visited the famous Fushimi Inari shrine which is dedicated to the god of rice. The shrine sits on a small mountain with a two-mile path to the top lined with thousands of torii, orange gates donated to the shrine. As soon as I stepped off the train there were tourists everywhere. If you want a good picture of Fushimi Inari, then you need to get there at sunrise or venture to the top of the mountain where there are fewer tourists.
Downtown Kyoto sits on the Kamo River which is a popular spot to take a stroll. Kyoto’s population is only about one-tenth the size of Tokyo’s and it has a more traditional, relaxed culture. I enjoyed the onsen hot spring bath at my hotel. One night my friends and I went to a local restaurant where the food was amazing and the patrons and staff were very friendly despite our language barrier. I stayed in Kyoto for only two days which did not feel like enough time to fully explore the area.
Most people in Japan get around using the train system. You can buy a reloadable pass called Pasmo that is accepted on most lines. I used my Pasmo in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. Unlike many American cities, Japanese cities have incredibly timely and convenient subways and commuter trains.
From Kyoto I traveled about thirty miles southwest to Osaka, Japan’s third largest city. I only spent one day here. Unlike Kyoto, Osaka is not known for tourism. Kyoto is often called the cultural capital of Japan while Osaka is a merchant town. If you like shopping, you would like Osaka.
My Osaka accommodations were located in a twenty-three-story apartment building. I got a good view of the city from the top floor.
Osaka Castle was built in the sixteenth century to protect the shogun. The castle is surrounded by a moat and rock walls. It is one of Japan’s most recognized historic landmarks.
Travel photography is a great way to capture memories of your trip abroad. Before embarking on your voyage it is helpful to plan out the destinations you want to see and pack your camera gear accordingly; do not bring all of your equipment unless you are staying for an extended period of time. The traveling photographer must also remember to balance photography with other aspects of the trip, like eating good food and relaxing in a beautiful park. With a basic plan and the right expectations you can walk away from your next trip with a camera full of memories.
You’ve told such a great story there, Matt – thanks for sharing. I’ve been to Japan 3 times and am now still thinking of visiting the beautiful country again. It’s wonderful to see another person enjoying the time in Japan and capturing such beautiful shots. Cheers!
Thanks for sharing.
I´m about to go to on a once-in-a lifetime-trip (in order), to Nepal, India and Japan, under a period of eight months starting with leaving my country of origin (Sweden) at the last of September this year. I´ve been dwelling about what gear I should bring with me (though I´m going with a backpack (or rather two, but that is a different story)), and I (think) came to the conclusion, that I will bring just about all of my photo-gear (including a Dell XPS 13, bought in late December -17).
What I will bring with me (except the Dell) is a Nikon D800E body with Zeiss Distagon 15/2,8, Distagon 28/2,0, Macro-planar 50/2.0 and a Macro-planar 100/2,0. Addition to that (as a back-up), a Nikon 1 AW 1 with the two waterproof lenses that comes with the body and a Samsung Galaxy S8+ (for snaps) and a Sirui T-024X Traveler Light Carbon Fiber Tripod with C-10S Ball Head and further more, a bunch of Tiffen filters with Lee filter holder and some smaller stuff as cleaning equipment and remote, as an example. On top of this, additional clothing and other personal stuff, all wrapped up in a F-stop Satori.
I´m fully aware that no one else can decide for me what to bring and what to leave at home, but I would really love to hear what you guys have to say about mu setup for this trip (photography-gear wise).
Hi Mr T, that sounds like an amazing trip! I’m jealous. I think you are packing the right gear. Since you will be gone for so long it makes sense to bring everything. Sounds like you’ve got a great set of prime lenses. Good luck with the trip and share your photos when you get back!
Hi Matt and thanx for reply. Happy to hear that at least someone agree with me that I´m doing the right thing to bring just about everything I´ve got when it comes to photogear. Why I have my doubts (and try to get some ideas from you guys) is because it will be kind of heavy to carry around the gear (most of the time), but probably better safe than sorry, (i might think).
One thing that I can´t decide, is if I´m to bring my motordrive for the body of the D800E with me, or not. Could you help me out here, what do you think about that. To bring, or not to bring ?
Yes, I thought, (when I bought my lenses) that they are as good as the price-tag indicates, However, I lately realized that that is´nt necessarily true, even if they´are good enough for me, since I´m not a professional, and they are really nice to work with (even though, they are quite heavy).
Concerning publishing some pictures on photograpylife, I can´t promise that. It seems that you´already done the job ;-), Thank you for wishing me well, I´m thrilled before this trip.
Yes, carrying all that gear will be heavy. You will have strong shoulders at the end of the trip! How do you plan to use the Nikon 1? That is the only thing I can think to remove. I am guessing that motordrive is the same thing as battery grip? If yes, then I would bring it if you think it will be challenging to find electricity to charge your batteries. Otherwise, I do not use one.
Hi again Matt, I apologize for my late response. Yes, it will be heavy, but when I’m in the bigger cities, I’ll empty my backpack and just bring my photogear when I go out to discover the surroundings. It’s going to be a bit of planning so I don`t carry around a lot unnecessarily.
In order to answer how I intend to use my Nikon 1, the idea is that I will have it as a back-up, since the lenses of my FF camera are not weather-sealed and I’m afraid that there will be moisture and dust inside the lenses. Maybe I would buy a D850 instead as a back-up (but it does not solve the concerns about moisture and dirt inside the lenses), and it is quite an expensive option, instead of bringing my Nikon 1.
Yes, you assumed right, it’s a batterygrip I meant with a motordrive. English is not my native language, and although I’m comfortable with English, it’s not 100% (as you noted). I’m also thinking about leaving it at home, since the only place I can imagine it can be used is when I’m going to Mt Everest Base Camp, but even then it’s not impossible to access electricity, even if it is not as simple as in the larger cities. Perhaps I will purchase a pair of extra batteries instead.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts in this topic. Most likely will I never do a trip like this one again in my life, so I want it to be as good as possible.
By the way, do you have any plans to come to Scandinavia, your name reveals that you have Scandinavian roots?
(All grammatical errors are google translated liability).
Thanks for explaining why you want to bring the Nikon 1. Having a backup camera sounds like a good idea if you are OK with the added weight.
It is very cool that you are going to Everest; be safe and have fun there! A battery grip or extra batteries would be a good idea.
Some of my ancestors are Danish, so yes I would love to visit Northern Europe some time. There are so many interesting places to go, it is hard to make a decision!
Hi again Matt !
Regarding weight, I have a few excess pounds around the hip, which I can exchange with the heavier camera equipment ;-).
Yes, either the battery grip or extra battery. I have time to figure out how I’m going to do (but I’m guessing that I bring a few extra batteries, that’s probably the easiest way).
You should definitively come to Scandinavia (and Denmark). Although the distance between Denmark and Sweden is very small, the mental distance between Swedes and Danes is greater (for the benefit of the Danes).
Certainly there are many places in the world to visit, but if the picture on you is relevant today, it seems like you have time on your side.
(All grammatical errors are google translated liability).
Enjoyed this. Reminded me of our trip there:
www.photonicyatra.com/Desti…-Hiroshima (which I don’t think you visited but is certainly worth a visit)
Thanks for sharing, Suchit. You did a great job capturing the street life in Japan.
Thank you Matt, I enjoyed your article, and the images. And have shared it on my Facebook page for others to see and get inspired.