“Chris was the perfect trip leader. His knowledge of the country and its history is vast and he enthusiastically wanted to share it with us along with his years of experience as a photographer… He’s talented, interesting, accessible, and fun to travel with. Plus, he really did seem to care about each of us — if we were okay, getting good images, too tired, too hot, etc. I would certainly travel with him again. He certainly kept up the high standards of a Jim Cline Photo Tour.” – Judy B., Colombia 2018

Christopher has used his knowledge of Japan based on his recent magazine assignments to create a sensational 13-day itinerary that incorporates a dream-list of destinations and festivals, while tantalizingly unveiling secretive, enigmatic Japan. The trip is timed for Japan’s famous Momijigari—when the mesmerizingly beautiful autumn foliage peaks as maples (Momiji) blaze a thousand shades of vibrant orange, red, and crimson. This is the best time of year, when the weather is crisp and the skies crystal clear.

To which, add Tokyo’s über-contemporary neon-lit Shibuya and Akihibara districts, and fantastical anime and manga culture… visits to magnificent temples and Buddhist shrines… jaw-droppingly gorgeous Mt. Fuji… three days in the Japanese Alps, where you’ll photograph the world-famous “snow monkeys” soaking in steaming hot tubs… plus Kyoto, the ancient Japanese capital, with its geishas strolling the lantern-lit streets in kimonos.

Along the way, you’ll be immersed in traditional, ancient Japan as we explore its tooi inaka (deep country), dress in yukatas (casual kimonos), feast on fresh seafoods, soak in communal onsen (hot springs), sleep on comfy futons atop tatami mats… and return home stress free, serene, and with your memories (and memory cards) chock-full of indelibly wonderful memories.

Finally, the spaghetti expressways of Kyoto, and a full rest day to explore Japan’s former imperial and cultural capital at will: Fushimi Inari shrine’s endless arcades of vermilion torii, girls in kimonos like a flurry of cherry blossoms in spring, geishas scurrying to secret liaisons in the narrow back streets of Gion. For all its modernity, Kyoto immersed me in indelibly quintessential Japan.” — CHRISTOPHER P. BAKER, Australian Road Rider

TOUR DATES (tentative): November 1-14, 2021
PRICE: TBA
ITINERARY (SUBJECT TO CHANGE): 

Day 1
Participants arrive and settle into our hotel, in Shibuya’s tallest skyscraper—perfect for sensational panoramic vistas of Tokyo. Our hotel overlooks Shibuya Crossing, rumored to be the busiest pedestrian intersection on the planet! Meet with Christopher in the evening for orientation, plus a set-the-scene slide show, then a welcome dinner. Our hotel is perfectly situated for night photography of Shibuya Crossing, where a flood of pedestrians cross from multiple directions every time the traffic lights turn red.
Overnight: Cerulean Tower Tokyu Hotel

Day 2
Today, ‘Old Tokyo.’ Traveling by train, this morning we begin with an early morning walk of Tsujiki Open Market. The narrow streets, teeming with restaurants and shops selling market produce, provide endless opportunities for superb photography. Later we’ll head to Yanesen, a rare area of the city that escaped WWII bombing. This is ‘Old Tokyo’ at its best, with narrow residential alleys; the Yanaka Cemetery; and more than 100 temples, including Nezu Shrine, with its gorgeous garden, and Senso-Ji Shrine, which we visit for dusk and night-time photography.
Overnight: Cerulean Tower Tokyu Hotel

Day 3
Today we’ll focus on modern Japan, beginning around our hotel in the Shibuya and Harajuku neighborhoods. Together, they are the epicenter of Tokyo teen fashion—a chance to photograph Lolita decora girls and fashion monsters dolled up in Gaga-grade garb. We’ll then head to the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum for lunch (it has a superb café) and to admire the permanent collection of 33,000 photos representing the oeuvre of Japan’s finest artists. In the evening we’ll venture to the Akihibara district, a center of anime and manga animation, cosplay dressers, and streets ablaze with neon signs.
Overnight: Cerulean Tower Tokyu Hotel

Day 4
This morning we journey by private bus with guide to Nikko, where we’ll spend the afternoon exploring and photographing Nikko’s Toshogu temple complex. Considered Japan’s most lavishly decorated shrine complex, it in the final stages of a years-long restoration to its original state. Prepare to be awed! We then climb whiplash hairpins to reach Lake Chuzenji, where our lakeside hotel offers stunning sunset vistas.
Overnight: Hoshino Resort KAI Nikko OR Hotel Hana Ana

Day 5
We spend the early morning photographing the Kegon Waterfall, ranked as one of Japan’s three most beautiful waterfalls. It’s a sublime autumn color spot. We’ll select several key vantage spots to capture the falls at their most spectacular, including from the Akechidaira Ropeway lookout, the Lower Observation Deck, and the base of the falls. Then we travel a memorably scenic route into the Japanese Alps via Mt. Shirane—sensational vistas here from Japan’s highest mountain pass—to the spa town of Yudanaka, with its thermal river cascading through town. Here we’ll stay at a traditional ryokan inn with onsen (hot-spring baths).
Overnight: Kanbayashi Hotel Senjukaku OR Shibu Hotel, Yudanaka

Day 6
This morning is a real highlight of the tour as we hike into Jigokudaki “Monkey Park” to photograph Japan’s famous “snow monkeys”—a species of onsen-loving macaque that loves to steep in the natural hot springs. This is mating season, so we may witness some lively behavior. We then journey to Ueda, a 16th-century samurai castle that hosts the annual “Colored Leaves Autumn Festival” and which features chefs (in traditional costume) from all over Japan.
Overnight Bessho Onsen Hotel, Ueda

Day 7
We’ll take a short excursion to nearby Matsumoto to immerse ourselves in the world of the samurai at its spectacular “Crow Castle,” built in 1504 and set in a lake. We hope to time our arrival for the Chrysanthemum Festival, in the castle’s Honmaru Garden. We’ll return to our hotel in Ueda, where you can relax in the onsen, explore nearby temples and shrines, and/or process your images.
Overnight: Bessho Onsen Hotel, Ueda

Day 8
Today we descend from the Japanese Alps and head south to Lake Kawaguchiko for two days in Mt Fuji World Heritage Park. Arriving around mid-day, we’ll base ourselves at a premium lakeside hotel for two days of sensational photography. A highlight will be the Arakuren Sengren Shrine, with its five-storied Churieto Pagoda overlooking the town of Fujiyoshida and, beyond, snow-capped Mt. Fuji—a fantastic perspective during the golden hour, sunset and twilight. We’ll arrive during the “Yuyake no Nagias Fall Foliage Festival,” when a 600-meter-long avenue of maple trees—the Momiji or “Autumn Leaves Tunnel”—is floodlit at night, with the iconic sacred mountain as a backdrop.
Overnight: Sunnide Resort OR Fuji Lake View, Lake Kawaguchiko

Day 9: 
Up early for the best chance of photographing Mt. Fuji without clouds! We’ll spend the day photographing around Lake Kawaguchiko, including Iyashi No Santo, a traditional thatched village; and the Kubota Itchiku Art Museum, dedicated to the revived art of centuries-old Tsujigahana silk dyeing, used to decorate elaborate kimonos. Time permitting, we may also visit the Ide Sake Brewery to learn the traditional craft of producing Japan’s favorite tipple.
Overnight Sunnide Resort OR Fuji Lake View, Lake Kawaguchiko

Day 10
This morning we’ll return to Tokyo OR Shizuoka and catch the Shinkansen “bullet train” to Kyoto, the ancient Imperial capital, boasting more than 1,600 temples! After checking into our hotel in Ninenzaka—a preserved historic quarter close to the temples—we’ll spend the balance of the afternoon and early evening visiting the mountainside Kiyomizua-dera temple for sensational sunset photography. Strolling to and from the temple via the narrow streets of Ninezaka offers a smorgasbord of sensational images, with women in traditional kimonos, wooden shops adorned with lanterns, and even rickshaws!
Overnight: Hotel Shuhokaku, Kyoto

Day 11
Begin the day with an early morning visit to the Arashiyama “bamboo forest,” a sublime setting for creative photography (it also contains temples with exquisite zen gardens). A five-minute stroll away, we’ll also visit Gio-ji temple (with its exquisite moss garden) and/or Nembutsu-ji, where thousands of stone statues represent the souls of the dead. This afternoon we’ll visit the Nishijin district and the Watabun weavers’ workshop, or the Orinasu-kan weaving house, to see Noh costumes being made. We’ll enjoy a traditional Japanese dinner in the lantern-lit Gion district, then photograph the geisha district by night—a chance to capture geishas scurrying to secret liaisons, and other such quintessential Japanese scenes.
Overnight: Hotel Shuhokaku, Kyoto

Day 12
Up early today to beat the crowds to Fushimi-Inari shrine, renowned for its 10,000 vermilion tori gates snaking up the mountainside. The photos ops here are superb! We’ll then have a private tea ceremony and portrait session with a maiko (an apprentice geisha. The afternoon and evening are free for you to enjoy Kyoto at leisure.
Overnight Hotel Shuhokaku, Kyoto

Day 13
We depart Kyoto by bullet train for Tokyo, with the balance of the day free to enjoy at leisure. This evening we’ll enjoy a slideshow of everyone’s favorite images, followed by our farewell dinner.
Overnight Cerulean Tower Tokyu Hotel, Tokyo

Day 14
Depart for home

Final image: ©JNTO