Join National Geographic author, photographer and expedition leader Christopher P. Baker on this exciting photo tour & workshop focused on the sakura–the Springtime cherry blossom bloomin Japan

“Thanks for the master class in photography. I learned so very much from you, particularly about context, ambiance and milieu to create a riveting picture.
“Chris, you are a one of a kind. Really enjoyed you as a photographer, a guide, and of course as a fabulous story teller.
You have so much knowledge and I loved your positive energy
“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.”

“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

Christopher has used his knowledge of Japan based on his recent magazine assignments to create a sensational 14-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 sakura—when the mesmerizingly beautiful cherry blossoms explode in riotous color. This is the best time of year, when the weather is crisp and the skies crystal clear.

As the cherry blossoms burst open across the country, the Japanese delight in picnicking and hanami (flower viewing) parties to appreciate the transient beauty of the flowers, announcing the arrival of spring. The entire culture becomes besotted, with cherry blossoms appearing on all manner of commercial products… not to mention in manga and anime! Timing varies every year, depending on the weather, with more southerly regions blooming first (typically in mid-March) and the far northern islands last. And different varieties bloom at different times, so even if one or two of our destinations are not at their best, others will be.

Of course, we’ll also thrill to photographing Tokyo’s über-contemporary neon-lit Shibuya and Shinjuku districts, as well as the Imperial Palace and other top venues… as well as visits to magnificent temples and Buddhist shrines… jaw-droppingly gorgeous Mt. Fuji… two 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. Plus, we’ll have our own private portrait sessions with maikos (trainee geishas), as well as a chance to photograph traditional weavers and a master katana swordsmith at work.

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.


You’ll get to photograph with acclaimed National Geographic photographer, author, and expedition leader Christopher P. Baker, the Lowell Thomas Award 2008 ‘Travel Journalist of the Year.’ Christopher’s images and self-illustrated articles on Japan and other destinations worldwide have appeared in hundreds of magazines, from BBC, CNN and Newsweek to  National GeographicNational Wildlife and Penthouse, as well as dozens of coffee-table books, calendars, and other outlets. His work for National Geographic includes writing and photographing five guidebooks in the National Geographic Traveler series, as well as numerous articles for National Geographic Traveler. His many photographic awards include ‘Gold Prize’ for his double-page spread image of a man and his horse in Cuba that appeared in a National Geographic special. Chris’ profession as a full-time travel journalist informs his work, which is also represented by Getty Images. Chris is an accomplished photo instructor and tour leader, and has led more than 100 tours to destinations worldwide for Jim Cline Photo Tours, National Geographic Expeditions, Santa Fe Photo Workshops, and others.


Throughout this tour, Chris will provide tips, guidance and help in compositional and lighting techniques, proper camera settings, and use of natural light to stunning effect. Plus, he’ll offer critiques on request. However, we will not be using technical lighting, nor provide any intensive workflow/post-processing instruction. We’ll offer a happy medium for those photographers who want to grow and expand their creative vision, yet for whom the sheer enjoyment of street photography and the cultural and travel experience is an equal priority.





Day 1: Tokyo / APRIL 7
Participants arrive and settle into our hotel, in the heart of Ginza, Tokyo’s foremost shopping district and perfect for sensational nighttime photography, with its blaze of neon lit facades. Meet with Christopher in the evening for orientation, then a welcome dinner.
Overnight: HOTEL SUN ROUTE GINZA or similar

Day 2: Tokyo / APRIL 8
Today, ‘Old Tokyo.’ We begin with an early morning walk to the nearby 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 the Tokyo Imperial Palace Gardens, and to Ueno Onshi park, both renowned for their spectacular cherry blossom sakura. Nearby, depending on time and the sakura, we may visit the Yanaka Cemetery—in springtime awash in cherry blossoms—plus Nezu Shrine, with its gorgeous garden, and Senso-Ji Shrine, which we visit for dusk and night-time photography. Traveling by train provides an opportunity for fantastic photography in its own right, especially at evening rush hour.
Overnight: HOTEL SUN ROUTE GINZA or similar

Day 3: Lake Ashi, Five Lakes & Mount Fuji / APRIL 9
Today we head southwest from Tokyo to Lake Ashinoko via the Daikanzan Sky Lounge and Moto-Hakone, which offer stupendous views of Mount Fuji across the azure lake waters. Arriving Lake Kawaguchiko around mid-day for two days in Mt Fuji World Heritage Park., we’ll base ourselves at a premium lakeside hotel for two days of sensational photography. This “Five Lakes” area offers one of Japan’s premier sakura experiences. Today’s highlight will be photographing at 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 blue hour.

Day 4: Five Lakes & Mount Fuji / APRIL 10
Up early for the best chance of photographing Mt. Fuji without clouds! We’ll spend the morning photographing around Lake Kawaguchiko, including the superb perspective from Azegawa. We’ll also visit Iyashinosanto, a traditional thatched village. And if the shibazakura (moss phlox) have already burst into bloom, we may continue to Fujigane to witness the spectacular display—entire fields of pink, white and purple flowers spread like a carpet in from of the sacred volcano. This afternoon we’ll visit the Kubota Itchiku Art Museum, dedicated to the revived art of centuries-old Tsujigahana silk dyeing, used to decorate elaborate kimonos. (Alternately, for example if its raining, we may visit the Ide Sake Brewery to learn the traditional craft of producing Japan’s favorite tipple.) We’ll be well placed for sunset photography over the lake towards Mount Fuji.

Day 5: Shinkansen & Kyoto / APRIL 11
This morning we’ll journey to 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 late afternoon strolling the “Philosopher’s Path” alongside a narrow canal lined with cherry blossoms; and the 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!

Day 6: Kyoto / APRIL 12
Up bright and early this morning to visit the Arashiyama “bamboo forest,” a sublime setting for creative photography before the crowds arrive. A ten-minute drive away, we’ll also visit Otagi Nembutsu-ji temple, 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.

Day 7: Kyoto / APRIL 13
Up early again 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.

Day 8: Takayama & Matsumoto / APRIL 14
Departing Kyoto early this morning, we’ll head northeast to Seki, Japan’s capital of samurai sword manufacture. Here, we hope to have a private photography session as a swordsmith tempers a traditional samurai sword at the Kajida studio, in Tomika. We’ll then head to Takayama, hoping to arrive in early afternoon in time for the annual “Takayama Matsuri” spring festival of the Hie Shrine, featuring tall and floats decorated with karakuri ningyo—sophisticated mechanical dolls that move and dance. We’ll overnight at the Takayama Zenko-Ji temple shukubo (temple hotel)—a chance for sublime photography as we live among the monks in a lovely ryokan.
Overnight: SHUKOBO TAKAYAMA ZENKO-JI, TAKAYAMA (or alternative hotel)

Day 9: “Crow Castle” & Togakushi Jinga / APRIL 15
This morning we’ll photograph Matsumoto’s spectacular “Crow Castle” at dawn. Built in 1504 and set in a lake surrounded by the castle’s Honmaru Garden—the cherry blossoms in bloom provide perfect frames. We’ll then journey into the Japanese Alps, arriving at Togakushi Jinga shrine, at the base of Mount Lizuna. We’ll spend the night here at temple lodging, with the afternoon at leisure.
Overnight: SHUKUBO GOKI, TOGAKUSHI (or alternative hotel)

Day 10: “Snow Monkey Park,” Japanese Alps & Nikko / APRIL 16
This morning we get up early to visit the Jigokudaki “Snow Monkey Park” and photograph Japan’s famous “snow monkeys”—a species of onsen-loving macaque that loves to steep in the natural hot springs—before the hordes of tourists arrive! We then travel a memorably scenic (and serpentine) route into the Japanese Alps via Mt. Shirane—sensational vistas here from Japan’s highest mountain pass—and Mt. Nikko. (If the mountains are still snowbound, we will take a lowland route.) At Lake Chuzenji, we’ll stop to photograph the spectacular Kegon Waterfall—ranked as one of Japan’s three most beautiful waterfalls—from several key vantage spots, including the Akechidaira Ropeway lookout, the Lower Observation Deck, and the base of the falls. We then descend via a switchback to Nikko, a center of Shinto and Buddhist worship for centuries. 
Overnight: NIKKO  KAYANA or similar, NIKKO

Day 11: Nikko / APRIL 17
We will spend the entire day in Nikko to photograph the annual Yayoi Festival, held over five days (April 13-17) every year to celebrate the coming of spring at the Futarasan-jinga temple and in the center of town. A highlight is the colorful hanayatai (floats) decorated in flowers, and hundreds of Japanese dressed in traditional costume (pink is the color of choice). The temple is just one of many fabulous temples and shrines comprising Toshogu, considered Japan’s most lavishly decorated religious complex. Prepare to be awed!
Overnight: NIKKO KAYANA or similar, NIKKO

Day 12:  Tokyo / APRIL 18
This morning we return to Tokyo, where the cherry blossom blooms should be even more pronounced than when we departed. Still, we’ll probably be “blossomed out” by now. Hence, this afternoon we’ll focus our cameras on modern Japan, perhaps beginning 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 also photograph Shibuya Crossing, the busiest pedestrian intersection on the planet, and where a flood of pedestrians cross from multiple directions every time the traffic lights turn red. In the evening, we’ll walk along the Meguro River, between Gotanda and Meguro Sky Garden illuminated for the sakura with pink lanterns (and the premiere location for photographing massed sakura in Tokyo). Finally, we’ll photograph the neon-lit Shinjuku district, including the iconic Kabukicho red-light district entrance gate, ablaze with neon signs.
Overnight: HOTEL SUN ROUTE GINZA or similar

Day 13: Tokyo / APRIL 19
This morning we’ll visit the Meiji Shrine, surrounded by lush green forest a short distance north of Shibuya. The balance of the day is at leisure for you to experience a museum, temple, or district of your choice… or maybe even a sumo wrestling match! This evening we’ll enjoy a slideshow of everyone’s favorite images, followed by our farewell dinner.
Overnight: HOTEL SUN ROUTE GINZA or similar

Day 14: Depart / APRIL 20
Depart for home