JOIN NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC AUTHOR, PHOTOGRAPHER AND EXPEDITION LEADER CHRISTOPHER P. BAKER ON THIS EXCITING JAPAN PHOTO TOUR & WORKSHOP FOCUSED ON THE SAKURA–THE SPRINGTIME CHERRY BLOSSOM BLOOM

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.

ITINERARY (subject to change)

Day 1: Tokyo / MARCH 31
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: SOTETSU FRESA INN GINZA or similar

Day 2: Tokyo / APRIL 1
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; or we may choose to 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).
Overnight: SOTETSU FRESA INN GINZA or similar

Day 3: Five Lakes & Mount Fuji / APRIL 2
Today we head west from Tokyo to the Five Lakes district, offering stupendous views of Mount Fuji across the azure lake waters. We’ll base ourselves here for two days of sensational photography amid one of Japan’s premier sakura experiences. After checking into our hotel, we’ll spend the afternoon photographing around Lake Yamanaka, known as “Swan Lake” for its resident trumpeter swans along the north shore. We’ll photo them, as well as the magnificent floral displays (especially sunflowers and blue and purple nemophilia) at Hananomiyako Park, plus the nearby Oshino-Hakkai village and the lovely Daimon-Bashi bridge framed by sakura blossoms along the Shinnasho River… always with Mt. Fuji as a stupendous backdrop. Today’s highlight will be photographing sunset from 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.
Overnight: HOTEL BREEZEBAY LAKE RESORT or similar, LAKE KAWAGUCHIKO

Day 4: Five Lakes & Mount Fuji / APRIL 3
We’ll rise early this morning for sunrise photos of Mt. Fuji before returning to the hotel for breakfast. We’ll then spend the morning photographing around Lake Kawaguchiko, including (depending on lighting and weather conditions on the day) the superb perspective from Azegawa, on the lake’s eastern shore. We’ll also visit Oishi Park--a lovely landscaped lakefront foreground for images of Mount Fuji, plus Saiko Iyashi no Santo, a traditional thatched village with traditional craft workshops. And if the shibazakura (moss phlox) have already burst into bloom, we may continue to Fujigane (Fuji Motosumo) to witness the spectacular display—entire fields of pink, white and purple flowers spread like a carpet in front of the sacred volcano. To end our day, we’ll drive into the mountains overlooking Lake Kawaguchiko to photograph the sunset from the Shindo Pass Observatory. (If it’s raining, we may visit the Kubota Itchiku Art Museum, dedicated to the revived art of centuries-old Tsujigahana silk dyeing, used to decorate elaborate kimonos; and/or the Ide Sake Brewery to learn the traditional craft of producing Japan’s favorite tipple.)
Overnight: HOTEL BREEZEBAY LAKE RESORT or similar, LAKE KAWAGUCHIKO

Day 5: Shinkansen & Kyoto / APRIL 4
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 Ninenzaka offers a smorgasbord of sensational images, with women in traditional kimonos, wooden shops adorned with lanterns, and even rickshaws!
Overnight: HOTEL VISTA PREMIO KARAWAMACHI, or similar, KYOTO

Day 6: Kyoto / APRIL 5
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 photograph Noh costumes being made. The rest of the afternoon and evening are free for you to enjoy Kyoto at leisure.
Overnight: HOTEL VISTA PREMIO KARAWAMACHI, or similar, KYOTO

Day 7: Kyoto / APRIL 6
Up very 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). We’ll enjoy a traditional Japanese dinner in the lantern-lit Gion district with a maiko, then photograph the geisha district by night—a chance to capture geishas scurrying to secret liaisons, and other such quintessential Japanese scenes.
Overnight: HOTEL VISTA PREMIO KARAWAMACHI, or similar, KYOTO

Day 8: Seki & Takayama / APRIL 7
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, famous for its excellently preserved Edo Period (1603-1868) historical center—Sannmachi Seji. We’ll overnight on the edge of the historic district.
Overnight: HIDA HOTEL PLAZA, or alternative, TAKAYAMA

Day 9: “Crow Castle” & Togakushi Jinga / APRIL 8
This morning we’ll photograph Matsumoto’s spectacular “Crow Castle.” 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, stopping to photograph at Togakushi Jinga shrine, surrounded by massive trees at the base of Mount Lizuna. We’ll continue the short distance to Shibu Onsen, a charming and historic mountain hot-spring community where it is common to see visitors walking the streets dressed in kimonos. The balance of the afternoon is at leisure.
Overnight: SUBINOYU RYOKAN, SHIBU ONSEN (or alternative hotel)

Day 10: “Snow Monkey Park,” Japanese Alps & Nikko / APRIL 9
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 10
We will spend the morning photographing Shinkiyo Bridge and at the amazing Toshogu complex that comprises, a UNESCO World Heritage Site composed on more than 100 lavishly decorated temples and shrines. A highlight among many is the Futarasan-jinga temple. Prepare to be awed! The balance of the day is free to explore Nikko at leisure.
Overnight: NIKKO KAYANA or similar, NIKKO

Day 12:  Tokyo / APRIL 11
This morning we return to Tokyo in time for lunch. In the afternoon, we’ll focus our cameras on modern Japan in the Shibuya and Harajuku neighborhoods, including 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. Architectural highlights may include Harajuku’s Tokyu Plaza Ometesando’s mirrored entranceway, offering a sensational multi-dimensional perspective; and the nearby “Iceberg.” Finally, after dinner, we’ll photograph the neon-lit Shinjuku district, including the iconic Godzilla Road and Kabukicho red-light district entrance gate, ablaze with neon signs. Traveling by train provides an opportunity for fantastic photography in its own right.
Overnight: SOTETSU FRESA INN GINZA or similar

Day 13: Tokyo / APRIL 12
This morning we hope to attend an early morning training ritual at a sumo wrestling stable—a rare opportunity to witness and photograph the quintessential Japanese sport close up and personal. (Alternately, or in addition, we’ll head to Akihabara—capital of all things cosplay, anime, and manga-related, including photographing the many Lolita decora girls and fashion monsters dolled up in Gaga-grade garb who frequent the streets. We’ll close the morning with lunch at a “maid café.”) The afternoon is at leisure for you to experience a museum, temple, or district of your choice. This evening we’ll enjoy a slideshow of everyone’s favorite images, followed by our farewell dinner aboard a yakatabune long-boat festooned with red lanterns.
Overnight: SOTETSU FRESA INN GINZA or similar

Day 14: Depart / APRIL 20
Depart for home

Trip Details

March 31-April 13, 2023
Trip cost: $TBD

Limit: 10 participants

All participants are required to show proof of being fully vaccinated against Covid.

Highlights

  • Photograph Tokyo's iconic sights, including the Senso-Ji shrine, the amazing Skibuya Crossing, Lolita decora girls and fashion monsters, plus neon-lit Shinjuku by night.
  • Be awed by Mt. Fuji as photographed from across the 'Five Lakes,' and from the blossom-framed Arakuren Sengren Shrine.
  • In Kyoto, shoot kimono-clad models in the 'Bamboo Forest' and Fushimi-Inari shrine, plus a weaver's workshop, and a portrait sessions with a maiko (apprentice geisha).
  • Shoot a traditional samurai swordsmith at work.
  • Photograph the famous 'snow monkeys' bathing in their natural hot springs.
  • Explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site temple complex in Nikko.

Tour Leader

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.

Testimonials

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., JIM CLINE PHOTO TOURS, COLOMBIA 2018

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.
SARAH S., JIM CINE PHOTO TOURS, CUBA 2020

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 Cuba knowledge and I loved your positive energy
ASA M., JIM CLINE PHOTO TOURS, CUBA 2020

Molly Danner [Program Director & Director, Photography Trip Talent, National Geographic] came back with a rave review of your performance on our Eastern Cuba trip, along with the recommendation that I consider featuring you as NG photographer on future private jet trips—which I most definitely will do!
FORD COCHRAN, DIRECTOR OF PROGRAMMING, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC EXPEDITIONS