Traveling to Japan several times…because it is amazing
Over the years, I have had the privilege to visit Japan a few times. From the southern island of Okinawa to Tokyo. In fact, at the time of publishing this post, Japan is the country that I have been to the most times in Asia. After visiting its main cities, and given the opportunity, I always wanted to explore the northernmost island of Hokkaido. It is kind of crazy to think that Russia is just a few hundred kilometers away! And while I usually prefer to focus my resources on traveling to new places, when a country is so amazing, why stop going?
In my previous trips to Japan, I have followed my own itinerary, focusing on the thing I love: travel photography. In order to make the best of the resources to capture moments (and footage), I have benefited from a plan that is flexible enough to allow me to be at a good time and place to get the desired results, whether that is catching Tokyo Tower at sunset, a candid street photography shot or anything else in between.
That is the reason why going abroad with an organized tour is not exactly what I have in mind in order to discover a place through my camera’s viewfinder. However, since this was my third visit to Japan, I thought it would be a good idea to take this 4-day trip to relax, and let someone else worry about the itinerary. Not to mention acquiring this “travel group” experience for the very first time. Traveling together with a group of more than 30 Taiwanese tourists was totally new to me.
The pros and cons of group traveling in Japan for photographers
There is no denying that traveling expenses in Japan are not exactly cheap. The most evident advantage of traveling with a large group of people, therefore, is the economies of scale. Transportation, food and accommodation are cheaper and usually better for large groups. Moreover, because moving such a large party requires a passenger transport (aka bus), it is possible to visit more places overall. It would have been not only more expensive but also exhausting and time-consuming to rent a car and drive it to each of the places we visited within Hokkaido.
On the other hand, for someone focused on travel photography, I believe the biggest disadvantage of group traveling is the limited time to discover and roam around. For some places in our itinerary, we literally got off the bus, walked to the point of interest, took “the photo”, bought souvenirs, made a toilet stop and got back. All in 15 minutes. On top of that, the time consumed in having three meals per day (sometimes even afternoon tea!) is time not spent exploring and shooting. When solo traveling, I would have had breakfast and lunch on the go in order to maximize the time for shooting, and move on until I am satisfied.
Thus, I tried to put together the convenience of group traveling and the particular demands of travel photography for this trip. In the end, I was able to enjoy the excellent Japanese hospitality and not worry about every single detail in the itinerary. My only concern was to manage the very limited time to find opportunities to capture life in Hokkaido, and in some places, the time was so short that they hardly left any impressions on me.
With more than 15 places visited in just 4 days, I would have certainly made good use of at least one more hour in each one of those. Here below are the images I managed to capture while I tried to balance experiencing each place, shooting pictures and eating local delicacies.
Noboribetsu City is near to New Chitose Airport (CTS). Thus, it is a good choice to start exploring Hokkaido from here. The first place we visited was Lake Shikotsu right on time for the last lights of the golden hour. Then, we arrived at the hot spring area of the city for dinner time. The only time I had to explore this place was that evening and the next morning, when we visited the crater of Jigokudani. Although trails were available around the crater, we were given some tight 10 minutes to walk a bit and then get back to the road to our next destination.
Hakodate and lake stops along the way to Sapporo
Between Noboribetsu and Hakodate City there is a distance of more than 200 Km, and it took us a good part of the afternoon of the second day to get here. However, this long journey was worth it. I could easily understand why Hakodate is so popular during the winter season. Places like the picturesque Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse, the lively Hakodate Morning Market Square and the Mt. Hakodate Observatory can make anyone want to stay in this city for a few days.
After visiting these places, we embarked on a journey of some 260 Km to Sapporo, making some hasty stops in Lake Onuma and Lake Toya.
Hokkaido Jingu and Otaru
Once in Sapporo, we started our tour visiting Hokkaido Jingu, a Shinto temple located at the west edge of the city. Once again, time was a scarce commodity, and not so long after we got down the bus, we were on the road again, heading to Otaru, but not without some interesting photos of the temple inner quarters and the forest around it.
After this swift “touch-and-go”, we headed northwest, to Otaru, a port city known these days for glassworks among other fine handcrafts.
Originally, the time to explore Otaru was just 4 hours, but due to unexpected rains, the tour guide reduced the time to only 2.5 hours. It was unfortunate to see the sky cleared almost completely right before our way back to Sapporo.
Free time to explore Sapporo City
Once back to Sapporo from Otaru, I did not waste any of my last hours in Hokkaido to get away from the group and geared up for a walk within the city that ended up late that night. My time was barely enough to visit just a few signature landmarks like the Odori Park with the Sapporo TV Tower located at its west end, Susukino Street and the sleepless Tanukikoji Shopping Street. I also had some picturesque sights of the adorable tram that runs through and around the city.
After those hours of photowalking, I could not help to compare Sapporo to the other Japanese cities I have been to. Even if group traveling does mean extremely limited time to explore, I can say that Hokkaido is an amazing Japanese island overall, unique and charming in its own right with its rolling hills and green plains spotted with milking cows and pleasant views of the sea and beyond. The northernmost island of Japan that has everything for a memorable travel experience.
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