I’ve started living in Japan a few years ago. Even with a higher cost of living and a lower pay compared to what I received from my previous company, I accepted my new job in The Land of the Rising Sun. Wanting to see more the country was the primary reason.
I’ve been living in Kanagawa, a prefecture near Tokyo. Landscape photography is such a love of my life. Whenever I came back home from work, my free time were spent Googling my next places to visit, looking for best locations for long exposure photography. I was overwhelmed by the immense information I saw on the internet. Local online forums provided images and location information. Almost everywhere in Japan is quite interesting for photography. Every prefecture has unique places to shoot at. I’ve come to realize that Japan is not only a place for great food, unique culture, old architecture, technology, modern cities, manga and anime; it’s also a place for vast opportunity for long exposure photography.
So, rest days were turned to weekend shoots. Budget for my favorite ramen and Japanese beer was saved for train tickets and accommodations. Japan is not a cheap place to explore after all. So, for two years, I had been photographing different places around the country. But I know I have only photographed a small fraction of the entire Japan but surely these places did not disappoint for every place I’ve visited sparked wild imagination. For that reason, Japan has easily become my favorite country for long exposure photography.
So, here is the main reason that makes Japan an epic location for long exposure photography.
Japan has a lot of water. With a coastline length of more than 29,000 kilometers and about a hundred lakes, the country offers vast and diverse shooting locations for beautiful blurred movement of water in your landscape photography.
Torii gates are one of my favorite subjects in long exposure photography that involve water. These unique and static man-made structures on moving water and against stormy skies are perfect elements for a distinctive and stunning long exposure capture. There are thousands of torii gates spread around the country and many of them are built few meters away from the shore. One of my favorites is the Konpira torii gate in Shosanbetsu, Hokkaido. The best time to photograph this shrine is in winter and when the tide is high. The ice that forms on its ‘hashira’ or pillars gives an ethereal feel to anyone that witnesses it in person. Getting to Shosanbetsu in winter requires driving because it is very far from the train station and taxis are quite rare in that area. However, there are other floating torii gates in more accessible locations such as Shirahige Shrine in Shiga, Hakone Shrine in Kanagawa, and Itsukushima Shrine in Hiroshima.
Speaking of water, sea stacks are common in many seaside areas and they are great static elements for coastal long exposure photography. Entrance to these places is absolutely free but one must keep in mind that these geologic formations like shrines and torii gates have some kind of historical and spiritual significance to Japanese people. Being quiet and discreet when shooting is an unwritten rule. Sea stacks are usually labeled and the word ‘iwa” which means ‘rock’ is attached to the end of their names. A few examples are Meoto-iwa (Married Rocks) of Futamiokitama Shrine in Mie, Ebisu-iwa and Daikoku-iwa in Hokkaido and the mysterious unusually-shaped rocks of Hashigui-iwa of Wakayama.
If you are looking for calmer waters, the seven lakes around Mount Fuji will not disappoint. They are very close to Tokyo and there are regular buses that connect the metropolitan and these lakes. The best condition to do long exposure shoots is when the water is still. Mount Fuji reflects beautifully on these lakes during clear and calm days. One must consider weather and season when including the iconic mountain in the frame because most often it is covered with clouds year-round. The best time to see the Mount Fuji is from October until March when the chances of clear days are higher. In addition, the mountain is surrounded with cameras that you can view real-time online. These cameras provide current weather and viewing conditions of the mountain from different vantage points. If you get really lucky, nature can gift you with lenticular clouds hovering over Mount Fuji in winter time. A shutter speed not more than 30 seconds and not less than 8 will be just right to soften the edges of the clouds. Exposing too long, it may dissolve totally your clouds and lose its lentil-like shape.
Also, Japan has countless stretches of rivers and waterfalls owing it to the country’s mountainous geology and wet climate. I’ve been to a few waterfalls such as Hirayu Falls in the Northern Alps, Shiraito Falls in Shizuoka, Nachi Falls in Wakayama and the icy falls of Shirahige in Hokkaido. These natural water formations create spectacular long exposure images when captured during autumn season. The use of CPL will help a lot in improving waterfalls photography by enhancing foliage colors and removing glare.
If you are into cityscapes and want to maximize your stay in Tokyo, Sumida River and Tokyo Bay offer great views of the Tokyo skyline. One of the best spots to do long exposure photography is along Asakusa where elements such as bridges, skyscrapers and rivers can fill your frame. At nighttime in Odaiba, tourist boats moving to and fro on the northern Tokyo Bay can be an appealing foreground for a seemingly endless skyline in the background. With the right shutter speed, these boats will create interesting streaking lights. The suspension Rainbow Bridge connecting Odaiba and Shibaura has captured the eyes of Japanese cityscape photographers because of its colorful light shows during nighttime. But during daytime and when it is foggy, taking a long exposure shot of this bridge can produce dreamy and mysterious-looking photographs.
There are two great things about traveling around Japan; the availability of transport and the accessibility of locations. I don’t remember any moment where I wasn’t able to arrive at any destination because of the lack of transport. It seems that there are no dead ends. Every place is connected by roads or railways. You can take a bus, a taxi, a train or rent a car for a more flexible travel. You will always arrive at your chosen destinations. For this reason, I will keep on coming back and will explore more places in The Land of the Rising Sun.