May 14, 2019
Cherry Glow || Fujiyoshida, Japan December 2018 || Shot with my Nikon D850, Nikon 16-35mm (f/4) @ 22 mm, f/10, 1/6, ISO 50, Lee 3 stop ND grad filter & Circular Polarizer
Chureito Pagoda: How to get there! (Fujiyoshida, Japan)
Chureito Pagoda: Fujiyoshida, Japan
I absolutely LOVE Japan! Every time I visit, I do not want to leave and make plans to return as fast as possible. Many friends, followers, and fellow photographers have asked me about my photo of Chureito Pagoda and Mt. Fuji named "Cherry Glow" (see below) and other information such as: how to get there, best time of year, what to bring, what is around, and about the hike.
I believe this to be one of the most iconic locations in Japan, if not the whole world. At just about any time of year, this location offers endless photography possibilities and unparalleled compositions. I dedicate this post to sharing my story about getting to and shooting this location because the experience was so fun, but also specific details in hopes to assist you with maximizing your experience there to capture an image similar to or better than the one featured above.
During the sixth grade, I studied the European Middle Ages and developed a parallel interest in Feudal Japan (notably because I noticed striking similarities between Japan and Europe during that same period despite little contact between the people (fascinating!!) and I LOVE castles haha!). My first trip to Japan was not until 2006 though (despite an interest in high school and college to teach English, and then again as a lawyer with a couple of opportunities as a lateral move as a bengoshi (i.e., in-house lawyer). Unfortunately, I had other interests that superseded this desire or got blocked unfortunately.) Nevertheless, I have always been enamored with Japan, its history, culture, architecture, geology and its beautiful landscapes.
For many years, I saw images of the Chureito Pagoda all over social media but was not sure where it was located in Japan. Once I saw Elia Locardi’s portfolio image of this iconic location (a shout out to and many thanks to Elia for the inspiration!!!), I vowed to find this pagoda and capture an image of my own.
When to Go?:
As usual, the answer to this question depends upon what you want to accomplish with your image and the type of scene you want. Taste often drives timing--meaning what you want to see in your image likely will dictate the time of year you need to be in that spot. Most of the iconic images of this location focus on its surrounding cherry trees yielding full blooms of cherry blossoms and the vibrant colors of Sakura (i.e., usually the first and/or second week of April each year). No question, this time of year is absolutely stunning once the blossoms explode! My 2018 photo tour ended in Japan in December and I unfortunately could not coincide my trip with either Sakura 2018 or 2019. Not to worry, I will go ASAP and maybe even for Sakura 2020! (See ya there!)
If you are not able to coincide your trip with a Sakura, don't worry. In my opinion, this location can be absolutely beautiful at any time during the year! I hope my image can convince you of this opinion. No matter when you go, you can capture an incredible image at this location especially for sunrises and sunsets.
How to Get There?:
I believe Japan offers the greatest infrastructure in the world and limitless ways to get from place to place. Getting to Chureito Pagoda is easy once you understand Japan’s infrastructure. While some say this may be a bit daunting due to its enormity and well possibly language barrier and illiteracy (haha meaning I am not fluent, can read very little of the signage), I ultimately disagree. Why? Because, Japanese people are SOOOOO friendly, polite and helpful...again Japan's infrastructure is the best and it is easy to make your way--you will see!
My journey began in Tokyo, specifically Shinjuku and the Shinjuku Station. Remember, there are MANY ways to get to this pagoda and depends on where you start. It takes about 1.5 hours to get from Tokyo to Chuodo Shimoyoshida via bus. I hope this helps especially if your journey begins in Tokyo. So, here are my steps and how I propose you do it from Tokyo:
- Might sound easy, depending on how you plan to arrive to Shinjuku. Just keep in mind, Shinjuku is MASSIVE, I mean it.
- The train station alone had some 250+ exits, it is a massive mall/city underground mixed with a station of every kind (buses, trains, taxis on and on).
- It is WILD and crazy and soooo many people rushing about especially since it is Saturday morning. I love it!
Shinjuku Expressway Bus Station:
- Find your way to the express bus station. It is quite a walk from the Shinjuku train station, not too bad, but not easy with gear and there are literally thousands and thousands of people scurrying in all directions...so you might want to go direct from your accommodations to the Express Bus Station instead.
- This link has all of the important information on how to get there and the bus lines: https://highway-buses.jp/terminal/shinjuku.php
Shinjuku Expressway Bus Ticket Counter:
- This link will help you with everything you need once inside: https://www.shinjukustation.com/new-shinjuku-expressway-bus-terminal-basuta-shinjuku/
- Find the ticket counter, its well marked just continue walking following all of the signs. It takes a while you will see.
- Once you arrive, there are about 25 lines and attendants at each. Get in the right line. You want to ride to the "Central Doshimoyoshida Bus Stop" so tell the attendants and they will direct you to the right line and attendants.
- I failed to take notes on exactly how much the ticket cost, but I remember it roughly was about $25 for a return ticket (meaning covered there and back). It might have been less.
- I chose a 1PM leave and 6:30PM (post sunset) return. It was very flexible and easy to accommodate whatever general itinerary I wanted.
- Since I arrived about 5 minutes before the bus was to leave, I raced over to the bus line and we began boarding immediately. So lucky. This was the most orderly, polite, kind, friendly and perfect boarding process I have ever seen. The bus is so modern, clean, comfortable, spacious, technological, aerodynamic, and cool.
Central Doshimoyoshida Bus Stop:
It takes about 1.5 hours from Tokyo Shinjuku Express Bus station to get to the Central Doshimoyoshida Bus Stop. The buses are so advanced and technological, it will notify you of the stop well in advance and when in doubt ask--everyone is helpful! Each stop a magical video appears with joyous musical animation. The advertisements displayed during the trip are animated, inviting, sweet, and kawaii (cute)! :)
Arakurayama Sengen Park:
Once you arrive at Central Doshimoyoshida Bus Stop, you are almost there--only a short walk ahead. It takes about 20-40 minutes to walk along the freeway to the entrance to Arakurayama Sengen Park. This link has tons of information about this incredible park and what it offers: https://www.arakurayama-sakura.com/
I created a photo album (of iPhone pics only which I may supplement over time with my DSLR images--I took over 1,000 pictures at this site and have not had the time to process them all so stay tuned on those as well). While seeing the thumbnails below is nice, click on any image to launch the dedicated gallery where you can read more details about each shot and what to expect at the location:
Tourists & Popularity:
Please note this is a VERY popular destination and depending on the seasons (especially during Sakura) shooting this location can be incredibly challenging. Plan ahead. Arrive early especially to set up and in my view for the best setup it is right next to the fence above the pagoda to the left a bit. I got there well in advance, staked it out, and claimed it early. I was there for about 4 hours and could have stayed longer (this most likely is not the case in Sakura and probably requires an even earlier arrival).
Clamps v. Tripods:
A tripod is optional but if so definitely bring a clamp or similar support. I say this because I heard rumors they were illegal, banned or prohibited. I did not see this type of enforcement. I have not validated this yet. However, I was not there in Sakura which it may well be enforced during peak seasons versus off seasons like December. Check with others, be prepared and in my view using a clamp is better in many ways here.
The stairs really are easy to traverse, in great quality and there really aren't that many. It takes 30 minutes at most to get to the top depending on your fitness level (and depending on how many stops you make along the way at the other sites and to shoot pictures). Travel lighter than you normally do to really enjoy it and for a nimble up and down. This is up to you, but the height and stairs are not prohibitive to those who are moderately in shape or better.
Mt. Fuji Praise:
Make sure to conduct all rituals at the shrine, pay your respects and marvel at this location and the Japanese people's respect for it! I believe this makes it more fun overall and maybe why I got such great shooting conditions and weather! HAHA Lastly, I loved this plaque and its singing message (which I believe is praising Mt. Fuji and Fujiyoshida) and by the way it is solar powered!
NOTE and ASK to my Japanese colleagues and friends: "What are they signing about and saying?!" Please offer a translation by responding as a comment to the post as we ALL would LOVE to know!! :)
What to Bring & Weather: See more details below
Mt. Fuji Praise Video
What I Carried:
Travel as light as you can to maximize enjoyment of the experience. For the specifics as to any one piece of gear, please see my About Gear page. On this trip, I took these things:
- Nikon D850
- iPhone X
- Nikon 16-35mm
- Nikon 14-24mm It turned out I did not use my wide angle, but I could have
- Tamron 24-70mm; and
NOTE--I would have LOVED to take my telefoto lens of course--so many incredible shots could have been achieved with that. But, weight is an issue and any more it really would have nearly killed me. Glad I made the right decision here and left that behind this time.
- Think Tank Bag
- Joby Gorilla Pod (note--I did not bring my standard tripod due to size/bulk and possible setup issues due to number of visitors)
- Filters & Holder Polarizer
- Triggers/Shutter Release
- Headlamp and flashlight NOTE--this is important especially if you are staying after sunset and making the trek down in the dark. You probably could do it without it, but no need to wander in the dark if you don't have to.
- Spare batteries for the Nikon and lights
Clothing (based on a December trip):
- Thick hat
- Best hiking boots
- Hiking pants (that break away for shorts as well to cover the wide range of temperatures and changing conditions)
- Thick socks Gloves (2 pair--1 inner still warm but allows controlling cell phones as well as gear while wearing, and outer wind protecting all terrain)
- Thick jacket
- Nike Hyperwarm additional layer for when it got colder
NOTE--generally be prepared, watch your season, do the research, know what you are getting into and know at the top and as daylight wanes it can be much colder, weather changes, and be ready for anything.
I always bring some if a hike is involved. Stairs on this one so your fitness level will dictate things for this trip.
I didn't take much, but if you plan to be up there for a period of time to really capture the right shots, enjoy it, then you really should bring snacks. I brought a few and it paid off.
You must stay apprised of the weather prior to dedicating time to this location. While yes, images with clouds and dramatic skies that take up even most of the scene can be cool, depending again on your goals this location and Mt. Fuji are subject to dramatic weather changes that may well make shooting difficult to impossible. So, check before you go. Figure out what type of weather and scene you want and plan around it accordingly.
For me, I went in December and typically it is Winter weather (i.e., a bit cold, clouded, and rapidly changing). However, I was blessed! I got fairly clear skies, less cloud cover, to the point Mt. Fuji was entirely visible the whole day (this is very lucky for the time of year I understand), and met with a brilliant, explosive, fiery orange and yellow suns and sky.
As the day went on, it became VERY cold almost bitterly and impacted shooting ability and even became physically challenging. I dressed well and still the temperature became bitingly cold and forced me to leave earlier than I had wanted. Again, the time of year will dictate much so go in knowing when you want to go, do the research ahead, plan for your scene, pick the right day, and do your best! Or, just roll the dice, go and have a blast no matter what happens! It can be worth the experience regardless! :)
This link will help with determining the weather for the location within a 10 day period: https://weather.com/weather/tenday/l/Fujikawaguchiko+Japan+JAXX0558:1:JA
Here are a set of links that I visited in my planning and that give great insights in how to get there, what to expect, and more:
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