Beautiful Night Views Outside the Big Cities
While you may have viewed the humming metropolis of Tokyo from Skytree during the day, or even Shibuya crossing from Starbucks at night, chances are you've never seen Tokyo, or any other city in Japan, from above when the sun goes down. The night view of Japan's huge skyscrapers and lively streets is a must-see for avid photographers, romantics, and just about anyone who wants to know Japan better, for night is when Japan's cities comes alive. However there are a few, lesser well-known beautiful night sights in Japan that only avid photographers know about or lucky travelers stumble across, some of which we will introduce here.
Matsuri (traditional Japanese festivals usually consisting of dancing, eating, and a lot of drinking) are some of the best places in Japan to get some fantastic and stunning night pictures. In Akita Prefecture in northern Honshu there is a famous festival called the Akita Ken Kantou Matsuri (Akita Prefecture Lantern Festival) which is a great event to get some beautiful pictures at. At this festival participants balance long poles with many lanterns attached to them on various parts of their bodies (popular options include chin, hip, hand and shoulder balancing) in a parade with many other participants. These poles are of varying weights and heights, and only the pros go for the biggest and most impressive ones.
Another festival, the winter Kamakura Snow Festival (Kamakura Yuki Matsuri), is also a fantastic place for your night photography pursuits. This festival includes participants building a series of tiny igloos (only about one adult being able to fit into one igloo) and placing lights into them to make them seem like a little village all lit up at night. Needless to say this results in a picturesque and stunning night scene and a great photo to show off to friends back at home. For the 'real' version of the mini-igloo village, consider a trip to Shirakawa-go and walk up to the lookout at night in winter for a stunning view of a picturesque fairy-tale village (the view is ten times better in winter because all of the houses are covered in snow and truly look like iced gingerbread houses).
It seems that winter is the best time of year to take night time pictures, as one of the most beautiful night-time sights in Japan has to be the carved ice-sculptures in the Sapporo Snow Festival (Sapporo Yuki Matsuri) which runs for one week in February every year. At this festival hundreds of delicate and professionally-sculpted ice statues are displayed in major locations around Sapporo (the biggest sites being Odori Park and Susukino). While most visitors go to see the sculptures during the day, night is without question the best time to view the ice palaces and sculptures as they are beautifully lit up. If you're willing to brave the cold, this is the festival for you.
Another beautiful sight you may decide to take some pictures of in Japan is a sky full of stars. While star-viewing is incredibly difficult on mainland Japan (even in the countryside) due to high populations and resulting light pollution, Okinawa is a different story. If you want to get beautiful pictures of stars in Japan, Okinawa is absolutely the best place to start. Not only is the food and weather great in Okinawa, but the selection of small (and deserted) islands for capturing some stunning pictures of stars is huge. We suggest Ishigaki Island or Iriomote Island for some great star-viewing. Make sure to go down to the beach at night or a lookout away from the island's village to get the best pictures. There is also a type of fluorescent seaweed in Okinawa, so see if you can get any pictures of it while you are there as it makes a great and rare picture.
If you're around Japan in June or July, you may also want to try and get some pictures of fireflies. As fireflies only appear in some seasons and in some select places, you will need to get your timing perfectly right to take any pictures. In summer, rivers/streams in and around mountains and forests in Japan are great spots to start your firefly-hunting pursuits as fireflies tend to congregate in dark places. (Remember not to use flash photography or the fireflies lose their ability to communicate through light with other fireflies.) Late at night (after 10.00 p.m.) is the best time to view fireflies, so try to set up your tripod slightly before then.
While undoubtedly Japan is most well-known for its city night views, there are a lot of unique sights which offer rarer, occasionally more beautiful and culturally interesting scenes. These are the scenes which display Japan below the surface and out of the metropolis, and which undeniably showcase the breathtaking nature and distinctive culture of Japan most beautifully.