Photographer’s Guide to Japan’s Most Popular Cities: Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka

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Photographer’s Guide to Japan’s Most Popular Cities: Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka

This blog post may contain affiliate links.  I may earn a small commission for any purchases made through these links. Click here for the disclosure statement.

All photos are original to the author unless otherwise noted. 

Iconic 'I Love Kabukicho' neon sign in Shinjuku, Tokyo. The bright pink and blue neon lights create a vibrant and energetic atmosphere in the bustling entertainment district

Photographing life in Japan’s cities is an opportunity to capture the beauty of a unique culture and lifestyle. The bustling streets, towering skyscrapers, and neon lights create a vibrant atmosphere that is simply mesmerizing. Despite being ultra-modern, Japan has managed to preserve its rich culture and history, adding a unique charm to its cities. From shrines and temples to iconic landmarks, delicious food, and bustling city streets, there’s never a shortage of interesting subjects to photograph. 

Unique Travel Photography Subjects In Japan

Travel photography has the power to convey the essence of a culture through visual storytelling. It captures the people, places, and traditions that make a country unique. Japan is a country with several subjects that represent its rich culture. I have compiled a list of some of the most captivating subjects and places that can help showcase the essence of Japanese culture through travel photography.

Doors and Entryways:

Image of an electric blue and yellow entryway to a building. The bold and contrasting colors create a unique and eye-catching design, with the electric blue providing a cool and calming effect and the yellow adding a bright and energetic pop of color

Doors and entryways offer a glimpse into the country’s rich cultural heritage and aesthetic sense. Traditional Japanese shoji (windows, doors, or room dividers) are made of paper and wood and often decorated with intricate patterns and designs that reflect the natural world. Photographing these doors and entryways can also showcase Japan’s unique blend of traditional and modern architecture, as many modern buildings incorporate traditional design elements. 

City Lights:

Image of iconic Japanese neon street signs in a bustling entertainment district. The bright and colorful neon lights, featuring Japanese characters and graphics, create a vibrant and energetic atmosphere in the area

City lights in Japan depict the bustling atmosphere and energy of urban life in Japan. The striking contrast of the neon lights against the night sky provides photographers with a unique blend of colors, patterns, and textures. Additionally, photographers can capture vibrant nightlife and food in these entertainment districts. 

Bustling City Life:

Image of a woman riding a bike on a street in Japan. Biking is a popular and eco-friendly mode of transportation in the city

With its busy streets, colorful signage, and fascinating people, Japan is a visual feast for anyone looking to tell a story through their camera lens. From the neon-lit streets of Tokyo to the serene alleys of Kyoto, there are countless opportunities for capturing the essence of Japanese life through street photography

One of the unique aspects of street photography in Japan is the contrast between traditional and modern elements. For example, you might capture an image of a businessman in a suit walking past an ancient temple or shrine. 

Transportation Such as Bikes and Trains:

Image of a bike parked outside a doorway in Japan. The bike is a common mode of transportation in Japan, and can be seen parked outside buildings and stores throughout the country

Japan is known for its ultra-fast bullet trains connecting major cities at speeds of up to 200 mph. The sleek design of Japan’s trains and stations presents excellent photographic opportunities, from images of people to long-exposure photography of trains passing by. Additionally, Japan is one of the most bike-friendly countries in the world. Photographing people biking on busy streets lined with skyscrapers and traditional architecture can create a beautiful contrast. Both bikes and trains are deeply ingrained in Japanese culture and represent the country’s values of hard work, efficiency, and community. Capturing these unique elements of Japanese transportation can provide a glimpse into the country’s soul.

Vending Machines

apanese vending machine standing in front of a store or building. The vending machine is filled with a variety of beverages and snacks, and features colorful graphics and Japanese characters.

Vending machines have become an integral part of Japanese culture, representing the country’s unique blend of convenience and innovation. With an estimated 5 million vending machines nationwide, they are ubiquitous and can be found almost everywhere in Japan. The bright and colorful machines stand out in the urban landscape, and the products they offer can give a glimpse into Japanese daily life. Photographers can capture the vending machines in different settings, such as on busy streets, in front of traditional buildings, or quiet neighborhoods.

The vending machines feature unique products not commonly found in other countries, such as canned coffee or hot soup. Photographers can capture the unique offerings of these machines, which can add an interesting cultural element to their photos.

Temples and Shrines

Traditional Japanese shrine adorned with traditional surrounded by lush greenery and hand carved statues.

Temples and shrines are integral to Japanese culture; they represent the country’s rich history, spirituality, and tradition. Landscape photographers can capture the entire complex and its surroundings in a single shot. Architecture photographers can focus on the intricate details and design of the buildings and structures. Street photographers can capture the people interacting with these places of worship. Lastly, portrait photographers can capture the expressions and emotions of those who come to these temples and shrines to pray and pay their respects.

Traditional and Modern Architecture

Architecture photography in Japan is a fascinating genre that showcases the country’s distinct blend of traditional and modern architectural styles. The details of Japanese architecture, such as the intricately designed roofs, wooden interiors, and sliding doors, provide a unique glimpse into the country’s cultural heritage. Meanwhile, the juxtaposition of old and new architecture, with ancient temples and shrines situated alongside towering skyscrapers, creates a striking, captivating, and awe-inspiring contrast. Photographers exploring this genre will find endless opportunities to capture stunning images that offer a window into Japan’s past, present, and future.

Places to Photograph In Tokyo

Tokyo is full of life, energy, and unique experiences where you can find inspiration around every corner and capture beautiful pictures. From Shibuya’s bustling streets to Asakusa’s serene temples, Tokyo is a photographer’s paradise. 

Mori Art Museum and Observation Deck Over Looking Tokyo Tower

Iconic Tokyo Tower shrouded in a thick blanket of fog. The tower's silhouette is visible through the mist, creating a mysterious and ethereal atmosphere



Time of Day: All day

Best For: Architecture Photography, abstract photography, cityscapes

Notable Subjects: Tokyo Tower, Roppongi Hills Business Complex

The Mori Art Museum features contemporary art exhibits from Japan and worldwide, making it a must-visit destination. Another museum highlight is the observation deck from which guests can enjoy breathtaking views of Tokyo Tower and the surrounding cityscape. The museum is located in the impressive Roppongi Hills, a business complex that is an architectural marvel featuring sleek, modern buildings. The museum is a must-visit for art lovers and anyone interested in contemporary architecture and design. Though the museum was closed when I visited, the city’s views and the office park buildings were well worth the visit.

Shibuya Crossing

Famous Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo, Japan. The bustling intersection is surrounded by towering buildings and bright neon lights, with crowds of people crossing the street in all directions.

Time of Day: Afternoon or evening

Best For: Street Photography

Notable Subjects: Shibuya Crossing

Shibuya Crossing is one of the largest and most iconic pedestrian crossings located in the heart of Tokyo. Photographing Shibuya Crossing provides a unique opportunity to capture the energy and vibrancy of a city that never sleeps. With an endless stream of people crossing from all directions, this intersection is an excellent subject for capturing dynamic street photography. Furthermore, the neon lights and billboards surrounding the crossing create a visually stunning backdrop for photographers. 

Tsukiji Outer Market

Customer at the Tsukiji Outer Market in Tokyo, examining the fresh seafood on display at a fish market stall. The customer's attention is focused on the variety of fish, crustaceans, and other marine life, with the vendor standing by to answer any questions.

Time of Day: Morning and early afternoon

Best For: Street Photography and food photography

Tsukiji Fish Market is a one-of-a-kind location for photographers to capture unique and authentic shots. As the world’s largest fish market, it provides a fascinating insight into Japan’s seafood trade and culture. The colorful fish stands, auctioneers, and fishmongers create incredible photo opportunities. Photographers can also shoot the beautifully arranged seafood displays, the lively interactions between vendors and customers, and the mouth-watering seafood cuisine in the market’s restaurants and food stalls. 

Ueno Park

Image of a black-headed gull wading in the water with its reflection visible in the calm surface. The bird's feathers are shades of white, gray, and black, and its beady eyes are focused on something in the distance.

Time of Day: Morning and early afternoon

Best For: Nature photography, bird photography

Subjects: Cherry blossoms

With towering trees, winding paths, serene lakes, and open grass fields, Ueno Park boasts a picturesque landscape that attracts numerous photo enthusiasts each year. The park’s famous cherry blossoms draw crowds during spring, making it ideal for capturing breathtaking images of nature. Beyond the cherry blossoms, photographers can also find many subjects to shoot, including birds and wildlife, historical statues, street performers, and vibrant street scenes. Additionally, the park houses multiple museums and cultural institutions that offer plenty of potential photo opportunities. Overall, the sheer beauty and variety of subjects make Ueno Park a favorite among photographers.

Explore Older Quiet Neighborhoods

Young woman riding her bike through a serene, traditional neighborhood in Japan. The street is lined with old-fashioned houses creating a peaceful and picturesque scene

Time of Day: All day

Best For: Street Photography, architecture photography, urbex photography

Notable Subjects: Old and abandoned buildings

Tokyo’s older neighborhoods offer a unique blend of decaying history and fascinating architecture that makes for incredible photo opportunities. These areas provide an excellent backdrop for urban exploration (Urbex) as photographers seek out the hidden gems of Tokyo’s past. Unlike the bustling city center, the quieter streets of these neighborhoods allow photographers to focus on capturing the essence of their surroundings without crowds. The older architecture in these areas offers a glimpse into the city’s rich cultural heritage, with buildings that have survived natural disasters and time.

One such neighborhood is Taito City. Located in Northeast Tokyo, it is known for its well-preserved traditional architecture and picturesque streetscapes. Here, visitors can photograph classic wooden homes, shrines, and temples. Taito City’s narrow roads and winding alleys provide opportunities to explore hidden gems around every corner. 

Kabuchiko

The iconic Kabukicho Ichibangai Arches in Shinjuku, Tokyo. The arches, adorned with bright neon lights, create a vibrant and energetic atmosphere in the bustling entertainment district



Time of Day: Evenings

Best For: Street Photography, night photography, food photography

Notable Subjects: Neon lights

Kabukicho is a well-known red-light district in Tokyo where you can capture a slice of Tokyo’s nightlife. The district is packed with neon lights, hostess clubs, bars, restaurants, and entertainment venues that provide plenty of photographic opportunities.

Kabukicho is a gem for photographers interested in candid street photography. The district boasts a unique atmosphere, with people from all walks of life congregating there. The streets are always bustling and offer a perfect backdrop for capturing lively, candid images. Kabukicho is also rich in architecture and design. Throughout the district, you can find fascinating examples of modern Japanese architecture, including towering glass skyscrapers and more traditional Japanese-style buildings.

Tokyo Team Planets

Abstract image with pink lights pointing directly at the viewer. The pink lights creating a striking and bold contrast against the dark background.

Time of Day: All day
Best For: Abstract Photography

TeamLab Planets is an immersive digital art museum that offers an incredible opportunity for photographers to capture stunning abstract images with light. The museum’s dimly lit rooms filled with digital light displays provide imaginative visuals that constantly change and evolve, creating a surreal and mystical atmosphere. 

Where to Take Pictures in Kyoto

Diago-ji Temple

Image of the Diago-Ji Temple in Kyoto, Japan. The temple's architecture features a mix of traditional Japanese and Chinese styles, with vibrant red walls and intricate wooden carvings

Time of Day: Morning and afternoon

Best For: Landscape photography, architecture photography, nature photography

Notable Subjects: Cherry blossoms, traditional architecture, waterfalls

Daigo-ji is a UNESCO World Heritage Site established in the 9th century. Photographers visiting Daigo-ji can capture a variety of subjects and styles of photography. Architecture photographers can capture the intricate details and designs of the various temples and shrines, such as the vibrant colors, wooden structures, and decorative elements. The five-story pagoda is particularly impressive, as it stands out against the backdrop of the surrounding trees and skyline.

Landscape photographers can capture the stunning natural beauty of the gardens, filled with cherry blossom trees, ponds, and waterfalls. The gardens also offer a variety of views and angles, making them perfect for panoramic shots and long-exposure photography.

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

The stunning Arashiyama Bamboo Grove in Kyoto, Japan. Serene and peaceful atmosphere with towering bamboo stalks

Time of Day: Morning and afternoon

Best For: Nature photography

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove’s towering bamboo stalks create a unique, serene, and picturesque atmosphere you can’t find anywhere else.

The unique ambiance of Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is perfect for landscapes and artistic shots. You can experiment with different angles, compositions, and lighting to create stunning and unique images. 

Kimono Forest 

mage of a train station surrounded by the vibrant and colorful Kimono Forest in Arashiyama, Japan. The station's platform is lined with dozens of colorful pillars, each adorned with a unique patterned kimono fabric

Time of Day: All day

Best For: Urban photography, abstract photography

Notable Subjects: Colors, patterns and textures, trains

Kimono Forest is a unique place to photograph because of the stunning visuals it offers. The forest is comprised of over 600 poles covered in various colorful and intricately patterned kimono fabrics that celebrate Japan’s traditional clothing. Additionally, the forest lights up at night, creating a unique ambiance and a magical feeling. 

Kennin-ji Temple

Intricate and colorful dragon motifs on the ceiling of Kennin-Ji Temple in Kyoto, Japan. Captivating and dynamic scene for visitors.

Time of Day: Afternoon

Best For: Architecture Photography

Notable Subjects: Temple, doors and windows, historical artifacts and art 

Kennin-ji temple is known for its magnificent architecture, beautiful gardens, and artistic treasures, making it an ideal location for photographers. One of the temple’s most striking features is the ceiling painted with dragons, which is considered a national treasure of Japan. The artwork is a masterpiece of Japanese art and culture, and it offers an opportunity for photographers to capture the essence of Japanese spirituality and tradition. 

Otagi Nenbutsuji Temple





Image of a hand-carved stone statue with a silly expression at the Otagi Nenbutsuji Temple in Kyoto, Japan. The statue has a whimsical and playful expression, with its tongue sticking out and eyes crossed

Time of Day: Afternoon

Best For: Nature photography

Notable Subjects: Stone statues covered in moss, shrines

Otagi Nenbutsuji Temple is a unique place for photographers due to its fascinating collection of over 1200 whimsical stone statues. This temple is in a quiet and secluded area on the outskirts of Kyoto, which adds to its peaceful ambiance. The temple is known for its unique collection of hand-carved statues. Each statue is unique and depicts a different facial expression, which adds to their charm. Otagi Nenbutsuji Temple is the perfect place for photographers to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and immerse themselves in the beauty of Japanese culture, art, and nature.

Visit a Temple at Night

Image of cherry blossoms in bloom, reflected in a tranquil pond at the Kiyomizu-dera Koyasunoto Pagoda at night.

Time of Day: Evening

Best For: Architecture photography, night photography, black and white photography

Notable Subjects: Temples, cherry blossoms, fall colors

Visiting a temple at night offers a different perspective and atmosphere than daytime. The serene surroundings suddenly transform into a mysterious, moody, and peaceful environment, perfect for capturing magical shots.

However, it’s important to note that not all temples are open at night and may only be accessible during certain seasons. For example, Kiyomizu-dera Koyasunoto Pagoda in Kyoto, Japan, is open during the cherry blossom season at night. This unique opportunity allows photographers to capture the stunning pagoda in a different light, with the beautiful cherry blossoms adding an extra touch of charm to the scene.

Osaka

Osaka Castle 

Osaka Castle, a historic Japanese castle with five stories and a striking blue roof, surrounded by lush greenery and a moat



Time of Day: Evening

Best For: Architecture photography, nature photography 

Notable Subjects: Temples, cherry blossoms, fall colors

Osaka Castle is rich in history and is stunningly beautiful. During the cherry blossom season, the moat is lined with flowering cherry trees, and the castle’s surroundings are transformed into a magical wonderland. In addition to the cherry blossoms, Osaka Castle also offers a variety of unique photography opportunities. Visitors can climb to the top of the castle’s main tower for a panoramic view of the city or explore its many rooms and exhibits to capture its rich history and culture.

Dotonbori

Colorful neon lights reflecting in the river at Dotonbori, a popular entertainment district in Osaka, Japan. Lively atmosphere with crowds of people.

Time of Day: Evening

Best For: Night photography, street photography, food photography

Notable Subjects: neon lights, Kani Doraku Crab, and The Glico Sign

Located in the heart of Osaka, Japan, Dotonbori is well-suited for capturing vibrant and dynamic images. The bright neon lights of the area provide a colorful and visually striking backdrop for photos. The bustling streets and crowded alleys offer opportunities for capturing fast-paced and energetic shots. The street food stalls and local shops also provide interesting subjects for close-up and detail-oriented shots. The area is home to many iconic landmarks, such as the Glico Man sign and the Kani Doraku crab statue, popular among tourists. Additionally, the streets are filled with people from all walks of life, providing ample opportunities for street photography.

Kuromon Ichiba Market

Image of the famous large red lantern at the entrance of Kuromon Ichiba Market, a popular photo spot for visitors that adds to the lively atmosphere of the area.

Time of Day: Morning and afternoon

Best For: Food Photography

Notable Subjects: Food stalls and Japanese cuisine

Kuromon Ichiba Market is frequented by vendors, locals, and tourists worldwide, making it the perfect location to capture unique portraits and street photography. The market’s narrow alleyways and crowded streets are an ideal backdrop for candid shots of people doing their daily business. Street Photographers can capture vendors haggling with customers, locals sampling fresh seafood, or even street performers entertaining passersby. You can capture the expressions of vendors as they interact with their customers or the curious expressions of tourists as they sample Japanese street food.

Shinsekai and Ts?tenkaku

Image of the lively and colorful district of Shinsekai in Osaka, Japan. The neon lights and vibrant billboards create a bustling and energetic atmosphere



Time of Day: All day

Best For: Street photography, architecture photography

Notable Subjects: Ts?tenkaku, neon lights

Shinsekai district is known for its iconic Ts?tenkaku tower, which stands tall at 103 meters and is visible from miles away. The district was built in the early 20th century and was designed to replicate Paris and New York City. It is one of the few places in Japan where you can still see the remnants of the pre-war era.

As a photographer, you could capture stunning images of the Ts?tenkaku Tower, especially during the evening when the tower is illuminated and the neon lights of the district come alive. You could also take pictures of the bustling streets and the unique architecture that blends traditional and modern elements. The district is also home to several restaurants and shops that serve traditional Osaka cuisine, making it an ideal location to capture the essence of Japanese culture.

Tsurumi Ryokuchi Park

Image of a colorful tulip field in Tsurumi Ryokuchi Park, with a traditional windmill in the background. The bright pink tulips create a striking contrast against the blue sky.

Time of Day: Morning and afternoon

Best For: nature photography, bird photography, flower photography

Notable Subjects: Cherry blossoms, tulip field, Sakuya Konohana Kan botanical gardens

The Sakuya Konohana Kan botanical gardens are the centerpiece of Tsurumi Ryokuchi Park and offer visitors a chance to see a wide variety of plants, shrubs, and trees from around the world. The gardens are meticulously maintained and feature numerous species of flowers, including cherry blossoms, peonies, and irises. The gardens are a great place for flower and nature photography, as there are many opportunities to capture the plants’ vibrant colors and natural beauty.

One of the park’s most popular attractions is the tulip fields at the windmill. The fields come to life in the spring when thousands of tulips bloom in a rainbow of colors,

In addition to the botanical gardens and tulip fields, Tsurumi Ryokuchi Park is also a great place for birding photography. The park is home to a wide variety of bird species, including kingfishers, herons, and ducks. Visitors can capture photos of these beautiful birds as they fly over the park’s tranquil lake or perch on the branches of the trees.

Author Bio

Author Bio Image

Delaney is a Business Analyst by day and a travel and wildlife photographer by night who is using her skills for translating complex technical language into easy to understand concepts to make photography achievable at all skill levels. You have questions; she has answers.

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