Photographing Cherry Blossoms In Iwakuni, Japan

A little over a month ago in April, I was able to take a trip to photograph the cherry blossoms in one of my favorite places in Japan – the town of Iwakuni. More specifically, I spent almost all of my time around the Kintai Bridge and Iwakuni Castle area. This is a trip I have wanted to take for quite some time. I lived in Japan when I was a kid between 1995-96, and actually was baptized in the river there, so it’s always been a special place to me personally. In fact, it was the first place that I really experienced the beauty and culture of cherry blossom season in Japan at the age of 12. While I’ve been able to visit again a few other times over the years, I had not been for cherry blossom season since that first time in ’96, so I was very excited for the opportunity this year.

Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t really ideal for a lot of the trip. It was cloudy most of the time, and the day I arrived it had been raining solidly all day long, and the river was quite high. The rain slowed down do a drizzle for long enough for me to walk around and take a few photos when I arrived, but the trees were still a bit early then. I’m actually thankful for that though, because the rain would have done significant damage to the blossoms had they been in full bloom.

That said, there were some pockets of nice skies enough to get some shots I really wanted, and anyway it’s never a bad time when you get to photograph cherry blossom season in Japan! The morning after the rain the blossoms were still rather sparse, but you could already see the progression by the end of the day.

The above images were taken first thing in the morning – the images below were taken later the same day

Part of what makes the season so special at the Kintai Bridge during cherry blossom season is not just the blossoms but the bridge itself. As beautiful as the sakura are, it is the combination of the blossoms with this lovely historic wooden bridge that makes the atmosphere a bit more magical than other locations. So one of my goals was to capture the sense of seeing the bridge during this season. The below images are the result of that vision.

More than anything else however, I most wanted to photograph the cherry blossoms during blue hour. Specifically, I wanted to capture the cherry blossoms with the illuminated Japanese lanterns before it was totally dark. This was challenging for several reasons. First, the period between when the lanterns turn on and the color in the sky dissipates is quite short. You have maybe an hour tops. Second, there were quite a few other people around, not to mention photographers with their own photos to take, so you’re competing for space and angles at most locations. It’s nothing like shooting in Tokyo, but still difficult when the time is so short. Third, the weather plays a big role as well – there were only two evenings with a true blue hour because of the weather conditions, and one of those was a Friday night, meaning it was especially crowded. This left me with a significant amount of editing to do when I got home, but in the end I’m really happy with how the images turned out.

One aspect of cherry blossom I always like to photograph no matter where I go is the human element, specifically what the Japanese call hanami. Hanami literally means “flower viewing,” but it refers primarily to the picnics people have all around the country during the sakura season. I really enjoyed photographing people around the festival area this year, as there were some great angles that you can’t get in most other places. This to me is what the cherry blossom season is all about. The trees are beautiful, but it is the people that create the fun and exciting atmosphere of the season.

I am so glad I finally got to take this trip this year. It’s been on my list for a long time and these photos will always bring back good memories. For me, these photos are not only memories of this trip, but tie back to my childhood when I experienced cherry blossom season in Japan for the first time. Back then, I was just a scrawny 12-year-old kid who didn’t know what to make of it all. With nearly 30 years extra life experience, not to mention many cherry blossom seasons under my belt now, I think I was able to take it all in a bit more this time. I don’t know when I’ll go back again, but hopefully it won’t take another 30 years to enjoy the sakura here once more.

Before you leave, below I’ve included a link to a cinematic behind-the-scenes video I made of the trip, and below that is a gallery of extra images. Hope you’ll enjoy them all, and thanks for stopping by!

More Images

Check out my full gallery here.

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