The Spring ZEKKEI Awards: The Best of Japanese Scenery, Selected by Professional Cameramen

The Spring ZEKKEI Awards: The Best of Japanese Scenery, Selected by Professional Cameramen

Following last year’s summer, autumn, and winter awards, this is the fourth edition of our ZEKKEI Award, showcasing the very best of Japan’s springtime scenery as selected by professional photographers. Previously, the Winter ZEKKEI Award made quite a splash and was picked up in 94 different media outlets, ranging from television shows to newspapers, and magazines to Internet news sites.

In the spirit of bringing Japan’s most beautiful scenery to the world, this time around we’ve selected eight different spots from both eastern and western Japan, presented together with comments from the photographers.

Eastern Japan Division

   
  • Matsugasaki Park(Yamagata Prefecture)
  • Bijin-bayashi Forest(Niigata Prefecture)
  • Kominato Railway(Chiba Prefecture)
  • Hitsujiyama Park and the Moss Phlox Hillside(Saitama Prefecture)

Western Japan Division

   
  • Kaizu Osaki(Shiga Prefecture)
  • Yoshino Mountain(Nara Prefecture)
  • Himeji Castle(Himeji Castle)
  • Okoshiki Beach(Kumamoto Prefecture)

Eastern Japan Division

Matsugasaki Park(Yamagata Prefecture)

More information about the spot here

(photo : Hideki Nawate)

(photo : Hideki Nawate)

Nothing says spring in Japan like cherry blossoms.
Birthplace of the daimyo Date Masamume, Yonezawa Castle is also famous for being the keep of the Uesugi clan (led most famously by Uesugi Kenshin) during the Edo period. Matsugasaki Park, which was created inside the castle ruins, was opened to the public in 1874. This spot is notably not only for its historical background but also for the number of trees found here that are more than 100 years old. At night, the cherry blossoms are gorgeously illuminated, their flowers reflecting in the water together with the crimson bridge. We’ve selected the castle and the park for the award precisely because we want people from all over the world to come to love this authentically Japanese scene of cherry blossom beauty. Cherry blossom season runs from mid-to-late April.

Hideki Nawate

Photographer Comments:
Hideki Nawate

For a shot with real atmosphere, I recommend an angle that captures both Hishimon-bashi (the red bridge over the moat) and the cherry blossoms. The scenery created by the reflection of the illuminated cherry blossoms at night is also enchantingly beautiful.

Award Recipient Comments

Thank you so very much for choosing Matsugasaki Park for the Spring ZEKKEI Award.
The two hundred or so cherry trees planted around the park’s moat create beautiful scenery all throughout the seasons, not only when flowering in spring but also in autumn and when draped with winter’s snow. There are many great photo spots around, and Matsugasaki Park also hosts a number of festivals, including the Yonezawa Uesugi Festival in spring, the “Naseba Naru” Festival in fall, and the Uesugi Snow Lantern Festival in winter. As we’re an easy two-hour, direct bullet train ride from Tokyo, please make sure to come by and see the sights!

Tourism Division, Industry Department, Yonezawa City

Bijin-bayashi Forest(Niigata Prefecture)

More information about the spot here

(photo : Hideki Nawate)

(photo : Hideki Nawate)

The “Forest of Beauties” (Bijin-bayashi) is a 90-year-old grove of Japanese beech that takes up an entire corner of Matsunoyama. These trees came to be known by their current complimentary name over time due to their slender and beautiful form. The lovely contrast between the remaining snow of winter and the swollen green buds of the beech, a sight limited to spring, was our deciding factor in selecting this area. Peak season runs from April to May.

Hideki Nawate

Photographer Comments:
Hideki Nawate

The forest is said to be cooler than the surrounding area by about 2°C, so even in spring the snow here lingers. You will catch a glimpse of a truly fantastic scene when the conditions for mist are just right, for example after a rain shower.

Award Recipient Comments

Thank you so very much for selecting the Bijin-bayashi Forest for the Spring ZEKKEI Award.
As one of Japan’s foremost bird sanctuaries, the forest is also often filled beautiful birdsong. Sure to charm you throughout the seasons, Bijin-bayashi is a place of scenic grandeur and calming atmosphere, whether with fresh green leaves and a touch of snow in spring, cool breezes and light through the trees in summer, falling red leaves in autumn, or powdery blankets of pure white snow in winter. Once you’ve soothed mind and soul with the richness of nature here, be sure to treat your body as well by heading to the warming waters of the Matsunoyama Hot Spring, one of the Three Great Medicinal Hot Springs of Japan.

Matsunoyama Office, Tokamachi Tourism Association(GIA)

Kominato Railway(Chiba Prefecture)

More information about the spot here

(photo : Nobuo Kawaguchi)

(photo : Nobuo Kawaguchi)

There aren’t many places where you can enjoy a scene composed of a train running across a landscape of rapa flowers and cherry blossoms. We selected the railway for our award because the line’s charming scenery, like something from a picture book, is both a rarity overseas and uniquely Japanese. What’s more, the rapa flowers were planted by volunteers who live in the area along the train line! The illuminations at night also bring their own charm. The best time to go is from late March to early April.

Nobuo Kawaguchi

Photographer Comments
Nobuo Kawaguchi

Cherry trees and rapa flowers in full bloom together with classic train cars — this is the place for the full splendor of spring. What’s more, the sight of these bygone trains alongside the illuminated cherry trees, all reflected in the surface of the rice paddies before the planting, is enchanting.

Award Recipient Comments

We’d like to thank for you for choosing us from among the large number of scenic destinations in Japan.
Wholly integrated into the woodlands lifestyle here, this soothing landscape is made possible by the efforts of the local people living along the railway line. Every year in the autumn together with employees of our company, many local people come out to cut away brush and weeds as well as plant rapa flower seeds to assure the flowers will continue to bloom beautifully in the coming year. We believe that receiving this award is the fruit of the efforts of these local people. Also, please note that the Satoyama Torokko tourist train begins operations in late March. We very much look forward to seeing you aboard!

Transportation Division, Railway Department, Kominato Railway Co. Ltd.

Hitsujiyama Park and the Moss Phlox Hillside(Saitama Prefecture)

More information about the spot here

(photo : Hideki Nawate)

(photo : Hideki Nawate)

Blooming cherry trees are not the only springtime flowers in Japan. The patchwork pattern created by moss phlox presents a charmingly photogenic landscape in gradations of pink. Together with the backdrop of precipitous Mount Buko, we selected this area as a place we would like people from all over the world to visit. The best time to go is between April 15 and May 8.

Hideki Nawate

Photographer Comments:
Hideki Nawate

Hitsujiyama Park and the Moss Phlox Hillside can boast of being among the largest of their kind in eastern Japan, and the colorful designs created by the planting patterns are also notable. My advice for shooting here is to make sure to select your angle by carefully examining the way the design creates picture-perfect patterns. Also, try to include Mount Buko in the background, as it is a symbol of the Chichibu region.

Award Recipient Comments

We cannot thank you enough for selecting Hitsujiyama Park and the Moss Phlox Hillside for the Spring ZEKKEI Award.
Set against a backdrop of Mount Buko, the symbol of the Chichibu area, the scenery here is truly grand, woven from designs made by 400,000 moss phlox from nine different species. This year, we’ll be holding our annual Shibazakura Matsuri (“Moss Phlox Festival”) from April 15 (Fri.) to May 8 (Sun.). During the festival, there will be many different types of events held throughout the town, as well as a market selling local specialties. We hope you’ll take the opportunity to come and visit the area during this time.

Tourism Division, Chichibu City Hall

Western Japan Division

Kaizu Osaki(Shiga Prefecture)

More information about the spot here

(photo : Hideaki Tanaka)

(photo : Hideaki Tanaka)

Kaizu Osaki is a reef zone located in Makino-cho Kaizu, part of Takashima City in Shiga Prefecture. Some 800 cherry trees line 4 km of Lake Biwa’s shore here, some still young and others over 70 years old. In the distance, you can see Chikubu Island. The beach’s fantastic scenery done in pinks and blues won it the Spring ZEKKEI Award. Peak season is usually mid-April.

Hideaki Tanaka

Photographer Comments:
Hideaki Tanaka

The cherry blossoms at Kaizu Osaki are known for being excellent on both sunny and overcast days. When it is cloudy, the area is gorgeously atmospheric, particularly in the collaborative contrast between Chikubu Island and the cherry blossoms. My first photo was taken just a bit before sunrise in that instant when the eastern sky took on a tinge of red. It brings together the gentle pink of the cherry blossoms with the contrast between the sky and the pale purple of the lake.

Award Recipient Comments

We are both happily surprised and deeply honored to be chosen as a recipient for the award.
Kaizu Osaki is known in the Kinki (Osaka/Kyoto/Hyogo) area as a place where the cherry trees bloom a little later than usual. It’s also famous for the beautiful landscape of Gyomu-Kaizu Osaki Rock Reef, one of the Eight Views of Lake Biwa. The cherry blossom season brings new coloration with it, and you’ll always be greeted with a different visage here, in the distant view of Chikubu Island, in the blue of the sky, and in the surface of the lake reflecting that sky. Please be sure to come by and see for yourself!

NPO Biwako - Takashima Tourism Association

Yoshino Mountain(Nara Prefecture)

More information about the spot here

(photo : Hideaki Tanaka)

(photo : Hideki Nawate)

It’s said that 30,000 white mountain cherry trees bloom in profuse abundance at this famous destination. These trees have been planted here since the Heian era (794–1185), not for their beauty but as objects of faith. This may be the only place in all of Japan where an entire mountain is set abloom with cherry flowers. The peak season is early-to-mid April.

Hideki Nawate

Photographer Comments
Hideki Nawate

The mountain cherry trees of Yoshino Mountain are divided into four sections. Starting from the bottom, they are called shimo (“lower”) sembon, naka (“mid”) sembon, kami (“upper”) sembon, and oku (“inner”) sembon. They get their name from the phrase “hitome-sembon,” which describes how the cherry trees are so thick you can see a thousand of them (“sembon”) in one glance (“hitome”). You can get a great shot by capturing them together with the rising sun, and during the blossoming season the area is illuminated, cloaking the cherry trees of the evening in a ghostly, mysterious atmosphere.

Himeji Castle(Hyogo Prefecture)

More information about the spot here

(photo : Hideki Nawate)

(photo : Hideaki Tanaka)

Combining a World Heritage Site castle with a thousand Yoshino and weeping cherry trees, the world-class scenery here is sure to take your breath away. We recommend enjoying this landscape from a variety of different viewpoints. The best time to go is early April.

Hideki Nawate

Photographer Comments
Hideki Nawate

You can shoot from anywhere here and create a picture-perfect photograph, but if you shoot from around Sannomaru Square, it’ll be easier to capture the avenues of cherry trees. I’d also recommend trying for a shot that captures the inner moat as well.

Award Recipient Comments

Thank you for selecting Himeji Castle for the Spring ZEKKEI Award.
The absolute best time to come see Himeji Castle is during the cherry blossom season, owing to the contrast of colors between the white of the main tower, the green of the pine trees, and the pink of the flowering cherry trees. Centered around the castle keep, there are about a thousand cherry trees blooming within the castle grounds, beautiful to behold even from the surrounding area. As the scenic pinnacle of the year, this season invites you to enjoy yourself by finding your very own spot to admire the sights of spring.

Himeji Castle Administration Office, Himeji City

Okoshiki Beach(Kumamoto Prefecture)

More information about the spot here

(photo : Nobuo Kawaguchi)

(photo: Masami Goto)

The very last entry on our list of winners is a place with such an aura of mystery you’ll be surprised to learn it is right here in Japan.
There are only ten days a year where the low tide coincides with the setting sun as depicted in the first photo. The position of the setting sun changes with the passing of each minute, so the scenery you see here will be different each and every time. Photographers both amateur and professional come from all corners of Japan and the world seeking out this miraculous moment. The next predicted overlap of low tide and sunset are April 11 (Mon.), April 12 (Tue.), and May 11 (Wed.).

Nobuo Kawaguchi

Photographer Comments
Nobuo Kawaguchi

Changing as it does moment to moment, you’ll never grow tired of looking at the patterns drawn by the receding tide.


Masami Goto

Photographer Comments
Masami Goto

In the spring, there are times where the sun sets behind Mount Unzen (specifically, Mount Fuken), and the mixture of the ever-changing colors of sunset together with the striped pattern of the coastline form a natural, artistic beauty.

Award Recipient Comments

We’d like to thank you for choosing Okoshiki Beach for the Spring ZEKKEI Award.
Legend says that this coastal area took its name from an event involving the Emperor Keiko during his Kyushu expedition. “Okoshiki” can be interpreted to mean “coming of the royal palanquin,” and they say he was so awe-struck with the beauty of the area that he stopped his palanquin here. The crescent shapes drawn in the sand by the receding tide are an example of art formed by nature.
We hope you’ll find the time to come and have your breath taken away by the beauty of the landscape here.

Department of Tourism, Commerce, and Industry, Uto City, Kumamoto Prefecture

That concludes our announcement of the winners of the Spring ZEKKEI Awards! We hope you’ve enjoyed the stirring, lovely scenery we’ve introduced to you today. This spring, be sure to make plans to visit these colorful destinations!

Judges

7 experienced professional landscape photographers who have traveled across Japan for more than 20 years for photo shooting (in the syllabary order)

  • Mika Asai

    Mika Asai

    She established Off House Design in 1987 and a landscape photo workshop, "Degi-Photo Tosai" in 2008. She has published several picture books and held photo exhibitions. She is very active in landscape photo shooting in Japan such as four seasons in the forest through a year.

  • Iwao Kataoka

    Iwao Kataoka

    He studied under a photographer, Shogo Sato. He became a freelance photographer in 1975. Using a 4x5 large format camera, he has shot mainly landscapes in Japan. His works are used for the advertising posters of JR, calendars as well as magazines.

  • Nobuo Kawaguchi

    Nobuo Kawaguchi

    He started his freelance career in 1987. He travels abroad as a backpacker for shooting. Recent years, he works more in Japan and he has visited all prefectures in Japan. He provides his works for posters, calendars and brochures for tourism.

  • Masami Goto

    Masami Goto

    He started his freelance career as a nature photographer in 1984. He started shooting Sakhalin, the Northern Territories and the Kamchatka in 1989. Currently he takes nature photos of Japan mainly in Hokkaido and the Tohoku region.

  • Hideaki Tanaka

    Hideaki Tanaka

    Throughout his long career, he has captured the beauty of Kyoto, the beauty of Japan, buildings and foods. He appeared in the TV program, Broadcaster when it featured autumn leaves in 2002. His works are used in Japanese stamps such as a memorial picture stamp of the Gion festival.

  • Hideki Nawate

    Hideki Nawate

    After graduating university, he traveled in Australia without purpose. After returning to Japan, he studied under a photographer, Seiji Shimizu.
    He became a freelance photographer in 1997. He continued his career to shoot landscapes of town and nature mainly in Europe. Recent years he works more in Japan.

  • Shigeki Yamashita

    Shigeki Yamashita

    He goes to a photo shoot over 200 days a year. For his lifework, Mt. Fuji photographs, he did 1000 days photo session. Currently he continues his landscape photographer career and keeps capturing views of Mt. Fuji. His works were used for medias such as Japan Post New Year post cards as well as companies' calendars.

Cooperation:Aflo Co.,Ltd

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