Coke Smith Photography & Travelogue

Historical Japan

One of the rock islands of Ryoanji 


Japan is known for its impressive and ancient history.  During many of my trips to Japan, I have had the honor and privilege of seeing many of its most significant and historical sites.  During my one year study-abroad period in Japan, I studied the art and history of the Kansai area, which included Kyoto and Nara.  I toured every inch of those splended cities for over a month in 1985.  I have also spent time in Himeji, Osaka, Nikko and Kobe viewing what they have to offer.

During my last few trips to Japan I have escorted student groups nearly annually to the Kyoto and Hiroshima regions of Japan and introduced many young students to the fabulous culture, art and history of Japan.  They are never disappointed! And I am always impressed how deeply young students can absorb the splendor of ancient Japan.  Before we travel there we always spend time learning about the various sites we will visit and this surely does help enhance their experiences.


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Here are some images form some the amazing places we have visited over the last few years:




Spectucular plank woodwork in Miyajima Shinto Shrine in southern Honshu.  I have always loved the skill and artistry of Japanese woodwork.  This plank and the ancient repair job were splended.



The ornate beauty of Miyajima cannot be overstated.  I like the superposition of the brilliant, colorful and newly painted temple compared with the dull, older looking facade in the foreground.  These are the main temple and pagoda of Miyajima.



The spectacular Tori Gate of Miyajima.



One of my best buddies, "Sugi Kun!" We somehow get together at least a couple times a year.  Generally he is meeting me in the deserts of North America or in the jungles of Southeast Asia....but this time it was in a killer sushi shop in the Kyoto Eki!



Some photogenic "Sensu" seen in a shop window in Kyoto.



There is little doubt that Ryoanji is my favorite place in Japan.  I have always been touched by its simplicity and beauty.  A friend of mine was equally impressed and touched by Ryoanji when he was living here during his exchange-student days in the 80's.  When he was killed in a horrible plane accident that killed hundreds in Japan during his exchange student year, his host family interred his cremains in Ryoanji.  This is a classic example of the Japanese notion of "On" or "Giri" (obligation). 



The moss gardens of Ryoanji are as spectacular as the rock garden.  These are great places to meditate or just contemplate life.  That is, until the busloads of tourists arrive...




The crowded but historical road leading to Kyoumizu Temple, Japan's most famous temple.



Kyoumizu Temple



One for a happy life, another for a long life, and the other for good test results....or something like this...





Kinkaku Ji is another famous and very historical site in Kyoto.  While the original pavilion was burned by a fanatic about 50 years ago, Kinkaku Ji is still a very beautiful place.



One day in Kyoumizu, we came across these Maiko, or Geisha-in-training.  They allowed us to take their photos.  Beautiful.



What I love about Japan is how the Japanese see and create beauty in so many places and levels.  In my opinion, the Japanese view of beauty is superior to virtually any other culture. 



Kyoumizu temple with the beautiful Nothofagus Beech forest in the background.



More beautiful Japanse plank-work at Ryoanji Temple.



Modern Japan is an impressive contrast, but equally interesting.  Walking the lively streets of Shinjuku, and my old haunt, Kabukicho, still invigorates me!



On one of my earlier trips, I drug a bunch of my students to my old university student center.  While it is no longer the "Kokusaibu", it was still great to show Som and Cokie and a few of my seniors a place that was so important to me.



Cokie is amazing.  This is his first attempt EVER at using chopsticks.  I could not believe how he reached over and grabbed the chopsticks like he had done it a thousand times before, and started eating noodles from my bowl as it if it were as natural as anything could be.  And notice Kyle, my student to our left, using a fork! Cokie had perfect form.  This was scary.  In Thailand, he somehow knew how to prostrate himself to Buddha in temples without any training either.  (Read about this in the Temples of Thailand page)



The "gang" picking on their mascot, Cokie.  My kids were great with Cokie.  Many of these kids have actually made their lives center around Japan the the Japanese culture to various degrees.  At least two are still living and working in Japan as of 2009.  How cool is that.



The gang in a thematic "dungeon" restaurant in the trendy section of Kyoto.  The food was mediocre but the experience was fun. When the lights mysteriously went out, loud heavy metal music started and chainsaw killers were screaming throughout the entire restaurant.  Strangely, Cokie was not scared at all!  What is with this kid?

Hiroshima illicits extreme emotions from me and many of the visitors who travel there.  When I was reading the story behind the father of the the 3-year old boy (Shin) who died riding his tricycle, I broke down.  I was holding the hand of my three-year old son at the time.  I could not imagine the pain this father felt.

On our last trip, I overheard the ladies in the below image talking about their survivor experiences after the bombing of Hiroshima.  I asked if I could speak with them regarding their experiences.  What initially started as a very awkward and uncomfortable (I could not believe what I got myself in to!) discussion, ended up as an emotional and powerful experience we were all better off for sharing.  My student, Jenny Betts, used the information we heard for a school project.  There is no need to check her "sources"!



The Shinkansen!  I blurred it on purpose...come on now!

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