Japan: A Visual Haiku

Mountain view of Ohara, Japan
Boat Quay, Kurashiki, Japan
Boat house on lake in autumn, Kyoto, Japan
Hilltop temple, Philosopher's Path, Kyoto, Japan
Student running to catch up with pack, temple site, Kyoto, Japan
Japanese House, on a hill overlooking Kyoto, Japan
Torii Gate, Temple site, Kyoto, Japan
Sweeping temple steps along the Philosopher's Path, Kyoto, Japan
Side garden located at temple site, Kyoto, Japan
Zen rock garden, Kyoto, Japan
I started pulling together a folio of work from Japan and decided to share. I’ve also prepped some writing about the work, which I will also share. This is part I of “Japan: A Visual Haiku.”
In December of 2019, I had opportunity to experience artisanal Japan in a way few get to enjoy. The paths I traveled took me to quaint little villages outside of Kyoto, to remote islands in the Seto Inland Sea, and through the studios of some of Japan’s finest artisans. Japan is a mystery. It’s quiet, hushed, regal, and elegant. It’s minimal yet industrial. It’s perfectly formed, finely tuned, traditional yet modern. It’s a place where you can find nobility in a small fishing village by the shore. It’s modern, technical, yet timeless. Along my journey, I encountered small villages, quiet hillsides, solemn temples, and quaint shrines. I happened upon a quiet boat quay in a hidden canal only to turn around, and find myself downtown again, in bustling Kyoto, wandering the back streets, strolling through the arcade on my way to get a frozen custard on Sanjo Dori. My journey crossed paths with artisans who perfected pottery,  mastered gold leaf, conquered ancient flutes, and dyed glorious indigo cloths. I traveled the Philosopher’s Path. One day, as I walked under a Torii gate, past a persimmon tree, I was reminded of true Japan. I realized what Japan now means to me. To know Japan, to really know Japan, is to not know Japan at all, but to want to go back for more Japan. Nobody knows Japan yet it exists in spirit. Like the glance of a Geisha in training, Japan is fleeting yet timeless. In “The Book of Tea,” Kakuzo Okakura wrote, “Let us dream of evanescence and linger in the beautiful foolishness of things.” In a way, this is the essence of Japan itself.
Notes for the images:
  1. “Mountain View,” Ohara, Japan. This was taken on a rainy day, when we went to the little mountain village of Ohara. I found it to be a charming village and instantly fell in love with the place. I loved the way the mountains framed a nice little backdrop to the village and the town itself was charming, even if we did get lost, turned around, twisted, and ended up stuck in some yarn waiting on our rides back to the city.
  2. “Boat Quay,” Kurashiki, Japan. Shot this in the canal city of Kurashiki. Loved that place too, since it had some great architecture and wonderful canals. I wound up buying some postcards in the museum gift shop but never made it into the museum. Next time, it’s on the list for sure.
  3. “Boat House,” this one in Kyoto, Japan. We had visited a grand temple with a lake and this was shot across the lake from the boat house. We lucked out in that it was pure autumn during our visit and the leaves were totally red and gorgeous.
  4. “Hilltop Temple,” shot along the Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto, this was a temple on a hill. I had worked a lot of angles for this building, opting for this one as I like the structure being above the horizon line with the steps leading into it.
  5. “Keeping up with the pack,” we happened upon these school kids visiting a temple while we were there as well and I grabbed this shot as they were moving around the grounds. They dress in uniform and try to keep the kids in groups but, as you can see here, it doesn’t always work out that way. This was in Kyoto.
  6. “Japanese House,” this was a famous actors house on a hilltop overlooking the city limits of Kyoto. It was quite a hike to get up the hill. I barely made it! The house was closed too so, determined to make the most of it, I shot the outside of the house, probably just so I had something for my “mountain” climb of the day.
  7. “Torii Gate” this was taken in Kyoto also, on the grounds of a temple. The sky was playing tricks on us that day, with the clouds popping in and out the way they sometimes do. You can see bits of blue sky trying to fight their way out in this image. Beautiful red gate nonetheless, so I took this without waiting on the clouds to make up their mind which way they were headed.
  8. “Sweeping Temple Steps,” also along the Philosopher’s Path, this image shows us the downsides of having a wonderful autumn: you must rake! One of my haiku: Leaves fall from big tree/collect on ground yet again/raking is a trap! OK, so maybe I’m not the best poet, but this is how they clear the steps along the Philosopher’s Path, Kyoto, Japan.
  9. “Temple Grounds,” Kyoto, Japan. This was a side garden, a shot taken when we thought we would not have the red leaves around much longer (luckily, I was totally wrong about that!) The day before the rain set in, I frantically tried to capture anything red, as I thought the rain would blow away the evidence of autumn. This is a temple side garden in Kyoto.
  10. “Zen Rock Garden,” Kyoto, Japan. This is one of the first Zen gardens and, yes, it’s authentic. I found them to be a bit difficult to photograph as I kept bumping into things like having a rock along the edge of the image or having a roof overhang land in my shot. It’s actually kind of hard to get a good angle of these gardens, although they are wonderfully beautiful to experience. I highly recommend that, if ever in Japan, you just plunk yourself down in front of one for about an hour. Makes all your cares melt away, that does.
I’ll post the second batch when I can. This is part I and is the first 10 images along with notes and the first half of the writing.
Until next time…

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