Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Remembering a Picturesque Japan

Appearing in a postcard-like setting, The Golden Pavilion (kinkaku-ji) in Kyoto, Japan was built in 1398 and represents a key portion of Japanese cultural heritage. The building is one of the most popular attractions in the country and originally served as a Buddhist temple. All photos by Phillip Rauls.

Nobody will disagree that the tragedy in Japan has taken a toll of mammoth proportion. The people of that country are going through some very tough times and we send our deepest regrets and prayers to a nation in recovery. This disaster struck a deep cord here in the U.S. while there's been a few tears shed in my household as well. Although this natural disaster happened over 5000 miles from the U.S. shore, the effects have lingered into my residence just outside the Seattle area. As many of my friends and colleagues are keenly aware, all of my wife's direct family members and many of our good friends live in Japan. Some of them live within the direct confines of earthquake's epicenter and this created much worry for all concerned. Yet, let us breathe a sigh of relief as all of our family and friends from that area are safe and accounted for. But take nothing away from the catastrophe, situations like this make you think about your immediate surroundings.

Many people who have previously traveled to Japan find the country fascinating and enjoy the unique culture that exist within the island nation. By all accounts, Japan is one of America's biggest allies and stands as a well-educated society located within a sophisticated nation. Upon viewing the images from the recent catastrophe, I was compelled to turn back the clock and reminisce about some of my great memories while visiting Japan. As the Japanese people clear their heads and mend their wounds, let us stroll down memory lane and mirror some of the country's natural beauty that canvass the city and the countryside. Here captured from the pre-earthquake days are some treasured photos as viewed from the camera lens of THE PHOTOLOG. I hope you enjoy.

One of the first things you'll notice about Japan is the contrast of both the old and the new. This diversity adds charm that is well appreciated and attracts many tourist annually.

Above is the Tokyo University of Science located in the city and surrounded by remarkable statues and century old landmarks.

Stone lanterns line the walkway to the statue of Omura Masujiro located at the historic Yasukuni Shrine. He was the 19th Century Japanese leader and theorist of the Bakumatsu period.

The morning sun is captured beneath the canopy of a garden shop as downtown pedestrians shuffle by on their way to work.

An office building reflects a clear blue sky in the background while hosting a large billboard that advertises chocolate bars.

Artwork is displayed curbside by a vendor located on the ground floor.

Of course it's important to travel with locals as they know all the good shopping malls and commerce locations for tourist.

Many Japanese restaurants display their menus outside their entrance while offering a tantalizing view of their cuisine. Yum!

Although this editor is quite fond of the local food, it is advisable for all westerners to search for the nearest location of a McDonald's Restaurant as the traditional Japanese breakfast consist of chilled sardines, salted plums and pickled radishes.

Unlike the U.S. much of the transportation in Japan is provided by bicycle and scooters creating thousands of parking lots filled with all types and styles as far as the eye can see.

Here's still another parking lot crammed with wall-to-wall scooters. Check-out this goofy white one as I don't know if I'd want to be seen on this ugly dog.

Here's a colorful mosaic of a green leaf Japanese maple and featured in the walkway of this train station.

The Japanese Bullet Train, officially known as "Shinkansen", travels at speeds up to 200 MPH and is remarkably quite with a very smooth ride. This high-speed railway is the main source of travel for millions of commuters with a sophisticated network that connects all major cities.

In the background is a massive Japanese Black Pine that is split at it's base while in the foreground is a workman who mows the grass and manicures the lawn.

This long beautiful walkway is the path coming from the Hachiman Jingu Shrine located in the city of Kamakura.

Here we made a key pit stop to get fuel, beverages and snacks as we prepare to depart the city and venture into the countryside on a scenic photo mission.

Automobile car clubs are very popular in Japan as within minutes of departing we encountered a van club on a cruise touring the outskirts of the city.

This streetside passage is lined with tall bamboo trees and bordered with a decorative stone wall topped with reed fencing.

In the countryside there are hidden treasures like this single lane tunnel going beneath the hillside enroute to our destination.

There are many rivers and canals that flow through the ocean side cities and fishing villages such as this one that resembles the same sea wall that was toppled by the recent tsunami.

Many of the backstreets in rural Japan are very narrow as compared to western streets. Plus, they are unusually clean while many are bordered with various shades of greenery that is nurtured by the refreshingly damp climate. Just the way I like it.

Decorative Japanese stonework produced locally comes in all various shapes and sizes. Unfortunately, the airlines will not allow tourist to return home while packing a 4 foot long - 300 pound stonework inside their suitcases.

Bamboo stalks are bound together overhead to cover a small rock garden that is used primarily for meditation.

Feeding time at a koi pond produces open mouths for a school of fish hoping to score the big meal. Koi fish are actually an ornamental species of a carp and quite popular in Japan.

Here a streetside vendor sells a grilled item in the shape of a fish called "Taiyaki." It's a tasty snack similar to a pancake with a center portion containing red beans.

Being an island nation and surrounded by ocean, the Japanese have a special relationship with the sealife that is so very important to their daily existence. Pictured along a walkway is a boardering wall that displays the many species within their culture while being created into artwork that will last for many generations to come.

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