A hill tribe couple enjoy their retirement in traditional surroundings in northern Thailand. Photo: Tom Coyner

During his nearly half a century in Asia, Seoul-based American photographer Tom Coyner has discovered the obvious – to understand a new part of the world, the best place to start is with the oldest inhabitants. 

Across Asia, some communities have blissfully seen the decades pass in tranquility. But many have experienced traumatic upheavals like revolutions, decolonization, war and even genocide. And, of course, fast-paced economic development has changed multiple facets of life across the region, not always for the better.

The elder generation’s life experiences speak volumes. And leaping across cultural and language barriers, these life experiences are visually evident for they are deeply ingrained in human faces. 

This makes senior citizens among the most photogenic members of their communities. Their faces communicate on a very human level what they, their families, their neighbors, their communities and in some cases their countries, have experienced.

In this gallery, we meet Asia’s elders as we traverse the region from east to west, starting in Japan and ending in India.

A well-armed Ainu elder poses for tourists near his village in Hokkaido, Japan. Photo: Tom Coyner
A grandfather in old-school attire in Cheongju, South Korea. Photo: Tom Coyner
A Korean grandmother glances away from a shamanist ceremony in Andong, South Korea. Photo: Tom Coyner
A Korean Quaker peace activist in Seoul. Photo: Tom Coyner
A Mongolian grandmother hugs her just-married granddaughter after the wedding in Ulaan Bataar. Photo: Tom Coyner
A Balinese village elder takes a toke and offers a greeting. Photo: Tom Coyner
A Balinese freelance guide awaits clients outside a temple. Photo: Tom Coyner
A Hoi An woman in Vietnam sells fruit despite her senior years. Photo: Tom Coyner
A Buddhist monk who survived the Khmer Rouge relaxes in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo: Tom Coyner
A Hmong village elder outside Luang Prabang in Laos. Photo: Tom Coyner
A cheery grandmother shows off her grandson at a marketplace near Doi Ithanon in Thailand. Photo: Tom Coyner
Taking a break at the weekly farmers’ market at Sanpatong in northern Thailand. Photo: Tom Coyner
A monk pauses at the entrance to a Buddhist temple in Lamphun, northern Thailand. Photo: Tom Coyner
A hill tribe man at a marketplace on the banks of Inle Lake in Myanmar. Photo: Tom Coyner
Hill tribe woman at Nyaungshwe morning market near Inle Lake in Myanmar. Photo: Tom Coyner
Praying pilgrim in Paro, Bhutan. Photo: Tom Coyner
A coy visitor at a temple in central Bhutan. Photo: Tom Coyner
Wealthy farm matron with local hooch pot in Paro, Bhutan. Photo: Tom Coyner
Village elder in Uttar Pradesh state in northern India. Photo: Tom Coyner

For more photos on this topic from Tom Coyner, please click here