Day 9: May 15, 2015
Had a traditional Japanese breakfast this morning: fried mackerel, miso soup, greens with tofu, and rice. Good and filling, but I still needed to grab a coffee from the cafe.
By the time I arrive at the Aoi Matsuri (Hollyhock Festival) at the Imperial Palace, it feels like it’s 27 degrees…at 1030 in the morning. I jam my sun hat on, but I’m still a hot mess. I notice that this is a ticketed event and that most people are dressed respectably: hats with visors, shirts and ties, long-sleeved tops, gloves, panty hose. And everyone brought a personal towel to wipe the sweat.
I find a couple of old Japanese guys with long lenses seated in the ticketed section, so I stand behind them behind the rope; I figure they know the good vantage points. They’re nattering away when one of them notices my camera, particularly the make (Nikon). A older woman next to me asks where I’m from. (None of them speak English.) One of the men points to my camera,”Good one,” then gestures at the lens to see the focal length (55-200 mm) and I show him my second lens (18-55mm). He nods his approval. Then he points at his friend’s camera and laughs. I have no idea why because we’re all using Nikons. The woman says something and the next thing I know the three of them are sneaking me under the rope and into the ticketed area, telling to me move quickly, pushing me to get a better seat, nudging me as if to say “Hey, get a shot of that.” Love it. Cameras do it every time. My tribe. And I got photos of them.
In the afternoon, I take a train to see a bamboo forest. Before I hit the “trail” I inhale chicken on a stick and pineapple on a stick. It’s the first fruit I’ve had in days. Scurvy averted. Whew! I follow the steady stream of tourists into the cool and lovely foest. Keep in mind, this is a maintained road, so there isn’t much forest-like about the place, but that what the locals call it. The bamboo grow tall and green and I’m in awe. I’ve never bamboo in the wild. Long stalks stretching into leaves, some with leaves sprouting from the stalks. What could this have looked like before it was cultivated?
On the way, many people asked me to take their photos, including a couple from Toronto; tells me that as soon as he saw my Canadian flat luggage tag, he knew I’d help out. We chatted about cameras a bit then I told him about Toronto Photo Walks. Perhaps he’ll show up.
As I exit the forest/grove, I hear someone mention monkeys. I check the map and sure enough there’s a monkey park nearby. Once I get directions from a couple of Brits, I’m off to cross the “famous bridge” then follow the signs. The hilly scene stops me in my tracks (this happens a lot in Japan). After the requisite photos, I begin the trek up the hill/mountain. Semantics mean nothing: I’m walking up a steep incline with no water, it’s about 30 degrees Celcius, humid, and I’m sweating like a pig. Damn monkeys better be worth it.
OH MY GOD MONKEYS! Macaques with red butts and red faces sneak around, play fight (or fight fight? I can’t tell), groom, and … um, hump? Right, lets just look over here then. We’re definitely in their territory and there are rules, even if they are in badly translated English: “Don’t stare at the monkeys in the eyes. Dont touch the monkeys. Don’t feed them outside. Don’t take picture on the way. Please take a distance more 3m with monkeys.” What if the monkey stares at me? What if it invades my personal space? Perhaps I take the Japanese tack, mutter “sumimasen,” and back away. Or I take a Western tack and snap photos. AND OH MY GOD A BABY MONKEY! I’m going to die of cute.
I leave the macaques to do their thing and make my way down the hill to the train. And I bet I smell a treat: sweat and monkey. Who cares. My next stop is the lovely kimono shop next to my hotel where I swear I saw a kimono onsale for 30,000 yen. It’s now 4:30 and it closes at 6. Will I make it?
Just barely. Except the kimonos aren’t on sale; in fact, they run from 140,000 to 190,000 yen. Gulp! I buy something else for much less money and take my leave.