As I write this, the final post in this short-lived blog (documenting a short-lived trip), it’s been almost two months since my return to Canada. I think about Japan a lot. You’re probably wondering: why did I leave, why did I come back? Let’s just say that I made what I absolutely thought was the right decision at the time, and leave it at that.
After I had made the decision, booked the flight, called Nova, and generally passed the line of no return, I was left with a couple more days to spend in Japan. What to do? Having spent the previous two weeks assuming I had a whole year there, I knew there was a whole lot that I should be doing, interesting stuff I could be seeing, but I didn’t really know what. I sort of figured I’d have time to figure that all out. Well, not any more! I briefly contemplated catching the bullet train and going to Tokyo, spending a couple of days there. But no, Tokyo is a huge, vibrant city, and I’d be doing it a disservice attempting to see it all in less than a day.
I was talking to one of the two guys I lived with (both really nice guys, by the way), and he suggested that I go see the Minoh Waterfall. It’s a bit of a walk (he rode his bike up there, apparently) but, he insisted, it is worth it. It’s a really pleasant, scenic walk and the waterfall itself is impressive. Now I’m thinking, hey, I live in Ontario, I’ve seen Niagara Falls, you really think some dinky little Japanese waterfall is going to impress me? The whole thing sounded like a bust, and I was ready to tell my roommate that no, I have no interest in this, what else do ya got? But then, casually, he mentioned that there are monkeys there. Lots of them. He even showed me a picture he snapped of a monkey as proof. My interest was piqued. But then came the clincher: apparently, if you give one of the monkeys a 500 yen coin, he’ll take it to a vending machine and buy himself a drink!
Well, suffice it to say, I went. The next day, as per my roommate’s instructions, I took a couple of trains and found myself at the at the beginning of a very long hike:
That’s 2.6 kilometres to the waterfall, mostly uphill. But the monkeys, I kept telling myself! The monkeys! I started to prepare for the hike and then realized that I hadn’t eaten lunch. Since I doubted there’d be anywhere to eat on the way there (actually there was), I went to the only restaurant I could find: a crappy looking noodle house that, at least, fulfilled my requirement of having wax replicas of the food in the window (you know, so I’d actually be able to order). I sat down and was promptly served what had to be one of the worst meals I ate in Japan. It was the standard bowl of noodles, but instead of sliced pork on top there was some kind of ham that looked and tasted suspiciously like it came out of a package that said “Oscar Meyer” on it (or whatever the Japanese equivalent of Oscar Meyer might be). Plus the broth was so salty it hurt my throat, and it had a funny taste. I elected not to take a picture of the food or the restaurant, and moved on.
I started to walk down the path, and one of the first things I saw was this:
Now I was starting to get excited. How many monkeys would I see? Would they be friendly? I’d heard that you shouldn’t make eye contact with them, because that apparently makes them attack. That worried me a bit, but still! Monkeys! In the wild! I wondered what hilarious thing they might be doing when I finally saw them, and moved on.
Here’s a few pictures I snapped while walking. As you can see, it really is a scenic walk:
Then I saw this sign:
I have no idea what all those words are, but I got the gist of it: monkeys are afoot! Though I must say, I had been walking for a while and was starting to get concerned that I hadn’t seen any yet. They must, I thought, be up ahead. I pressed on.
At this point I reached some kind of temple, and saw that a humongous group of kids had just finished looking at it and were walking down the path right in front of me. Since I didn’t particularly feel like walking all the way to the waterfall behind a huge group of raucous Japanese schoolchildren, I decided to meander at the temple.
I actually snapped this picture a bit late, it doesn’t really capture the insane amount of kids that were in that group. There must have been over a hundred of them. So I hung around the temple and, of course, took some photos.
After that I resumed my trek. I was starting to get tired. Well, I must almost be there, I thought. Then I saw this sign:
1.2 kilometres to go! Jeez. But… the monkeys. I hadn’t seen them yet, but I had no reason to think that I wouldn’t. My roommate! Those pictures! And all the signs! Come on! Suddenly I saw a group of people congregating by a fence, all staring intently at something down below. I started getting excited. This is it! They must be looking at hilarious, rowdy monkeys. I went over there, and saw that they were looking at… some kind of bird. A heron? I dunno. Here’s a blurry picture:
I was getting closer and closer to the waterfall, and it was starting to become pretty clear that I wasn’t going to see any monkeys. Then, as if to rub it in, another sign.
I’m not even sure what this one is supposed to mean. It’s a picture of an avalanche of some sort, with a monkey pointing ominously at the falling rocks. Did the monkey somehow cause the avalanche? Is it trying to warn you? I don’t get it.
Then I saw it off in the distance. The waterfall. And still no monkeys. Damn.
Here’s a store selling monkey memorabilia. What a crock.
Here’s the thing itself, the waterfall.
And here’s a video of it, and the surrounding area.
The picture and video don’t really do it justice; it actually is quite impressive. Just don’t compare it to Niagara Falls.
I admired the waterfall for a few minutes, then it was time to head back. As long as the walk there was, the walk back seemed even longer. I was tired, monkeyless, and I just wanted to go home and lie down. A guy on one of those motorized scooters zipped by me, and I found myself silently cursing him. He’s on one of those, and here I am using my legs like a sucker! Then I saw the best sign yet, the final kick in the pants from the Minoh Waterfall:
Stressing, apparently, not to feed bananas to the monkeys. I didn’t even have the chance! Where were those damn monkeys? The waterfall did seem especially crowded. Maybe all the people scared them off. Who knows. All I know is that I got gypped.
The next day was my last full day in Japan. I had been wanting to see the Osaka Castle, and I decided that this was an appropriate enough way to spend my last few hours in Japan. I headed down there and promptly got lost (surprise surprise).
I don’t remember how I got so lost but I do remember that I walked in the absolute wrong direction for well over an hour, and that I was walking, already exhausted (I was also still tired from the previous day’s Minoh hike), back to the subway station in defeat when I finally saw it off in the distance. Far, far, far off in the distance. Look at this picture, if you don’t believe me. This is a pretty massive building, and it is but a speck in the distance:
But this was my last day in Japan, and I was determined to do something good, so I headed in the direction of the tiny speck.
Let’s skip past the part where I trudge wearily to the castle, getting more and more tired and praying for a quick death that wouldn’t come, and go straight to… the castle! Woo?
It was an impressive enough looking building, but the whole thing was a bit of a letdown. The inside was just a less-than-impressive and very small museum, filled with what, from what I could tell, were mostly reproductions. The best part was probably the top, which had a pretty impressive view of the surrounding city.
I also bought this from one of the stores surrounding the castle:
That’s Coke Citra, and it was surprisingly good. It was sort of like Coke Lime, but with a much stronger citrus flavour. It was basically like a combination between Coke and 7-Up. It was good.
And that was pretty much that. It was still reasonably early in the day, and I thought about doing something else; perhaps going back to Namba or Umeda. But my aching legs vetoed that plan, insisting that I go home and relax. Okay fine, legs. Way to ruin my last day in Japan.
At two weeks, the Japan odyssey was a lot shorter than I thought it would be. But even in those brief couple of weeks, Japan made an indelible impression on me, and I can say without hesitation that I will be back. But Michael, I can hear you saying. Michael, if you liked Japan so much, why did you come back? And to that I say: shaddap, you! But seriously, I now find myself with the opportunity to go to film school, which is something that I’ve always wanted, so I guess everything happens for a reason.
Before I go, I’ll leave you with another bizarre entry for the “only in Japan” file: a candy bar with a poem on it (and one that has absolutely nothing to do with candy, at that):
In case you can’t read that, it says:
Beautiful things are timeless.
Women throughout history have never ceased
to yearn for beauty.
And that pretty much wraps it up.