Friday, November 9, 2007

Monkey-kun visits the Monkey Park

Saturday morning after breakfast we headed off to the Arashiyama area of Kyoto. Arashiyama is the area of Kyoto that is known to have the best fall colors. Only part of this day would be about seeing the changing leaves. The majority of the day would be spent at the Arashiyama monkey park.

The monkey park is a mountain in Kyoto inhabited by about 150 wild monkeys. The monkeys roam the mountain freely. There was a nice little hike up the mountain. I expected to see some monkeys as we wild, but we did not see any until we were almost at the top.

The pathway zigzagged its way up the face of the mountain. As we neared the top of the mountain the trees gave way and there was a large clearing. We heard them before we saw them. Their high-pitched screams grew louder as we approached the clearing. At first there were a couple of monkeys along the path. Then we spotted one perched in a tree and another one lying in the sun next to the trail. Then as we entered the clearing we saw many more. There were probably thirty to forty monkeys congregated in the clearing. This was the place to be. There was a building on the edge of the open space. We looked around for a moment and then headed into the building to feed the monkeys.

The best way to describe the building is to say that it is the opposite of a zoo. The building was the cage, and the people trapped inside were watching the animals that were free to roam about. Inside the building we were able to feed the monkeys. We bought a few bags of peanuts and a bag of apple slices. We held the food and the monkeys shoved their hands through the chain link fence to grab them out of our palms. Logan had a great time. He would reach into the bag and pull out a peanut. Hold it in out between his fingers. He would say, “Here monkey-kun. Here is a peanut for you.” He fed the monkeys four bags of peanuts. He would have gladly continued feeding them peanuts but the smell, a mixture of old peanut shells, stale cigarettes, and monkey, was starting to get to me.

We went outside where we could see an impressive view of the city. We looked around and watched the monkeys play for a spell before we went to play ourselves. We wandered down to a small playground. Logan took the opportunity to play. He went up and down on the seesaw. He swung on the porch swing. And he slid down the longest slide I have ever seen. The playing made us hungry so we headed back up to the shelter to eat some lunch.

We ate our lunch of onigiri. Onigiri are Japanese rice balls stuffed with various fillings. Our favorite is the tuna salad onigiri. It is the Japanese equivalent of a tuna salad sandwich. We filled up and prepared to hike back down the mountain and walk to our next destination, the romantic train.

There is a train that takes a scenic tour of the Hozu-gawa valley. It is supposed to be an excellent way to view the fall colors. We had to walk from the monkey park to the train station. It was not a long walk, only about twenty minutes or so, and for us that is not all that long seeing as how we walk pretty much everywhere we go these days. We made it to the station and bought a one-way ticket on the last train of the day. We had time before the train left so we had a snack at the little café inside the station. We found ourselves with time to kill so we looked around the museum that was there. The museum was a combination steam locomotive and classical music museum. There were four steam engines and statues of five composers. All of them were located in one big room. It took us about ten minutes to take it all in, and that is being generous.

The time finally came and we got in line to board the romantic train. The romantic train however did not live up to its name. It was a tad less than romantic. We boarded the train and it was a very old fashioned looking train. We thought that the engine might even be a steam engine, but we are pretty sure now that it was a diesel. The benches on the train were wooden. Sitting on them reminded me of straight-backed wooden church pews. The train ride was a nice one that followed the Hozu River on its winding path.

The view from the window was incredible. The Hozu River Valley is very beautiful and I for one was impressed with what I saw, when I could see. The problem was that for all the beautiful scenery it was difficult to see because sometimes the good view was out the window on the opposite side of the train car. Sometimes it is possible to see out the window on the other side of the car, but when the aisle is full of standing people it is difficult to see through them. The other big obstacle to seeing was the fact that the train traveled through a lot of long tunnels. When the train was in a tunnel there was nothing to see. One of the tunnels was lit with some neon lights that were shaped like important sights in Kyoto. That was nice to see, if only they could all have been like that. I think that my favorite part of the trip was when a demon came on board.

At one of the stations there was a man wearing a demon costume waiting on the platform. When the train began to move I noticed that he had boarded the train and was making his way through the train cars. He was in the best Oni costume I have ever seen. The hair on the wig went all the way down his back and the mask was very scary. To keep from being too frightening for the small children he kept his demon face covered with another mask of the cartoon character of Doraemon. Doraemon is a blue cat that is very popular here in Japan. He wandered up and down the aisle of the car stopping to talk with the people in the seats. He even stopped to say that my hair was not long enough and that I should grow it out so I could wear a pink curler just like him. The train ride took about half an hour and really was quite pleasant. We got off at the last stop and walked the ten minutes to a different train station to begin the journey home. When we finally made it home we were exhausted after our long day and we all gladly dropped off to sleep.

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