Shodo-shima

We wake up early.

We take the train from shin nagata station.

Towards himeji.

From there we take a bus.

Then a boat.

To shodoshima island.

Where they made twenty-four eyes.

A movie my friend likes.

Our friend Fumi gave us a map.

It has cartoons and looks like it’s meant for children.

A lot of things in Japan look this way.

I like it.

Shodo shima is known for monkeys and olive oil.

I like these things too.

Especially monkeys.

The map shows a place called monkey mountain.

I want to go there.

My friend sleeps on the boat.

I stand in the wind and smoke.

I drink milk tea from a vending machine.

There are lots of vending machines in Japan.

I see tiny rocky islands.

I think about how long people have sailed past them.

Americans know nothing about time.

We arrive at the port.

Everyone gets off with purpose.

We linger, staring around confused.

There are no signs in English.

We can't read Japanese.

Maybe there’s a bus?

No bus.

Take out cartoon map.

Looks like this way.

Staring down the road.

Start walking.

After a few minutes a bus goes by.

It’s going our way.

We get on.

We have transit cards to pay for trains and busses.

The bus driver looks at them.

He says something in Japanese.

I raise the card again.

This means: yes?

He crosses his forearms in front of his chest.

This means: no.

Not sure what to do.

He points at the seats.

We sit down in the back.

He follows us.

He is still talking.

I am pointing at the map and saying yakatazaki.

This word is written next to the monkey cartoon.

I assume it means monkey.

I don't think it does.

I take money out of my wallet and point at it, then at the monkey.

He seems to understand.

He takes our money.

We are riding on the bus.

We try to keep track of the stops by matching kanji on the map and the bus display.

The bus has a stop dinger.

People ding it, bus stops at next stop.

This is how american bus dingers work.

We believe ours is the next stop.

We ding the bell.

The bus stops immediately.

In the middle of the road.

My friend sees a statue he wanted to visit in the distance.

It is a one hundred foot tall kannon.

she is the god of mercy.

she hears the cries of the world.

The driver looks mad and demands more money.

We give it to him.

Seems the only way to make him happy.

We get off.

In the middle of nowhere.

We walk towards the Kannon.

No one around.

There's an abandoned cafe.

There is a wooden staircase and purple flowers.

There are inscripted marble columns lining the road.

We think they are mysterious.

Later one of our hosts will tell us they are for people who gave money.

We arrive at the kannon.

Looking down the valley at pine forests.

The kannon is huge and pure and certain.

Beneath it are row upon row of tiny statues

They are graves.

We think.

I try to take arty photos of them.

I take terrible photos.

We buy ice cream cones and eat them.

There is an eternal flame in front of the statue.

I wonder if the lady who sold us the ice cream has to tend it.

In the parking lot there are old pilgrims dressed in white.

They eat lunch from bento boxes.

There are statues of the seven dwarves on the grass nearby.

This kind of juxtaposition seems to happen a lot in Japan.

We laugh and check our map.

Monkey mountain doesn’t look far.

It is on something called road twenty five.

We find road twenty four.

Keep walking.

Road twenty six.

Backtrack.

Did we miss it?

Up and down the side of the road.

We get lost once a week in Japan.

My friend sees a road.

It is barely paved and overgrown but it’s in the right spot.

We set off.  

This is not road twenty five.

I don't think this road has a name.

Time has forgotten it.

We walk down it.

There are abandoned cars and bulldozers overgrown with creepers.

There are strange plastic houses.

We find an abandoned greenhouse.

A mess of rusty rebar and trash.

We take some pictures.

There is a boat in the forest.

A tree has grown through it.

We keep walking.

There are orange groves.

They smell wonderful.

We steal oranges and eat them while we walk.

We joke about getting arrested.

We come out of the trees.

There is a tiny town tucked into the base of this valley.

Old and small and alone.

It seems empty.

Stone walls covered in cactus.

We walk.

Monkey mountain seems quite far off.

There is a sign for a kabuki theater.

We go that way.

We descend a twisting staircase into a complex of tiny replica houses and theaters.

I'm fascinated.

We hear noises.

There is a group of people wearing kabuki makeup with normal clothes.

Someone is taking photos of them.

They see us.

They call us over.

They don’t speak english well but are very friendly.

we tell them we do theater too.

they give us matcha tea and candy.

they ask us why we came to shodo shima.

my friend takes pictures of them.

we say we want to go to monkey mountain.

they will give us a ride but they have to finish their photo shoot.

we go off and wander around for an hour or so.

behind the theater is a huge network of irrigation ditches.

we walk between them.

we see a balloon trapped under a waterfall.

we walk to the other end of the ditches.

there is a bamboo forest.

i can barely make out a path.

we take it.

this day is one of allowance.

we walk through the bamboo.

it is very thick.

there is a sound.

the wind knocking the bamboo together.

its is arrhythmic and haunting.

we listen to the sound

i feel like i understand something about zen.

We leave.

Our friends are there, across the ditches.

They wave at us.

we follow.

we get in their van.

they ask us questions about the states.

we are on a very narrow road.

our friend drives fast.

he stops the car.

a monkey, he says.

i look.

there are monkeys in the road and in trees beside us.

i try to take a picture but they keep moving around.

they have small pink human faces and no tails.

i am ecstatic.

we keep driving.

he asks us if we really want to go to monkey mountain.

it is a sad place, he says.

i still want to go.

they drop us off.

we walk up the path to monkey mountain.

we pay about two dollars to get in.

no one else is there.

we can smell the monkeys.

i see three by the path.

one has almost no hair.

his pink skin is covered in sores.

his hands are bloody.

the two other monkeys are sheltering him.

we should have listened to our friend.

more monkeys.

they all look diseased.

they mill about near a rusty merry-go-round.

there are some cages.

one of them has an albino peacock.

another has a baboon.

other monkeys are just wandering around.

all around.

we hear a noise.

it sounds like children screaming.

we walk a bit further up.

we see a group of about a hundred and fifty monkeys.

they are huddled together because it is windy.

they all cry in unison.

they have puckered old man faces.

the woman comes out to feed them.

for a minute things get scary.

she is buried under a pile of monkeys.

they leap down from the roof and cover the ground, climbing everywhere.

she does not seem to care.

some can barely walk and they don’t get any food.

we both want to leave.

but we haven’t seen the top of monkey mountain.

we keep climbing.

there is a shrine.

a red gate and a stone tablet.

we stare in the same silence.

the path disappears.

the top is a rocky hill.

we scramble up it.

there is a small pillar on top.

and a gazebo.

far in the distance we see the kannon head from this morning.

it is hazy and calm

the sun hits the water and everything glows.

we take some pictures.

i stand on the pillar and feel very alone.

i stand on the edge of the cliff and i’m giddy.

we know the last ferry back leaves soon.

we go back through the monkeys.

they look cold.

we have to get back on the bus.

the cartoon map shows a symbol.

the same symbol is on the sign with an arrow.

we go that way.

it is a long road.

we kick stones and walk in the middle.

No cars.

A few more monkeys.

they seem healthier than the ones at monkey mountain.

houses tucked into forest and stone.

we reach the bus stop.

we are getting hungry.

nothing eaten besides ice cream cones and stolen oranges.

there’s a tiny house by the side of the road.

i can’t understand its purpose.

waiting for the bus.

i drink another coffee from the vending machine.

There must be something to eat at the ferry.

the bus comes.

we ride.

the sun is setting beyond the hills.

we get to the ferry.

everything is closed down.

there’s one guy playing pachinko in the ferry station.

there are more pachinko machines than vending machines in Japan.

The ferry leaves in an hour.

we decide to look for something to eat.

there’s one bar but we’re afraid to go in.

the ferry comes.

we both try to sleep.

very hungry.

we get to himeji and take the bus back to the train station.

we skip our train and go eat.

we wander a maze of pachinko parlors and clothing stores.

there are people around and it is friendly.

we decide to eat okonomiyaki.

this is like an egg pancake with meat and veggies.

they are very good, the specialty of the area.

we sit at a bar.

there is a group of drunk japanese businessmen carousing nearby.

i order a giant beer.

our table is actually a hibachi.

they dump all our food and it sizzles.

we pour on sauce and eat straight off the grill.

it is hot and sweet and delicious.

we talk about the day.

the kabuki company.

the monkeys.

the kannon.

it was a beautiful day.

we finish eating and take the train back to kobe.

we sleep.

we took a trip to shodo shima island.