When I first came to Japan it seemed that I often stood in front of giant maps of spaghetti at train stations in Tokyo. I didn’t really know where to go.
After many weeks, my landlord kindly took 3 of us for a drive north of Tokyo. I saw mountains in Japan for the first time. It was early May and the tops of the mountains were still brushed with snow. If you want to paint them, I recommend using a thick rag paper and splashing it with a weak, pale blue watercolour. It’d be ok just to leave the sky white, and let the white mountain tops disappear into the sky without borders. Use a stiff, dry pig’s hair brush to squash 3 or 4 broken dabs of an almost invisible pale pink and try to hide it between the grey scratchy lines of the bare trees. Green has barely emerged for the summer months so I wouldn’t bother.
Nikko is a special place. It is at the heart of Honshu. Such is its spiritual power, the Torii (Gate of a shrine) directs it energy directly towards the Imperial Palace far away. When I first went there, we didn’t visit the shrine, we walked along a mountainous pathway and scanned the edges of a sulphur emitting lake. I took a distant photo of a Golden Eagle rocking along the mountain line. As I unloaded myself from the car at the first lookout, I first put down my camera bag outside the car door before I stepped out. I soon realised from the second it touched the ground I had to rescue it from being snatched by a large grey animal. I quickly pulled it away and the animal followed through with its lunge, then pretended to calmly meander over to a fake log fence protecting the drop over the edge of the lookout. Excitedly I took out my Pentax Z-1 with new 50mm 1.4 lens. I had to gradually move closer to capture the massive monkey and frame it with Nantai San, The highest and most important spiritual mountain there. The monkey raised its head proudly and my SLR went “clunk”. I had taken my best photo in Japan thus far. After I took the photo, the grand Macaque looked back at me and I felt I should have had some yen or something to offer it. I backed away to discover a line of Japanese people standing quietly watching me. My landlord said, “Very strange. Foreign man walks up to a wild monkey. Can be very dangerous.” I felt sheepish. But nothing had happened. No evil to tell of.
I visited Nikko again on a very wet day that summer, and again for New Year’s Eve that same year. 18 years would pass before I would return to see the shrine with seemingly millions of other wanderers.