I do love zoos and museums of natural history but nothing beats meeting wild animals in their natural habitat. On a hiking trip one early morning (just after sunrise at about half past five in the morning), I came across some animal droppings I didn’t recognize. They looked human but they were green and didn’t smell. On the side of the narrow trail just a couple of meters in front of me as I turned a corner in the forest I met a small group of Japanese Macaque (Macaca fuscata fuscata). I have seen these creatures in the zoos around Japan many times but seeing them in the wild like this, just minding their business and not at all interested in me was just a different experience. Ever since I first came to Japan many years ago my dream was to one day meet wild monkeys, and finally, finally, I was rewarded. There were four of them, two females and two kids, one just a couple of months old and another one that must have been born during the winter.
Even being no zoologist or primate expert I can tell these monkeys have a fantastic life. Look at their coats, their eyes and skin, it’s absolutely the healthiest monkeys you will ever see. These have not yet been lured by the treat of fruit orchards or the left overs from campers. I must have spent half an hour with them before they finally decided it was time to move on.
I know some people live in areas where they meet monkeys daily, but for me, a die-hard tokyoite, this was an amazing meeting and truly one of the best days in my life. At closest I was only a meter or two from them. I will post more photos later, for now, Enjoy!
Yesterday I showed you the outside of the Kaichi Gakkou in Matsumoto City, and here are some shots of the interiors. It looks strangely similar to some of the older schools we have in Europe. Built by Seijiu Tateishi between 1873 and 1876. It was in use until 1963 when it was moved from its original location to its present spot near Matsumoto Castle. Today it is used as a museum of education and has quite a few interesting items. Unfortunately apart from a thin pamphlet there is nothing at all in English so make sure your Meiji period Japanese is up to scratch or bring a friends who is good at reading the older type scripts. The item I found most touching was a student’s graduation speech: children of poor parents were expected to stay with noble families to learn skills such as housekeeping and cooking while taking care of their master’s children. Some families sponsored these servant children to attend school and I can only imagine what it must have been like to grow up in a situation like that. The speech is both depressing and heart warming, depending on how you read it. At least the poor children had a chance to get a little bit of eduction.
I am a huge fan of old buildings and architecture but still I hadn’t heard of this place in Matsumoto city, Nagano prefecture: The Former Kaichi Gakkou Primary School (旧開智学校). The building has a really interesting history as one of the oldest Western Style primary schools in Japan. The building is an interesting mix of European Neoclassic architecture mixed with traditional Japanese temple decorations and I believe it’s one of the finest examples of Meiji Restoration style architecture. The architect must have been amazingly skilled to create this master piece without ever having been outside Japan. This was at a time when Japan had just been open to the outside world for a few years and anything western was completely new to them. I will post more about the school history and some interiors later. If you want to compare to another famous historical Nagano school building have a look at this post and compare.
I took these with a polarizing circular filter on my Nikon 20mm F2.8 lens, it’s what brings out the sky! One of the photos is also massively photoshopped (can you guess which one?) to make up for the fish eye effect of such a wide lens on a FX camera. Enjoy!