While visiting Nagano north of Tokyo last month I drove up a narrow mountain road and came upon as small parking lot. Now, people don’t build parking lots in the middle of nowhere for no reason and naturally I stopped to check it out. Turns out it was the entrance to a small path leading down to a fall, Zengoro-no-taki, Zengoro Falls (善五郎の滝), one of several falls on the Koonogawa (Koono River). Not the most beautiful of falls, but nevertheless. Being a hardcore Tokyoite I take every opportunity to spend a moment extra in any sort of nature. Being drenched in a fine mist of clear mountain water didn’t make things worse either. If you are every up driving in the mountains, remember to take the time to stop at unexpected scenic places! There’s tons of hidden gems not marked on your GPS navigator. Enjoy!
Fear not – Tokyobling will never turn into an Ornithology blog (even though I have blogged about birds quite a lot so far…). However, one bird above all others deserves a mention – the Japanese Bush Warbler (in Japanese: uguisu, 鴬 or ウグイス). Few birds in Japan are as famous as this one while being so relatively unknown. It’s tiny size and shyness makes it very hard to spot. If you’ve been to Tokyo you might recognize this bird from one of the least used stations on the Yamanote line, Uguisudani (lit. the Valley of the Bush Warblers). Few people have seen this bird but many people have heard it, it has a very distinctive call that has become a symbol for the Japanese spring and summer. It’s easily my favorite bird in Japan. Most Japanese agree with me and this bird is one of three “official song birds of Japan”, together with the Japanese Robin and the Blue and White Flycatcher.
If you want to hear it, go to the Wikipedia entry, there some very short sound clips to hear.
Not only is this birds droppings traditionally used as a skin whitening agent (if you have the chance, get a bottle of “uguisu no fun” at some of the better department stores and enjoy a 100% natural beauty product), but it has also given the name to a color that we would say is a mix between olive green and khaki. I have heard that this is due to a poetical error hundreds of years ago, as this color is nothing like a real uguisu bird.
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!