July 5, 2017
After one night in Tokyo we headed out on the bullet train to Kyoto for 3 days of exploring temples. We had both read that it was essential to visit the Fushimi Inari shrine first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds, certainly not a foreign concept to me as a photographer, so we planned to get up and out by 6:30am. With the joys of jet lag, neither of us really slept and we were out the door by 6 and had the epic shrine made up of thousands upon thousands of vermillion shinto gates completely to ourselves. By the time we left around noon the place was absolutely packed and felt like we were fighting through the crowds as Disneyland. The gardens surrounding the shrines are equally as beautiful as the gates themselves and we had an incredible morning doing the 2.5 hour loop through the mountains. There’s a cute coffee shop called Vermillion that overlooks a pond and we took a little break after our walk enjoying hot coffee and watching the king fishers dive in and out of the water in front of us.
Back in the city of Kyoto the highlights were walking Higashiyama and seeing all the tourists dressed as Geisha’s for the afternoon. We spent our first evening there in Gion, which is the Geisha district and I wasn’t lucky enough to see a Geisha, but Emily did and assured me it was quite different than the tourists playing dress up we saw earlier. Walking the streets of Gion is a must and there are some great antique and consignment shops along the water that are worth popping into for a visit.
Our time in Tokyo was mostly spent wandering the streets and exploring the multitude of stores and restaurants. The city is a unique mix of ancient temples and modern sky scrapers and my favorite moments were definitely spent exploring all the stationery and sticker stores, we even stopped in the Hello Kitty Mega Store for a manicure.
My friend flew back to the states after Tokyo and I headed up into the mountains near Nagano to the town of Yamanouchi to visit the snow monkeys. I had been obsessed with them since I saw an article in National Geographic when I was a child and I knew one day I’d have to go to see the amazing monkeys who hang out in natural hot spring baths (called onsens) to keep warm in the snowy mountains. The first day I was there it started to snow, which they weren’t expecting so late in the season. By the time I woke up in my traditional Riokan hotel the next morning the entire mountain was blanketed under a thick layer of snow and the landscape was stunning. I hiked up the 30 minute trail in the early morning as soon as it opened and stayed till my fingers went numb photographing the beautiful monkeys. When I couldn’t take the cold any longer I dashed back down the mountain to the restaurant at the base for some hot coco to warm back up and then headed back to the mountain for another 4 hours. Most people come for about 30 minutes and then leave and the national park security kept looking at me like I was crazy. I’ve seen monkeys all over the world in India, China, South America, Central America and on and on and they are usually pretty vicious and all around nasty, but these guys could not have been sweeter and just wanted to cuddle up with each other and stay warm or hop into the onsen for a little jacuzzi time. They are truly a photographers paradise and I loved capturing the very human-like emotion they emote.