An adventure in the south of Japan in January...
Driving along the sea of Hyūga, in the south of Kyushu, hides a tiny island; Kōjima.
Kōjima is really close to the shore but a boat is still needed to reach it. I tried my chance and arrived in the early morning. Finding someone to take me to the island was easier than I thought; a local was waiting on the shore, knowing exactly why someone would come all the way there. To set foot on the monkey island.
Kōjima is the home of a hundred of Japanese macaques and has been the theater of scientific research on primates’ behaviour for more than 70 years. In 5 minutes, I was disembarking on some rocks while I waved bye to the local who drove me. I could call him when I wanted to go back to the shore.
The island was quiet and peaceful on this morning of January. Only the two Spanish researchers living there provided some animation; Emilio and Alba.
As the monkeys were out of sight, Emilio and Alba suggested that I go for a walk into the jungle. They gave me one walkie-talkie, with the warm suggestion that I could call them if I got lost.
Being used to walking in forests and foreign environment, I wasn’t too worried but it was before I started to get lost and started to follow ways that would disappear under fallen trees and overwhelming vegetation.
Sometimes, I would find myself reaching cliffs where the sea could be seen when looking down. I tried my best not to break two of my ankles at the same time and safely went back down to the beach. In time to sit down with Emilio and Alba when suddenly; some sound came rushing to the shore.
I felt speechless and I was almost hiding behind my camera to snap this quiet morning scene.
Around fifty monkeys approached and one of them sat next to me, her offspring in her arms. I was told that this was the alpha female and she sat peacefully, looking over her tribe occupying progressively the beach.
Some monkeys were very quickly curious about the experiment that was being installed in front of them by Alba and Emilio. Their curiosity was justified… a treat would be the reward if they could find how to get it out of these boxes.
While some were interested, most of the tribe was busy grooming each other and warming themselves under the sun.
The little ones would keep running everywhere and test their acrobatic skills on tiny branches.
This one seemed to enjoy a moment of peace on the sand.
Meanwhile, some would keep trying to figure out what were these strange objects; fragments of the trash from the sea accumulating on the beach. Emilio and Alba tried to gather and put them away but nothing stops a monkey’s interest.
Three hours later, I had to go and move on to my next location. I called the Ojii-san (name used for older men in Japan, literally "Grandfather") and he brought me back to the mainland. We said goodbye and I left with a big smile stuck on my face for the rest of the day. Nothing beats an experience like this, face to face with tiny (and hairy) versions of ourselves.