What you are about to see is a photograph of one of the greatest mysteries of our time. Like Bigfoot, aliens, and the Loch Ness Monster, it’s a little blurry and out of focus, but that comes with photographing a subject such as this. For you see, what you about to view is one of the very few photographs of the elusive and secretive Rulers of the Universe.
I stumbled upon the Rulers of the Universe quite simply. It was the middle of June. With my contract to the company finished, I was taking a few weeks to drift aimlessly through the Japan Alps. My remaining time in Japan was no longer measured in years or months, but mere days. Three days left if memory serves. I found myself in a small town known as Bessho Onsen. I had become a huge fan of onsen, or the Japanese hot spring, and my guidebook had recommended this town as being a wonderful old onsen town. But not even the pleasure of the onsen was enough to capture my attention for my scheduled 3-day stay.
After I soaked in onsens, I began flipping through my guidebook for more to do in the area. The guidebook pointed out some picturesque shrines and temples “an enjoyable 5km hike away.” Having done a lot of hiking in Japan, a brief 10km hike (round trip, after all) seemed like nothing, so after hiking 3km in the opposite direction so I could buy film for my camera at 7-11, I set out.
After having been confined to Kumagaya and the greater Tokyo area for the past year, I found my walk to be very enjoyable. It had been so long since I had genuinely walked down country roads, with the only sign of civilization being the odd farmhouse off in the distance. Wheat fields dominated one side of the 2-lane highway, and rice fields the other. I took a deep breath, and smelled the sweet scent of cow manure in the air. Throughout my year in Japan, this was the first time I found myself in a rural environment. This was the closest I had come to home in Japan.
The heat had to at least be in the low-30s. I had packed no shorts with me, so I rolled up my pant legs. I was coming upon the next small town, so I popped into a convenience store to buy a cold drink. This small town was closer to the temples and shrines, so I started watching the street signs for where to go. Even though things were clearly marked in Japanese and English, I still managed to get lost and wander into an art gallery. I was worried that I came into the art gallery through a side entrance or something, as no one charged me admission. To quell my fears and/or guilt, I bought a couple postcards from the gallery gift shop. But I digress.
Just beyond the art gallery was the first temple. I had seen quite a few in Japan, and this one wasn’t as picturesque as the guidebook let on. I set out for the shrine, and that’s when I saw them.
I was walking up the hill towards the shrine, with a grove of trees to my right. I don’t know what these trees are called, but how they grow them is they string a cross pattern of twine among the trees, so the branches spread out like a canopy. You’ll see in the picture. Sitting beneath this canopy of tree branches were three people: two men and a woman. As I saw them there, I began thinking to myself: “Look at them. Sitting there, chatting, not a care in the world. I wonder what they’re talking about. They could be talking about anything: how their favourite baseball team is doing, local politics, hell, even the weather. For all I know, they could be a local book club discussing the latest best seller, or even the rulers of the universe deciding our fate.”
That’s when it hit me: they were the Rulers of the Universe. Something inside me just said, “Yup. That’s what they’ve got to be. They’re the Rulers of the Universe.” I knew I had to get their picture. But, of course, it would be conspicuous for me to stop and say, “Hey! O kind and benevolent rulers! Say cheese!” I had to be covert about this. I didn’t want to incur the wrath of the Rulers of the Universe, after all. I hatched a plan. I nonchalantly walked past the Rulers.
After I checked out the shrine and got a few pictures, I began walking back. I was in luck! The Rulers were still holding their council. I grabbed my camera from my pocket and pretended that I was fidgeting with it as I walked. I pointed it in their general direction and casually hit the button. I heard the click. I put the camera back in my pocket and hoped that the picture turned out. I had done it! I had photographed the Rulers of the Universe!
I returned to Bessho Onsen and the 7-11 to buy dinner. I headed back to the hostel to eat. I sat down with great relief. Given the round trip hike, getting lost and winding up in art galleries, the round trips to Sev, and the general exploration of Bessho Onsen that I had done in the morning, I figured I must have walked at least 30km that day. After my dinner bento, I decided the best thing to do after this day was to soak my weary bones. I grabbed my towel and headed to onsens of Bessho Onsen. That was good for a couple of hours. I returned to the hostel that night where the hostess/manager of the hostel made me a cup of green tea, and she served as translator as I conversed with the hostel’s only other visitors that night: two lovely young struggling female comic book artists.
I had a great time in Bessho Onsen. It was truly a great way to end my time in Japan. But the question remains: were those three people really the Rulers of the Universe? I think so. Look at the pictures and judge for yourself. All I know is, when I write my epic about life, the universe, and everything, the Rulers of the Universe will be portrayed as two men and a woman, governing the whole thing from under a tree. And Death will be portrayed by an 8-year old girl. Why? That’s a tale for another day. But I don’t have a picture of Death, I have a picture of the Rulers of the Universe!
And here’s the requisite, digitally enhanced, close-up of what you should be looking at.