Thursday, September 30, 2010

Konichiwa from Mt Hakusan!

Even outhouses are picturesque on Hakusan
Konichiwa! Konichiwaaaaa! Konichiwa!

One after another, they barrel down the steep trail, their uniformly lithe bodies wrapped in brand new, name brand, stylish outdoor gear in colors like fuchsia, pumpkin and brilliant blue. Half of them are senior citizens. Quite a few are using walking poles and many have bells tied to their packs. Observing a lack of rabid wild animals and other white people, I note that the bells must be working. At first I found the jingling festive and cute, but after trailing a man for 20 minutes, his small cowbell dangling on a string along the line of his asscrack, jingle jangling to the beat of his every step, I found myself desperate to jog ahead. Hiking bells: they keep the whiteys away, indeed.

It turns out Japanese people are just as polite on the trail as they are in the city. Every single one of them gamely calls "Konichiwa!" as they walk past me, even though it is 10am, which in the unwritten book of Japanese salutation law means we're still in "Ohayo Gozaimasu" territory.
My badass alpaca socks and I on top of the summit

I am the only foreigner on the trail to Mt Hakusan, the only foreigner sleeping at the lodge atop the mountain, the only foreigner eating dinner and breakfast in the dining hall and the only foreigner waking up at 4am to hike to the summit to see the sun rise. I will admit to you, dear reader, that all of this left me feeling just a wee bit smug. I felt like my mere presence was screaming: "Yes, it's true! All the other Americans in Japan are fat and lazy and spending their Sunday morning at the church of McDonald's sloppily masticating their McChickenFriedSteaks in hopes of drowning out their McHangovers. But not me! I am hiking up one of Japan's Three Holy Mountains because I am hard core...just like you!"  Never mind the fact that many of my non-Japanese friends have hiked this mountain before, some of them multiple times and a handful of them just the day before. Whenever such facts surfaced in my mind, I promptly pushed them back down and instead chose to bask in my extreme outdoorsyness.

I hoped my fellow trekkers simply assumed that a pair of old leggings topped with booty shorts and a Target hoody is how Americans typically dress for a big hike. I had also pulled on a pair of alpaca wool socks I had bought in Peru. This would surely elevate me to "serious hiker" status. As I huffed and puffed up the mountain, I imagined the conversation that would inevitably occur at dinner:  

Breakfast at Morodo Lodge
Japanese Hiker: Where did you get those hard core, super outdoorsy, alpaca socks?
Me: (looking super nonchalant and polishing my Swiss Army Knife) Oh, you know, Peru.
JH: You mean, in South America?!
Me: (absent mindedly, yet skillfully, skinning a squirrel I caught with my bare hands) Uh huh.
JH: Did you climb Machu Picchu?
Me: (sipping potentially polluted river water from my CamelBak brand water filtration system) Totally.

Then they would lift me up on their shoulders and parade me around the dining room while the others looked on in admiration, chanted my name and festively threw their SoyJoy energy bars at me.
Sunrise from The Summit: 5:47am

Sadly, this never happened. But in reality, I did get a lot more attention than usual. Tall, curly haired and super white, I expected, and was often told, I'd be gawked at in Japan. But, in general, I am mostly ignored and rarely spoken to by random strangers. But on top of the mountain I was the Queen of the Caucasians, often bluntly greeted with questions like: "Where did you come from?" and "What. Is. Your. Country?" making me feel like an outer space alien and an illegal one at an immigration office, respectively.

 "I'm from America!" I crowed and began to seriously contemplate buying my own jingly jangly cowbell.