Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved the outdoors—-exploring peaceful forest trails, sleeping under the stars, making fire from sticks. Plus the fact that you can pee basically anywhere. I conquer you, Nature. Take that.
So when I moved to Japan, the first thing I did was to look for some good hiking trails. Well, I mean, after finding a decent bar with some hot chicks, but hiking was pretty high on the list too. And eventually, I got around to some outdoorsy stuff, until one day, while following a deer path through a stand of trees, I had an epiphany. That’s when you realize stuff that’s incredibly obvious only you haven’t thought of it yet. Anyway, the epiphany said: Ken Seeroi, these two activities don’t have to be separate. Because Japan. Okay, Let me explain. Or as we say in Japanese, esprain.
Japan, the Great Outdoors
On the weekends, half the population of Tokyo escapes the hot, overcrowded city and heads for the cool solitude of the mountains, turning them into the forest version of Shinjuku Station at rush hour. So my advice would be, yeah, don’t go on the weekends.
In my case, I had Monday off from teaching English, so I rode the train out of town to Kita-Kamakura. I planned to hike over the mountain and into Kamakura, which is a little seaside resort town full of temples and this giant Buddha statue. They’ve also got a really good soba shop that offers a sesame dressing that’s simply to die for. So although it was a long way to go for some noodles, I figured a little hiking would do me good.
My Japanese Adventure
It was a hot afternoon, and once I started out, I realized, Hey, maybe I should have brought some water. Who knew hiking could be so strenuous? But I climbed higher and higher and got thirstier and thirstier. The trail got steeper and steeper. And after a while, I realized I didn’t know where I was, because I’d been so busy repeating myself. And then I really wished I’d brought a map. Really, really wished I had. And then I got somewhere near the top and the trail diverged into two different paths. It was just like that poem by Robert Frost, only without all the snow. Whatever. I’m not real good with decision-making, so I did what my years of hiking experience had taught me was most effective for such situations. I sat down on a rock and cried. Then I prayed for deliverance from the wilderness.
I mean, I’d been hiking for practically 30 minutes and the situation was clearly hopeless. I knew I’d be lucky to make it back alive. So I threw my arms wide to the sky and cried, “Oh God, show me a sign.” I’m a little dramatic like that. Anyway, that’s when I had the epiphany, because suddenly there was this sign. A sign from God. And it said, in Japanese: “Bar, this way, 50 meters.” Okay, maybe it wasn’t from God, but still, somebody put that damn wooden sign on top of a hill way out in the woods, and I’d like to thank whoever it was. So just to be on the safe side, yeah thanks, Japanese God.
And so I summoned my remaining strength and forced my depleted body along the narrow deer path until there, shining like a magic castle, was this massive red-brick cafe with several levels of outdoor decks. And my first thought was, Who puts a huge cafe in the middle of a forest? Followed closely by, And how’d they get all these bricks up here, and why are they shining?
But long story short, I was able to properly restore my electrolyte balance with many life-sustaining beers and eventually made it down to Kamakura, where over a lunch of soba noodles in sesame sauce, I wrote a proper story about hiking in Japan on a hundred tiny Japanese napkins, which Tokyo Weekender was kind enough to publish here:
It’s a daring tale of higher mountains, more women, more beer, and . . . well, that’s about it. But still, it’s moderately entertaining, so check it out.