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Adventures of the Hokkaido Bush Pig

By The Hokkaido Bush Pig

Breaking the Ice

2008
ISSUE
20

If you plan to hit the trails, but your Japanese won’t even get you a beer in a local bar, don’t worry; here are a couple of tips from The Pig that might get you a drink in the middle of nowhere.

Pig Tip #1:   If you’ve been here a while, you may have noticed Japanese people love their beer and sake—especially when in comes to hiking. Try packing along some sake or whiskey (or even a couple cans of beer) on your next hiking trip. It’s one of the best ways to break the ice and make friends, especially if you can’t speak the local language.

 
I don’t know how many times I’ve been sitting next to another hiker’s tent while he or she was doing their best not to make eye contact, even when I say, “Konnichiwa!” I’ve found, though, when you offer them a drink, a big, surprised smile comes over their faces.

 
Sometimes this is followed by, in rough English, “You like sake?” and soon they’re running for a cup. But be careful what you start; you could be in for a big night. It never stops surprising me how much booze Japanese people can carry on hiking trips.

 
Pig Tip #2:   If you are going to take sake, you can buy 500-ml. and one-liter cartons in any supermarket or convenient store. They’re much easier to dispose of than glass.

 
A few years ago while I was staying in a mountain hut about a three-day trek from anywhere, a guy turned up late with a very large backpack. He pulled out his sleeping bag, a small cooker and a small bag of food. I was blown away when he then produced 12 cans of beer, two large bottles of whiskey, two bottles of sake and a bottle of some mystery beverage. It ended up being a good night.

 
Don’t get be wrong, I’m not saying Japanese are not friendly. To the contrary, some are just shy, especially Hokkaido people. When you get to the top of a peak, you’ll often find hikers with a beer in their hand enjoying the view and, more often than not, they will offer you one.

 
Once, at the start of a two-week trek with a heavy backpack, I was working my way up a very high peak and got to the top to find a couple of guys on a day hike enjoying a beer. Once I had taken off my pack, they came over and offered me one. It was only 11 a.m., and I still had about three-to-four hours left of hiking to my camp site.

 
After that first beer, they came over and said they were heading back down and offered me four more cans (which I did not refuse). Instead of saving them, I drank all four (to save space in my pack of course; after all, I am the Bush Pig). Big mistake, though, as I ended up falling asleep but, when I awoke, I found a place to pitch my tent. It ended up being a great spot which I still use today. Everything happens for a reason.