Breaking the Ice

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.