Mountain X

It was a sunny and 75 degree off day – the perfect ingredients for an adventure into the unknown. So I packed my backpack for the day, grabbed my goPro, and headed into the wild.

One thing I have learned about Japan is that you never know what’s around the next corner… One, because you cannot read the signs that explain information and two, because you actually do not know what’s around the corner.

I like to push the envelope, as my mom would say, so I decided to make this arduous trek by myself instead of disrupting my translators one free day. This means, Japanese busses and trains, here comes clueless Drew. It’s hard to miss him! He is 6’7”, wearing a Nike backpack and a goPro strapped to his chest, and waiving a Japanese map with a bright red X covering Takasakiyama Mountain.

I take off, strolling these skinny streets, singing to myself, enjoying the unique creation that God has made out here. If you know me, you know that I am a Lyrical-Song-Killer, meaning I can never remember past the opening chorus of any song. Therefore, I create even “beautifuller” lyrics as I go —much to my girlfriend’s dismay. One great plus about being in Japan is that I can sing my own edited songs freely, as loud as I want, without judgment or criticism. Here, no one will even know I recreated it — much less understand anything that I am saying!

The sun is bright, but the coastal breeze cools me down – almost like a fan mister at a hot little league baseball game. As I round the corner, not knowing what to expect, I come in plain view of a Beppu Train Stop. Just what the doctor had prescribed! I finagle my way on the train and head in the direction of Takasakiyama Mountain – the X on my adventure map.

As I am Bulleting through the city in a matter of seconds, I quickly realize from the vivid map framed above me that this train is not headed to Takasakiyama Mountain at all! Wide eyed and flustered, I hop off at the next available stop. I begin to browse around the train station, hunting for clues that lead me to the X on my map. I feel as if I am playing the board game Clue, in a desperate search for Miss Scarlet’s candlestick that points me to the right direction. That, or a horrible game of hide-and-seek, where anything useful to me is hiding like the US Secret Service on the president’s Election Day.

After pulling out my X-Ray goggles, a break through finally occurs when I overhear an English-speaking Japanese student talking about his current journey to the X. The sound of English tickled my ears like a nightingale’s lullaby on a crisp winter night. I immediately take off through the station following his lead – stalking his every move. The trail leads me directly to bus stop 60-61, just outside the sliding glass doors of the station. As I wait patiently behind him, my presence and height is immediately felt as he slowly turns around to say, “Are you going to Takasakiyama Mountain today as well?”

With the biggest smirk on my face, I quickly respond. “Yes! …And I am following you there.” He chuckles back and says he will get me to my destination, no problem.

After a series of bus stops, I arrive at the base of the X. Piece of cake. Unfortunately, this is where my new friend and Travelocity Agent has to go his separate way. I stand at the foot of the X on my map with the feeling that I have conquered the impossible. When in all reality, I just took a local bus to a popular destination… and I have not even began to explore what’s crawling around on this unique mountain.

Mt. Takasakiyama stands 628km tall. Covered by forestry of Japanese cedar, Hinoki cypress, Japanese mountain maple, and Japanese beech (don’t know why they would name it this :/). Thus making it the perfect sanctuary to some of the world’s most interesting creatures —monkeys! The whole mountain is a nature zone protecting one of Japan’s largest populations of perfectly WILD Japanese Macaque monkeys. On this mountain, the monkeys rule.

A warning (in English) at the bottom of the mountain suggests that a hiker stay on the main, man-made trail due to the 1,500 wild monkeys that might not want you entering their homes. If you do decide to venture off, you might soon be surrounded by a mob of monkeys known as a gang. Retreat slowly without making eye contact!

To me, this situation sounded like a classic American ghetto gang movie, so I decided to make the smart choice (since I had no backup) and take the path highly traveled.

The ascent was underway. I took step after step on the winding trail with my eyes peeled above, below, behind me and in every sorta direction in search of my first monkey sighting. The canopy of Japanese trees covered my head as if I was walking through a jungle tunnel. Beams of light shined through the cracks above, glistening off the fallen leaves and shrubs.

It had only been a couple of minutes, when suddenly I heard my first screech that stopped me dead in my tracks. I stood frozen in nervous submission as my first encounter swung from branch to branch directly above my head. It was marvelous. Thrilled beyond belief to have seen one single monkey — little did I know what was in store around the next Japanese corner!

I rounded the bend and jogged up the stone staircase. I could faintly see what looked like a man-made monkey playground. As my Nike Air Max shoe hit the last step of the Japanese stone staircase, my mind was instantly blown.

Hundreds of kimokawii (Japanese word meaning scary+cute) fur balls swamped the area. They were literally everywhere imaginable. The city had built a playground for any monkeys that wanted a playing field and free food once a day. Therefore, monkeys, upon monkeys,upon monkeys gathered at this location around feeding time each and every day.

IMG_3614There were baby monkeys, big momma monkeys, scary leader of the pack monkeys, brother, sister, cousin, and greasy, greasy grand-ma monkeys… all roaming freely. They scurried around you, crawling between your legs, over your shoes, and swinging above your head. It was like a 3-D circus coming right at me.

I felt like a bobble-head, as I whipped around back and forth, up and down. My ears rang of Monkey screech language and the constant whizz of darting fur balls. The fresh smell of my Old Spice deodorant was quickly engulfed with new-found Monkey perfume. The playground reminded me of a children’s Chucky Cheese on steroids.

Each monkey sported his or her own personality. Some seemed to love my attention, while others hissed and barked at me to back up. Every animal was different in their own way. I personally liked the brave, bold, and fearless monkeys that would swipe at my camera when I would take pictures or run circles around you while the shy, reserved ones looked on from their perch.

After a couple hours of living on the wild side, I started my decent back to Japanese civilization. It was a trip for the memory books — an experience I won’t forget anytime soon.

Adventure to mountain X did not disappoint.

Hope you enjoy db4three productions of Monkey Mountain – comment below and let me know what you think!

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7 thoughts on “Mountain X

  1. Drew: from what I’ve heard, you used to cause the same sensations on the campus at the U of M! BrR

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  2. Hi Drew, big fan of yours at Zaga. You are living a dream you will never forget my friend. I look forward to reading more. My son’s friend, an exchange student from Japan told me the hardest thing to get used to in the USA were the toilets. By the way, he never returned to Japan. Loves it here.

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  3. You have a talent for descriptive writing. I like the way you also put humor and emotion in your writing. I feel like I am learning a lot about Japan and the culture through reading your blog. Thank you and best wishes!!

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