It was my fifth day in Japan. I was in the historic park in Nara visiting ancient sites and just generally roaming around to try to soak up some of the culture when I happened upon something rather strange. It was a sign for something called “Wakakusa Hill” and as I approached, I saw something that said “Adults: 150yen”. As this was the only thing I could read on the sign, I had to ask what this was all about. Through some mixed communication techniques, I discerned that, as I suspected, they were charging 150yen (about $1.50) to simply walk up this hill.
“Well that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” I thought, “they’re charging ME, to make me walk up a hill?!” The hill didn’t look all that pleasant to walk up anyway, in fact it appeared to be quite steep.
I thought, however, that it was a brilliant business venture. I have decided that I shall begin naming otherwise unexceptional topographic features, setting up toll booths, and charging admission to experience them. People will flock by the hundreds. They will walk up the hill, walk back down, buy a T-Shirt proclaiming that they did so, and then show it off to their friends at their very next opportunity. It is a gold mine I tell you.
But as I stood contemplating entrepreneurship and looking at one of the steeper “hills”, I had ever seen, I asked myself, “What kind of masochist would actually pay money to walk up that thing?”
… “Oh yeah, I would.”
If you refer to the “Hiking” tab on my blog you will likely get an eye-full of my love of hills. And so it happened that I found myself a buck-fifty lighter, hauling my ass up this thing. It turns out (I did some research) that the “hill” is actually called “Mount Wakakusa”. It is 1,122 feet above sea level and the climb itself is around 800 feet up. In America, we call that a mountain (although some other countries’ geological surveys would disagree). It is mostly famous for an annual, ceremonial burning of the grass that covers the hillside. This event happens every January to commemorate a boundary dispute that happened between Tōdai-ji and Kōfuku-ji temples in the 1700’s (according to some sources). Why such a dispute would be something worth commemorating is a mystery to me. But then again many traditions in foreign countries as well my own are hazy in origin and purpose.
Despite my initial cynicism, however, this mountain, as is the case with many steep climbs, did not disappoint. Between gusts of wind trying their darnedest to knock me over, I could see the whole city sprawled out below me. Every site that I had visited earlier in the day was clearly visible. It was like I was looking at a living map on which I could track the path I had walked during my visit to this historic place. Despite being literally adjacent to a bustling tourist trap, this place was absolutely serene.
I like to call myself a “hardcore tourist”. I travel almost exclusively by foot because I think it is the best way to see a place in all its minutia and culture. I always wake up early and go to bed late. I try to pack as much into each day as possible and hopefully squeeze in a life-changing experience along the way.
At the end of my fifth day in Japan, I collapsed onto the tatami mat in my room exhausted but in complete bliss. My hardcore aspirations had been met and then some and there is no better feeling in the world.