Washed Out Hike: Shikata Ga Nai

Flooding after heavy rain in Haguro

[Seventh in a series of posts about a recent trip to Japan.]

We all had a restless night. Thom had three coffees during the day, which prevented him from sleeping. From about 3 a.m. on, I was disturbed by the explosive bursts of rain and howling wind. It began to be obvious that hiking the steep, slick trail down from Gas-san would be suicidal. At 5:30 a.m., thunder started, booms growing closer to the flashes of light until one of the loudest crashes seemed right overhead.

Thom, finally, was sleeping. Breakfast had been planned for 6:30 a.m. so I decided to try to communicate that we were canceling the hike. I pulled out my little phrase book and tried to patch together some thoughts. Everyone got in the act of trying to understand me: first the father, then the son and finally Tōki, the mother, who sat on her folded knees following my every word with an earnest, concerned look on her face:

I have no idea if these phrases meant anything but, combined with gestures – arms crossed in an X over the chest – I got my point across:

“Sumimasen…Nihon-go, hana semasu”

[Excuse me… I don’t speak Japanese]

“Watashi-tachi hike ga irimasen”

[We don’t want to hike.]

“Koto ga dekimasu ka…”

[Is it possible…]

“Takushii Gas-san jinja”

[Taxi to the temple at Mt. Gas-san – gesturing for driving]

“Takushii Yudono-san jinja”

[Taxi to the temple at Mt. Yudono]

“Hachi-han ni-aimasho”

[Let’s meet at 8:30 – I drew a picture of a clock face]

Shikata ga nai!”

[It can’t be helped]

This last phrase drew smiles. The last ditch response if you can’t accomplish what you want is to throw it up to fate: it can’t be helped.

They obviously had planned to cancel the hike anyway as they had carefully written in English the list of four local sights we might take in instead. One list of four phrases was written in CAPS, with the same names then written in lower case. Unfortunately, I didn’t know that they were place names and I had no idea what they were trying to communicate.

But it was clear we weren’t going hiking. And that they would request the van (“takushii”) to come at 9 a.m.

Next: Our Brush with Hollywood, in Tsuruoka

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