Long story short, I’m hugely famous in Japan now and will probably never be returning to the America (or even leaving this volcano filled island).
Here’s how it happened:
I’ve just spent three hours dragging myself through 4,000 vertical feet (1,200 m) of boulder field to the saddle beneath the summit of Mt. Okuhotaka – Japan’s third highest peak – where I find one of the Kita Alps’ many lodges.
Inviting as the shelter looks, I perch myself outside on a rock wall to silently reflect on the great mysteries of the universe (because I visit the mountains in hopes of finally gaining insight as to the meaning of my existence).
In the midst of my business minding, I become aware of a man pacing behind me just inside my peripheral. He clearly wants to talk, but apparently cannot bring himself to approach the strange-looking foreigner (a recurring scenario in this country).
Eventually I decide to find out what he wants.
Spinning around and making eye contact, I give him his opening. He’s flustered at first, but he quickly pulls himself together and tells me that he’s a newspaper reporter from Nagano Prefecture.
We start talking and as we go through the “what’s your name and where are you from” motions, he pulls out a pad and begins feverishly jotting down notes. I guess this is an interview then?
Once we’ve each exhausted our extent of the other’s native language, he tells me that he’s going to find me later to talk more.
Sure. I’m not going anywhere.
Watching the sunset as my fellow hikers eagerly snap photos and (unfortunately) chatter on their cellphones (yes, Japan is has become fond of installing wi-fi and cell towers on its mountaintops – it’s awful), my reporter friend finds me again (as the only person with a beard, this is not a difficult task). He invites me into the lodge where Japanese-speaking American girl from Rhode Island works.
She’s been recruited as my interpreter.
The questioning revolves mostly around my experience in Japan’s mountains, but after around ten minutes I am able to work out what this article is really about: the ability to use a credit card at these mountaintop lodges (yes, it came as a surprise to me too).
Unfortunately for him, I’m not the foreigner he’s looking for (he’s expecting me to say how great paying with a credit card is). I give my honest opinion: not only am I opposed to being able to pay with a credit card in the mountains, but also that I am not a fan of these lodges existing in the first place (and don’t get me started on the wi-fi and cell towers).
The questioning draws to a close and I am asked to take a photo pretending to use my credit card with the lodge owner pretending to happily receive my electronic transfer. Why do I agree to do this despite having just said how opposed I am to this practice? Because I’m a sellout maybe this reporter guy’s going to buy me a beer?
The interview concludes and I ask my new friend to take down my address and send me a copy of the paper once the article comes out. He agrees and tells me to expect it in a few weeks.
However, as promised, a couple of weeks later a newspaper shows up from our friend the Nagano Reporter.
The portion of the article relating to me goes something like this:
“Mac thinks that foreigners being able to use credit cards in the mountains is great! Especially because foreigners are afraid of carrying around cash.”
I literally said the exact opposite of this (and where did the part about being afraid to carry cash come from?).
Surprisingly, the fact that I took a photo pretending to use my credit card, means that my Japanese coworkers have extreme difficulty understanding that what’s written in the paper is not true (“but you’re using a credit card in the photo” they all say).
It turns out that what Mt. Reporter really needed was a face and name for his article to market Japan’s hiking lodges, not the honest opinions of someone who values the solitude of the backcountry over a $40 t-shirt, vending machine, and flushing toilet.
Despite my name being used to bolster support for something I don’t agree with, it was fun to get into the paper for being not Japanese (something that can be a huge advantage (but mostly a disadvantage) in Japan). Next time I’ll make sure to leave no room for ambiguity in my statements (aka get on television).
Guess it’s time to move to Tokyo and make the big bucks.