|Story by Vera Schulte-Pelkum
Photos Topher Donahue
You can find this article on Climbing n.
235 - December 2004
The Way of the
Japan offers endless opportunities for foreigners, or gaijin
, to make
unwitting fools of themselves. Although tourists usually get sufficient slack
in the manners department, Topher, for one, seems determined to get it right.
Clad in a yukata
, a long bathrobe-like floppy-sleeved garment worn as
aprés-hot-springs apparel, my photographer is trying hard not to do any
unintentional dragnet fishing in his dinner soup with said sleeves while
under the mounting influence of hot sake.
The drinks seem to be reactivating some of my language neurons that haven’t
been fired since I moved from Japan sixteen years ago. Being half German, I
look sufficiently un-Asian to be pegged as a foreigner, but I can make jaws
drop by launching into the flawlessly posh Tokyo accent of my childhood. With
no formal education in the language, however, I inevitably follow up with
outrageous blunders in politeness forms, leading to further consternation.
The official reason for this return to my native country was an investigation
of the Japanese climbing scene, with its increasing reports of strong climbers
and hard new boulder problems.
Hirayama warming up the old fashioned way.
As I try to register all the information fired at me during the dinner
conversation, my translation to Topher has all but ceased, as has my Beta on
how to deal with the multitude of plates, bowls, and strange critters that
comprise his meal....
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