• Abi

The Maple Thief

While in Japan, I was traveling with four other college-aged women and, after a touristy time in Tokyo, we decided to go off the beaten path. Without too much reasoning behind the destination, I searched small and quaint Japanese towns which led us to Minoo, North Osaka Japan.

As a seasoned traveler, I am familiar with navigating airports, bus stations, railways, and subways. Knowing I may be unfamiliar with the local language, I am prepared with a translation app as well as a notebook to write down station names. Yet, it had oddly not occurred to me until we arrived at the train station that Japanese symbols would be entirely unrecognizable to my French/English speaking brain. We strolled through the newly-cleaned double doors into the bustling crowd of busy professionals, students, and families all certain of their destinations; we began to look for the maps. Unsure of the station we sought or how to get there, I pulled out my Japanese --> English app. Getting as close as possible to the signs, I tried to even identify the direction of the stations or a tangible phrase in the Indo-European alphabet to latch onto but with no avail. After defeat, we approached the ticket counter and asked shyly if anyone spoke English. The kindest gentleman was delighted to help us and showed us the route to get to Minoo and back as a day trip. We paid our fare and boarded our ride.

Upon arriving in this small mountain town, we could not help but revel in the crisp and refreshing air flowing through our lungs. The village center included a small but fair number of locals purchasing groceries for the weekend affairs and bustling between shops. Each passerby gave a warm welcoming smile, delighted to welcome others to their home. We stopped at a few shops; first, a shop boiling hundreds of goose eggs in a large wooden cartoon-of-sorts over a pot out front. Another shop with flakey rice cakes drew us in and we gathered some for the trip. We then stopped to admire the craftsmanship of a local carver whose work primarily featured oak kitchenware adjourned with swirls of reds, oranges, and yellows. These colors matched the town’s tree leaves all around us.

Image: Kittichai Songprakob

Finally, as we made our way up a pathway exiting the city-center, we noticed about a dozen small shops only large enough to fit one worker. At each, the cook sat on a small chair dipping maple leaves into batter and frying them over a pan of hot oil. Lift, dip, flip, dip, fry. The already stunning maple leaves were coated in this creamy mixture and made even richer than before. We stopped to purchase a bundle and our eyes widened with joy, “Why is this the first time I have eaten a fried maple leaf” I announced!

Image: The Bohemian Budgie

We continued our way up this winding path in search of the hike we picked. According to the online travel agent, Trip Advisor, there was a beautiful waterfall at the end and gondola which could take us to a beloved Onsen [curated Japanese hot spring used for healing and relaxation.] The journey to the top of the waterfall was a scenic and enjoyable one through the golden forest with a few abandoned sheds and mines along the way. Not many other travelers were seen by but it was clearly a place for locals to pass through. After about ten passed the hour, we approached the waterfall; it was indeed a rewarding sight. The afternoon sun hit the droplets of moisture perfectly creating many prismatic rainbow reflections. Slowly, our packs fell down to the earth and our cameras emerged from their hiding places; this was a memory that needed to be documented.

Deciding to take a video of my surroundings, I pressed the large red record button when I heard rustling nearby. The others were closer to the falls than I when I turned around to face a large snow monkey the size of a fifth-grader. He did not look angry, but the size of his incisors let me know that he was going to be the boss in this encounter. My camera, still recording, faced him but I lowered my eyes to resign authority. Only moments later I learned the true reason for his presence as he darted towards my friends’ pack, full of rice cakes. With one swift reach he had the bag in his hands as Ta yelled out for her already lost belongings. Stunned and anxious, our cortisol levels ran high; yet nervous laughter transformed to animated giggles and I affirm that it was all caught on camera; we had been robbed in Japan!

The rest of the evening was peaceful as we relaxed in a hot bath and traveled back to the ship. Only short a backpack of rice cakes but filled with delight from the maple-filled adventure.

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