When we wake up each morning, we have no idea what the day has in store for us.
Sure, we can have plans. Sure, we can set goals.
But along the way, plans can become derailed. Obstacles can pop up between us and our goals. Emergencies can happen, taking precedence.
While this all sounds rather negative and pessimistic, believe it or not, this fact of life can be a beautiful thing. We can make new connections with people we didn’t know existed. Sometimes those people become a big part of our lives.
We can conquer those obstacles, giving us confidence in our own strength. And we can adjust our plans to include beautiful experiences we didn’t see when we were further back on the path, our view of the future obscured.
The Day I Woke Up Not Expecting to Climb a Mountain
We followed the walking path down from the bamboo forest, by a beautiful river, and over Kyoto’s iconic bridge. From there, we were under the impression that we’d have a short walk to the monkey park.
It was short. We walked up some stairs and paid the 550 yen each admission fee.
I don’t know what we were expecting after that. We knew the monkeys weren’t this close to the base of the mountain. Maybe there would be a gondola to take us up?
Or maybe we just hadn’t thought that far ahead.
The climb at Iwatayma is difficult.
In the heat and humidity of Japanese springtime, we realized we were going to have to climb this intimidating mountain. I’m susceptible to heat exhaustion and heat stroke, even when I am incredibly fit. Which I am not at this point in my life, though I am working to change that.
It hadn’t rained in over a week, and the humidity clung to us like a wet blanket, making us sweat out of every pore. We weren’t the only ones disillusioned by the unexpected hike; I saw a woman in wedge-heeled sandals sulking up the mountain with her family. At every turn on the winding path, there were fellow tourists catching a breath. Stretching. Resting.
At a certain point my sibling asked if we should just turn around. This was going to take forever. But we already had sunk costs–the people who run this place were extremely smart to put the ticketing booth at the bottom rather than the top of the mountain.
We decided we didn’t want to let a mountain defeat us. So on we trudged. When at last we reached the top, we were rewarded with spectacular views of the city of Kyoto. I hadn’t known it was quite as large as it is until I saw the mountaintop view.
We were also rewarded with spectacular experiences we would have missed had we given up and turned around, taking the easy but far less enriching path.
Bonding with Monkeys
Okay, we didn’t so much bond with monkeys as much as encroach on their natural habitat. The animals allow you to do so because there is a feeding station set up in their home, and because of trained experts keeping their behavior in check at every given moment.
When we first rounded the final stretch of the path before reaching the mountain’s crest, there were some free-range monkeys messing around in the woods. It was honestly a little unnerving; these are wild animals, and this was their territory. Fortunately, one of the people working there came along with a clicking device–unafraid to herd them back to the safer area up at the crest.
When we reached the top, we stood feet away from monkeys searching the grass and floating sakura (cherry blossom) petals for bugs to eat. We saw them grooming each other. I paid a tiny fee to feed them some apples–by hand!
We got to see babies play fighting with their siblings. Adults expressing their disinterest with humans after they realized you were out of food. That one a-hole monkey that no one wanted to groom. I felt kind of bad for him.
It was a fantastic experience–unlike any other animal encounter I’ve personally had before. After a few minutes, the angst of being around wild animals subsides as you realize the trained and vigilant staff has everything under control.
Read the signs as you hike Iwatayama.
Another big reason that we felt comfortable was that along our arduous hike, there were signs at every resting point, instructing you how to–and how not to–interact with the monkeys. They showed you the faces of docile monkeys, angry monkeys and scared monkeys. You got instructions to not bend down next to the monkeys, and to not look them directly in the eye or smile at them. And you definitely needed to turn your flash off for photography.
Unfortunately, some who hiked faster than we did appeared to miss these instructions. As they blew by the rest stops, they missed clues that would have told them not to look directly in these monkeys eyes, or not bend down next to one with their infant for an Insta-worthy photo op.
Luckily, the staff were on their game. The few situations that did arise were extremely minimal because they were excellent at their jobs and headed off problems before they really unfolded.
But it could have turned out a lot worse if even one of those situations had slipped under the radar.
Lessons Learned from Iwatayama Monkey Park
I did not expect to learn so much from a tourist attraction, but I really did glean a lot of insight from our trip to Iwatayama Monkey Park.
Sunk Costs Aren’t Always a Bad Thing
We often like to talk about the sunk cost fallacy in personal finance. The most ubiquitous example is gym memberships. Often people will continue their memberships because they have paid so much for it already–even though they don’t use the gym they’re paying for access to. This leads to more money spent on something you don’t even use rather than calling it quits and accepting the losses.
But in Arashiyama, I came to the realization that sunk costs can also be a great motivator. Even though we had only spent about $5 for the privilege of our hike, the fact that we had already paid the money kept me going. Had we not spent that money up front, I would have been more likely to acquiesce to the idea of turning around, thus denying myself a fantastic experience.
Go Your Own Pace–And Read the Road Signs
While I was determined to climb the mountain after we had gotten started, I knew due to past experience that I was going to have to take it a lot slower than some of these people passing us. I needed to avoid passing out. I was cognizant that this made my sweaty self look less than other people facing the same obstacle. But I also knew my own body and that things would turn out better if I paced myself.
By pacing myself, I didn’t rush past those important instructional signs along the way, teaching me how to interact with the monkeys safely. Sometimes being the first to the top isn’t the most important; sometimes it’s all about being as prepared as you can be when you get there–even if that means your journey takes a little longer.
The same can be applied to our financial goals. It’s rough when others get somewhere more quickly than we do. But they’re not facing the situation with the same set of life experiences and past financial baggage (or lack thereof) that we are. Everyone’s money journey is different; getting to the top first doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be the one who enjoys it the most.
You can climb mountains.
There was a point at the beginning of the hike where I wasn’t sure if I could do it. Climbing a mountain was not something I had envisioned myself doing when I rolled out of bed that morning, and the monkey park might not have been on our to-do list if we had known what a Herculean task it would be.
But partially because of the sunk costs, partially by pacing ourselves, and partially through sheer determination, we made it to the top. We were rewarded with breathtaking views, a new perspective and enriching experiences.
You might look at that mountain and think it was nothing. But for me, it was a hard thing to conquer.
I’m nothing special, but I can do hard things. And you can, too. Your mountains might look different than mine, but you can conquer them. Once you do, you’ll find new perspectives and a sense of pride at the top.
Be sure to follow on Instagram for more pictures of monkeys and Kyoto in general!