Mighty Aphrodite: Hitchhiking In Japan
By: Michelle Bigley (justin) 2012.01.07
I am not the poster-girl for adventure. But when a guy in the karaoke
bar last night told us there was no way we could hitchhike from <ahref="http://www.studenttraveler.com/index.php?module=htmlpages&func=display&pid=12">Osaka
to <ahref="http://www.studenttraveler.com/index.php?module=htmlpages&func=display&pid=12">Tokyo, that was all we needed. "Not in <ahref="http://www.studenttraveler.com/index.php?module=htmlpages&func=display&pid=12">Japan, definitely not girls,"
he said as he stumbled past us to the stage, mic in hand, to sing "You've
Lost that Loving Feeling."
I don't think he understood that by saying that, he'd essentially turned
our harebrained idea into a challenge. The thing about the three of
us (Sara, a 19-year-old-epidemiology student and silent daredevil; Jen,
a 29-year-old-punk-rock-gal and spicy tuna sushi expert, and myself)
that most guys don't get is that if the challenge is up, nine times
out of ten we'll take it. Even if it means we might end up in the middle
of Nowhere, Japan, right before dark, praying that anyone except a mass
murderer will stop, and whisk us to Tokyo. The familiar Prince Charming
A Prince Charming of sorts did find us. The Japanese version of Leonardo
DiCaprio pulled up in a lowered Nissan blasting Celine Dion's Titanic
song. He offered us a ride out of Nameless Japanese Highway Exit #3.
He drove us into the middle of the Japanese flatlands for a few hours,
deposited us on the side of the highway sputtering, I no go to Tokyo,"
and zoomed off. At least we got out of Nagoya.
It had been easy up until now. We'd caught rides from a generic Japanese
couple who wanted us to go to Kyoto with them; a family wearing entirely
Billabong brand clothing who gave us fruit flavored water, taught us
a couple key phrases, and bought us Japanese nuts; and a green-haired
raver with a neon disco-ball hanging from the rear-view mirror. Jenn
had almost convinced us to quit in Nagoya. With a wealth of vintage
shops, rocker clubs, and sushi bars, Jenn was satisfied with stopping
before we got ourselves in trouble. Aching for Sapporo and spicy tuna,
our 29-year-old punk-rock counterpart had lost faith. We convinced her
that the open road still beckoned.
Finally, we caught the ride with our good friend Leonardo who thought
he was doing us a good deed by depositing us in the center of wind-blown
tumbleweeds and confused drivers, kilometers from any sign of civilization.
We must look like a sight. An Asian/American hip hopper, a New Jersey
native with pink hair, and moi, a combat booted California blond with
a lot of teeth. Holding out our thumbs, as the eggbeater sun plays hide
and seek behind the mountains. As much as I would be terrified of my
situation if we were in the States, I feel really safe. Of course, there
would be nothing more uncomfortable than sleeping on the side of this
highway, with big-rigs blowing dust onto us all night, but there's no
way that Jennifer will allow that to happen.
She decides to cross the intersection and ask the dudes in the truck
stop to hook us up with a ride. Sara follows. I go too, racing across
as big rigs scream past.
The beanie-headed mechanic in the station tells us gruffly that we
need a sign. His English is perfect; his fingers reek of gas and oil.
He disappears into the back room and emerges a few minutes later with
a foot long sign written in Japanese scrawl, and rice crackers. He tells
us the sharpie written symbols reads "Tokyo", bows, and stands watching
as we frogger back to the northern side of the freeway.
A small Ford piled with men stops and rolls down the window. I pray
our sign doesn't say "mail order brides". They laugh when Sara asks
for a ride to Tokyo. When they shout "No way!" she kicks the side of
their car. Their dusty exhaust tastes like the entire day as they drive
off leaving us hopeless, frustrated, and exhausted.
None of us notices the stopped car until he waves and opens the four-door
sedan. We pile in before the man can count to ten. Using our fledgling
vocabulary to thank him, we give up when we realize that his English
is worse than our Japanese is. Though we don't know his name or where
we are headed, when he twists the knob on the radio, and the Grateful
Dead kicks on, I feel OK.
I stare out to the choppy sea, as we round the Pacific, relieved to
find a ride out of the barrenness before night tripped and fell upon
Japan. Slowly inching past miles of countryside, mountains, and yellow
lights, why do I feel so safe in this country? I have no command of
the language, own a cheesy map noting only the main cities, and less
than adequate funds to save my butt if I happen to end up in jail. But
here I am hitching through Japan, unafraid. I would never hitchhike
in the States. Not even with my two toughest chick friends. Not even
with my ten toughest male buds.
The lights of Tokyo wake me around 2am. He stops on a hill in Rappongi.
Driver-guy buys us water and Snicker bars from a vending machine, unloads
our packs onto the sidewalk, refuses our money, and then sails off.
Leaving us, alone, in
Tokyo. Sara tells us, "Driver-guy was going to
visit his parents about 2 hours outside of
Tokyo--but he couldn't leave
us in the middle of the night on the highway, not Americans, definitely
We deserve a beer. Toasting our giant Asahi's to driver-guy, in the
empty Milwaukee Bar, laying on vinyl couches, listening to "Rock Around
the Clock" - if Karaoke dude could see us now, exhausted, famished,
and most importantly, in Tokyo. It might have taken us 16 hours to hitchhike
250 miles of Japan (the fastest moving country in the world) but we
made it. The three of us raise our glasses in a toast, to ourselves.