Mighty Aphrodite: Hitchhiking In Japan

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 theory.

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
. 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
. Sara tells us, “Driver-guy was going to visit his parents about 2 hours outside of
–but he couldn’t leave us in the middle of the night on the highway, not Americans, definitely not girls.”

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.

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