Have you ever wondered what it’s like to embark on a journey through the captivating landscapes of Japan, armed with nothing but your trusty thumb and a sprinkle of wanderlust? I’m here to share some of my most unforgettable hitchhiking stories from the Land of the Rising Sun.
Sendai to Aomori
To hitchhike in Japan is quite challenging. Considering that the entire country is highly urbanized with numerous highways, it becomes more difficult, and at times, even impossible, to flag down cars. The locals are unaccustomed to sharing their vehicles with strangers, and the language barrier further complicates things. However, I was determined to give it a shot. I came across information on the internet suggesting that the best approach is to take a few bus stops toward your destination and then attempt to catch a ride from the bus stop. Another option is to go to a nearby 7/11 (a local convenience store) parking lot near the highway and inquire there if anyone is heading toward your destination and can give you a lift.
We had a big laugh during our attempts to communicate. Kaori was bouncing in her seat while I attempted to introduce Lithuania solely using body language.
After walking several kilometers in circles in Sendai, trying to find a way to access the highway, I realized that it was impossible due to strict pedestrian restrictions. I resorted to approaching random cars near the exit tunnel and asking if they were heading to the highway and could drop me off at the nearest 7/11. Luckily, I came across some confused-looking construction workers who were leaving and agreed to help, albeit with uncertainty about my hitchhiking intentions. This started to concern me, but I remained optimistic that it might take longer but still work out.
The construction workers dropped me off at the shop’s parking lot, and that’s where the real challenge began. I had a few scenarios in mind: going inside the shop and asking people if they could give me a ride, waiting in the parking area for someone to come out, tapping on car windows of those already inside, or waiting near the parking exit for people leaving. “Alright, let’s set aside my shyness and get to work.” I entered the 7/11 but quickly realized that it would be awkward to approach people there, so I switched to plan B and started asking those who were already leaving. It’s important to note that hardly anyone spoke English, and they were unfamiliar with the concept of hitchhiking, making the situation more challenging.
Unfortunately, my initial attempts were unsuccessful. Most people didn’t understand what I was asking for, and some simply ignored me or appeared confused. It was time to move on to plan C. I approached a car where a couple was eating inside and tapped on their window. They didn’t speak English at all, but miraculously, they understood my gestures, map pointing, and acting skills. They agreed to give me a ride!
This fun journey taught me that language is not crucial when it comes to making friends, and true adventures often occur when you least expect them.
Kaori and her husband were heading to the northern part of Japan for a holiday. This region, especially Hokkaido, is known for its lakes and mountains, making it a popular destination for Japanese families to go camping or skiing during the winter. Communicating with the couple presented a significant challenge since we didn’t know each other’s languages. We relied heavily on Google Translate and even tried to communicate through charades. We laughed a lot during our attempts to understand each other. Kaori was jumping with excitement while I tried to convey information about Lithuania using only gestures. They even attempted to call their friends for translations, but we realized that relying on translations took away some of the fun.
The most memorable part of the journey was that we spent the entire time “talking” and laughing until our stomachs hurt, even though we didn’t understand a single word. At some point, I thought we might have to stop because it was becoming difficult to drive due to our fits of laughter.
The journey passed by quickly. When we arrived at their holiday town, they dropped me off at the train station so I could continue my journey to the ferry. When it was time to say goodbye, I saw Kaori in tears! This fun-filled journey reminded me that language is not essential for making friends, and real adventures happen when you least expect them.
Understanding someone’s emotions and feelings is far more important than understanding their language.