Hitchhiking in Japan with Mr. Fuji
So I was standing on the side of the road in the mountains of Japan’s Shikoku Island in the middle of spring 2004. I was hitch-hiking the 88 temple Kabo Daishi pilgrimage, and a mini-van nearly ran me over as it quickly stopped to offer me a lift. I was not in any position to be overly critical about a particular driver’s navigational ability, as I needed a ride on to the next temple. So I jumped into the van and introduced myself to the driver.His name was Mr. Fuji, and was a middle aged Japanese man with long bushy eyebrows that stuck up out of his forehead like butterfly antennae. He was a really short man and could not have been 5 ft tall, as he has to really stretch to push on the pedals- and this he could only do with the tips of his toes. But Mr. Fuji seemed friendly enough, even though my attempts at conversation fell a little fallow. So I remained silent as we tore back onto the highway and through the beautiful mountains of Shikoku.
50, 60, 70, 100, 130- the speedometer needle continued to rise. We were now flying along the mountain highway at nearly 140 km per hour on the wrong side of the road! Mr. Fuji seemed undaunted about passing other vehicles on hairpin turns and unafraid to push an oncoming car onto to the shoulder to avoid an eminent head-on collision. I was in shock- I have been in crazy rides before, but never with a middle-aged, proper looking Japanese man! We continued on like this through the mountains, as Mr.Fuji began grunting loudly and slapping himself in the face.
“I Desu Ka?”- are you alright?- I tentatively asked, as I was fearfully peaking from the road to my driver who was in some sort of agony. He just continued grunting and slapping himself. I checked my seatbelt and looked out the side-view window at the cliff falling sharply below us.
Mr. Fuji then floored his van as he swerved across the oncoming lane of traffic and grindnd us to a halt just outside of a roadside rest-stop. He then jumped out of the driver’s seat and ran full speed into the bathroom.
A few moments went by, as I sat in the van with little clue what I should do. I was pondering making a break for it when Mr. Fuji returned with a Coca-Cola in hand, which he promptly presented to me as a gift once he climbed back into the van. I took his gift joyfully, and we chatted good-heartedly as we re-entered the highway.
Mr. Fuji was now a prime example of the tame-driving, polite talking, Japanese man that I have met all up and down his country.
When nature calls . . .
Wade from Vagabond Journey.com
December 4, 2007