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Hitching through Japan Part I, 88 temple pilgramage of Shikoku

Hitching through JapanUpon hoping off the ferry and onto Shodo-Shima I went out by the roadside and stuck out a thumb. I was walking up a switchback that skirted the coast of the small hill island. As I was walking up the road a compacted Asian SUV stopped. It was only the second vehicle to [...]

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Hitching through Japan

Upon hoping off the ferry and onto Shodo-Shima I went out by the roadside and stuck out a thumb. I was walking up a switchback that skirted the coast of the small hill island. As I was walking up the road a compacted Asian SUV stopped. It was only the second vehicle to pass me and I was not prepared for such a quick ride. I walked to passenger side door and stammered something in unsteady Japanese and pointed up the road in the direction that I was going. “I desu ka?” I ask the driver if it was all right for me to get in.

It was all a go.

So I hoped in and we took off down the eastern flake of Shodo-Shima: a small holy island in the Sea of Japan between Honshu and Shikoku.

Not knowing too well the social setting behind hitching in Japan, I kept my face in my Japanese-English dictionary and tried hard to keep talking to the driver in battered Japanese- mostly so that he would not ask me questions that I could not understand.

It turned out that he was the captain of the ferry that I just rode across from Honshu and he watched me walk right off the boat and up the road.

“Mercy ride I take thee” I think to myself. It seems that hitching is so easy in Japan because Japanese people seem to think that no other Japanese person will pick up a hitchhiker. So they feel obliged to do it themselves; because they know that if they don’t then nobody will. So, therefore, it is a work of pure beautiful irony that the hitchhiker finds themselves riding.

The Sea Captain asked me where he could drop me off and I did not know. I was planning on just curling up in the woods somewhere and sleeping with the crickets. So I just pointed to the side of the road and told him that it was fine to let me out anywhere. Not possible. I was in the poor Captain’s vehicle and therefore was his charge…and his problem. Not quite knowing what to do I muttered “bus stop” and implied that I would just take a bus. Although we both know that no bus would come, it was a way in which the Captain could ease his mind of the situation- he did not just leave me untended and homeless by the harbor, but at a bus stop where I would be the responsibility of the bus company and, therefore, be alright. It worked.

The Captain stopped on the side of the road just where I wanted him to and I got out, bowed several times, said a bunch of thank yous, and was off to find a nice little nook to camp down in.

I was feeling real free as night was coming down and I was walking down the concrete boardwalk that went along the harbor. The first ride of a new country is always cherished. It is absolute vindication that it is possible to hitchhike; that people will pick you up. It feels real good and makes you smile upon tomorrow.

I noticed little deserted tramp fire-spots on the little beach below the boardwalk. So I hoped down and figured it to be sleep-able. “Hell, if there are signs of other tramps slying up here that it must be alright.

So I found a clear little place next to log near an extinguished fire and just sat there digging the absence of motion after a day of travelling. I just sat there taking in all that was around me and, feeling real satisfied, I broke into my little dinner of cheese and bread- my usual road fare.

After gobbleing down my little meal I looked out over the harbor and saw the quiet green, red, yellow lights of some pachinko parlor and little more but the moon in the clear, clear night with Orion my only companion. I then laid out my tarp upon the sand and my sleeping bag on the tarp, got in, snuggled up into a ball and prepared to sleep.

The cold night just got colder and I soon found myself blue lipped and shivering. But there was nothing that I could do. I tried to get up and walk away the cold but it was no use. I was penetrated through by coldness and there was naught else to do but just accept it. So I just walked down to the closed, but still brightly lighted, pachinko parlor just to do it; walking and thinking of the events of the day, what my mother was doing in NY, night skies. I was now just attempting to walk myself tired as it was only around ten and I was riding for most of the day- busses, trains, the ferry, the Captain’s truck- and therefore had a days worth of energy stored up in me.

I walked through the little closed up harbor town and found a wooden picnic bench in the small deserted public square. I sat on it, leaned with my elbows on my knees, watched a ferry boat come in and just thought those special unforced thoughts that just come when there is nothing more to think about. What a glorious, glorious night. I forgot about the cold.

After walking around the town some more I soon returned to my camp and got into my sleeping bag again. I just look at the moon and shivered the night through. I slept a little only to wake up around three. This has to be the worst time to wake whilst on the sly in the cold. Not only is it the coldest part of the night but you just know that the sun will rise with all its’ warmth soon and you find yourself waiting for it; always looking up to the east rather than easing back to sleep.

Filed under: Hitchhiking, Japan, Religion

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3703 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

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