The Destination is not Important. It’s the Journey that Counts

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February 17th 2007
Published: August 9th 2007
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Nagasaki Peace Memorial ParkNagasaki Peace Memorial ParkNagasaki Peace Memorial Park

The famous blue statue at the Nagasaki Peace Park. His right hand points to the threat of nuclear weapons and his left hand extends representing eternal peace.
It all started as a telephone conversation on a cold and dreary Tuesday evening, when Lisa and I realizing we didn’t want to stay in Hiroshima for the long winter weekend. Our disposable cash flow was running low, putting us in quite the predicament. Times like this we wished we didn’t live in one of the most expensive countries in the world. Reviewing a map, our list of places to still-visit was short, and most locales were quite a distance away, involving lots of yen to get there. We made up our minds to go to Nagasaki, but how in the world would we get there without breaking the bank? Do as Jonathan would do- hitchhike! Indeed it was on my list of ‘Things to do Before Leaving Japan’ and would be a great adventure for the long weekend. By Friday I had lined up some contacts for accommodation and Lisa learned important hitchhiking kanji like ‘in the direction of ________.’ We packed some clothes, a pen, paper, and a guidebook with roadmaps. Apprehensively we set out on our journey. Read on and learn from our “Top Ten Tips to Hitchhiking in Japan.”

1. The hardest part is getting on
Hakata RamenHakata RamenHakata Ramen

Fukuoka's Famous Food. Oishikatta!
the expressway.
Lisa and I were told that once we were on the expressway at various service areas, hitching would be a piece of cake. My hitching guru Jonathan warned me that hitching out of Hiroshima was the hardest location for him. Great, it was our first attempt and we were already told it was hard. We positioned ourselves right next to a stop light, about 200 meters away from the onramp for the expressway. Standing there we realized we really had no idea what we were supposed to be doing. Then, well, we held up the sign, smiled really big, and hoped these techniques would take us somewhere. Our sign read ‘Fukuoka, or in that direction.’ We got a lot of funny stares and many Japanese people that tried to avoid my eye contact. Once eye contact is made you are halfway there. After 15 minutes a car with a young guy and his grandpa pulled over to the curb. My Japanese is bad and in a rushed situation even worse, so I called Lisa over. They said they were going to Osaka so could not take us to Fukuoka since it was in the complete opposite direction. Instead we asked them to drop us off near the tollbooth next to the expressway. That would put us as close as we could get without going on the actual expressway. They happily let us jump in the backseat. Lisa and I were over the moon. We had our first car! It only took us 15 minutes when it took Jonathan 3 hours. Not really knowing what we were doing, we must have been doing something right!

2. Avoid toll police
The Osaka-bound car dropped us off in the center of the ramp where we had a perfect location to attack any car coming from any direction onto the expressway. We gave them Canadian pencils as omiyage for helping us. We gave every driver kind enough to pick us up a small gift to say thanks. After 10 minutes at our new location we weren’t having too much luck. A few cars with young guys in them tried to persuade us to go with them to Osaka. As tempting as that was we had our hearts set on Nagasaki. We concluded that since Fukuoka was so far away, it hindered drivers from picking us up. We decided to hold
Poor RyotaPoor RyotaPoor Ryota

Our gracious driver happy to pose for a photo, pre-car accident!
up a new sign with a much closer location. We held up a new sign with Iwakuni written on it, only 30 minutes from Hiroshima. Within 5 minutes a car pulled over to the side! Victory- or so we thought. As we started running to the car, the toll police started to run towards us, hands waving in the air gesturing STOP! At first we tried to play stupid-gaijin pretending to speak no Japanese and looking dumbfounded. Then they asked for our Alien Registration Cards and realized we had been her for a year-and-a-half. We couldn’t play the stupid-gaijin role this time. We started to freak out because we didn’t know what they were going to do with us or if they were going to punish our gracious drivers. Lisa and I started to panic. Was our next stop going to be a free ride to jail? Things were not going that well and we had only been out there for 30 minutes! It turns out that the ramp leading up to the tollbooth is also considered the expressway. No pedestrians allowed there either. After writing down our names, they let us jump in the back of the car and

This is the guy that drove us all the way to Nagasaki
we were on our way to Fukuoka, not the nearest police station. Thank God! That would have been a short weekend.

3. Avoid Car accidents
The rest of the way to Fukuoka was easy-peasy. Our second car dropped us off at the Miyajima service area and within minutes we were picked up by a salaryman (equivalent to a businessman) traveling back to Shimonoseki. Then another man picked us up at the Shimonoseki service area, who said the best way to get into Fukuoka was by bus since the expressway is far from the city center. We hopped a bus from Kokura and by 8 were in Fukuoka! Destination 1 accomplished! We grabbed some famous Hakata Ramen at a food stall then headed to stay with our good friend Evania. The next morning we headed to the main train station, a recommendation by the guru as the best place to get picked up. There were no onramps in sight. We went to a hotel to get directions to the expressway. This was a smart move since they spoke English, knew the area, and had great maps. When asked how to get on the expressway, they asked ‘Where is your car?’
Church? Japan?Church? Japan?Church? Japan?

Oura Catholic Church. Due to the heavy Dutch influence in Nagasaki, one sometimes doesn't feel like they are in Japan
We said ‘We don’t have one.’ Then shock spread across their faces chiding us saying that hitching in Japan was so dangerous. This was a common reaction by most Japanese, including our teachers, friends, and locals along the way. Our friend Yoko thought she would never see us again. On the contrary, hitching in Japan is much safer and easier than in any other country in the world!

Taking the maps and directions to the best onramp, we were set out for another day of hitching. We again positioned ourselves next to a stoplight and bombarded the cars when the light turned red. A young guy pulled over and was happy to have two cute foreigners rolling with him in his car. He explained that the expressway was far out of the city and he was happy to drive us to a better location to flag down another car that would be getting on the expressway. Since getting on the expressway from large cities is so hard, experienced hitchhikers in Japan have dedicated websites on how to accomplish this hurdle. We could not believe how nice this guy was to drive completely out of his way to help us
Glover GardenGlover GardenGlover Garden

Boat House
get a free ride to Nagasaki. He tried to get as close as he could, putting us at the base of the tollbooth. We told him we could not stand there- getting our names written down twice in two days would not be good. In an attempt to turn around near the toll we got in a car accident! We thought that the toll police were bad, but this was indeed our worst nightmare. Lisa and I wanted to disappear in the backseat. We waited around for an hour with this guy for the police to come. We felt awful, immediately offering to help pay for the fender bender, but he refused. Of all people to get in a car accident with, we somewhat lucked out because he was a mechanic and said he could fix it quickly and cheaply. After an hour and half delay, we were dropped off on the road near the onramp. Something tells me that he was happy to have us out of the car, and even though we exchanged emails, I doubt we will ever here from him again!

4. Hitching is not for those in a hurry
We had a minor setback
Thirsty Anyone?Thirsty Anyone?Thirsty Anyone?

Something tells me this water fountain wasn't made for humans...
in our travels. It was already 12:30- our estimated arrival time in Nagasaki. Although driving in a car is much faster than taking the bus or train, when hitching your travel time depends more on who is picking you up. In our case, what little hurdles one must cross as well! Hitchhiking is not for those in a hurry. It is an awesome way to meet some fun people and a great way to get some good stories. Even though it may take you a bit longer to get there, it’s the journey that counts, not the destination…

5. Never underestimate the generosity of a Japanese person
After a short break hiding behind a rice field allowing time for the police to pass, Lisa and I were back to getting to Nagasaki, our esteem a bit shaken after the car accident. The time we waited to get the next car was the longest we had to wait- 25 minutes. This lovely old mad picked us up and said he would drive us to the junction on the expressway. At the junction service area Lisa and I went to sit on the curb to pull out our sign and begin the process all over again. Within seconds of sitting without our sign in hand a man in a car pulls up with the window down asking us where we were going. He said he could take us as far as Saga. Sweet! This would put us an hour from Nagasaki! This guy was one of the nicest guys around. We think he picked us up so he could practice his English with us, which was already very good. We spoke English the entire time. We think Sasaki-san had a fair amount of money since he was so well traveled. When we got to Saga, he told us he had some time and would drive us all the way to Nagasaki! We couldn’t believe how generous he was to drive us so far out of his way! Upon arriving in Nagasaki he dropped us off at Glover Garden. We asked him to come with us or if we could buy him some food but he declined, saying he had to get to Saga. This guy drove 2 hours out of his way and paid the expensive toll, no questions asked or favors expected. We couldn’t believe it. It was awesome.

That afternoon we saw the sights of Nagasaki. It is a beautiful port city with heavy Dutch and Chinese influences. That night we met up with our friends Hayden and Meg and drank way too much beer over the course of the evening. The next morning we were up early headed to the Nagasaki Peace Memorial Park. Nagasaki was the second city to have an atomic bomb dropped on it during WWII. The park and museum were similar to the ones in Hiroshima. We were both a bit biased and more fond our hometown attractions. Still, it was a wonderful albeit depressing morning.

6. Be accepting of any car at any time.
It was around 12:30, time to get on the road. Using our trusty LP map as our road guide, we were headed to the mouth of the expressway. Walking along the street to get to the entrance, Lisa decided to flash our Shimabara sign at a small car with two young Japanese guys in it. They looked at each other, gestured ‘what the hell’ and before we knew it Lisa and I were piling into the back of their tiny car. Never underestimate where your next car will come from! These guys were absolutely fabulous! Like Sasaki-san, they drove us completely out of their way, all the way down to Shimabara where we were to catch a ferry to Kumamoto. The conversations we had were so fun. We had a great time laughing with them and listening to their punk music. It was a great way for Lisa and I to practice our Japanese. When we arrived in Shimabara the guys requested if they could stop at a convenience store. Apparently when we pulled them over they had just rolled out of bed and hadn’t even brushed their teeth yet! Little did they know what they were getting themselves into when they picked us up! We treated the guys to the Shimabara castle and a late lunch at Joyful. What more fun to spend an afternoon than with two random white girls?

Since it would be literally impossible to hitch a ride with a freighter or speedboat across to Kumamoto, we bought tickets. We asked a Japanese lady which platform to go to in order to get to Kumomato and it turned out she was going to there as well. Before we knew it she was offering us a free ride to the center of the city. This was a big turn around in comparison to the first part of our trip! You never know where you are gonna get lucky or not. Your next ride could be anywhere.

7. Never be afraid to ask a stranger for a place to stay if is keitai email is ‘white day forever.’
Recently my new facebook has been couchsurfing. It is a great way to meet new people, have a guide for the city, and a free place to stay. I had never used the JET version called Tatami Timeshare. To save money on accommodation, I tried to contact people in Nagasaki/Kumamoto on both sites. Through Tatami Timeshare this guy in Nagasaki and I started ‘flirting’ online. He lived on an island so was no use for accommodation and would be traveling around Kyushu the whole weekend. We ended up exchanging itineraries, missing each other in Kumamoto City by a night. He was telling me that he had a good friend in Kumamoto that he was staying with. As sketchy as I am, I thought, ‘well, maybe Pat’s friend will let us stay with him?’ I thought it didn’t hurt to ask. Pat said Isaac would be down. When writing Isaac I said ‘Hi Isaac, I’m Pat’s frien….’ nope, couldn’t say Pat was my friend and deleted that. Second try ‘Hi Isaac, I know Pat….’ slightly more accurate! Isaac, whose email was whitedayforever@docomo, happily took us in. White Day is like Valentine’s Day in Japan. On Valentines Day girls give boys chocolate. On White Day, boys return the favor. A guy that has an email like that is definitely a keeper.

Isaac was awesome. One of the coolest people I have met in Japan. Similar to how Brian is a white guy trapped in a Japanese body Isaac is a Japanese guy trapped in a white body. He is officially Canadian, but has lived in Japan his whole life since his dad teaches at the University in Kumamoto. It was so bizarre for us to be with Isaac since certain things he did were so Japanese, when we expected him to be like us. Some English words and phrases were so foreign to him. For example, he asked ‘what’s water skiing?’ After a chill dinner and morning of exploring the castle, we bade farewell to Isaac telling him to visit us soon in Hiroshima. I am a huge advocate for Tatami Timeshare and Couchsurfing after my trip to Vietnam and this Nagasaki trip.

8. There is always room for one more
The next morning we were headed back to Hiroshima. Isaac helped us get to the expressway, again located far from the city center. We were easily picked up by a lady who seriously just wanted to have foreigner friends and went out of her way to get us on the freeway. At the service area 2 old guys picked us up and in no time were back in Shimonoseki. While eating a late lunch, Lisa strategically placed our Hiroshima sign on the table for possible cars to see and pick us up. A group of 4 guys saw our sign and were eager to take us, yet they only had one open seat in their car. 10 minutes later they came back and said they could take us. We get to the car and one of the guys was in the trunk with all their kendo stuff so we could sit in the backseat! We had a crazy roadtrip with them all the way back to Hiroshima singing 80’s songs and planning to break through the toll bar when we got off the expressway. This was out of control. I felt like I was on a family car trip. In addition to the insanity, one of the guys knew one of the English teachers at my school. Hiroshima gets smaller by the day. We are scheduled to go out together again sometime! At 9 pm we arrived at the same corner that we started out on in Hiroshima. We went full circle. Our adventure to Nagasaki was a success.

9. It’s a great way to practice your Japanese
Only one of our 12 drivers spoke English. We had to speak Japanese the entire time. It felt somewhat like sorority rush every time we got into a new car, exchanging names, interests and trying to look appealing so they don’t regret picking you up.

10. Hitching saves tons of money!
We saved over $200 (times 2) that weekend by hitching and using Tatatmi Timeshare. Not only was it cheap, it was honestly one of the most fun and exhilarating things I have done in Japan! I never want to pay for transportation again!

Eating the famous Nagasaki chowmein-like meal called Sarudon at the restaurant that claims they invented the dish.

Additional photos below
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Japan? China? Lil Chinese influence going on here!
Kanpai NagasakiKanpai Nagasaki
Kanpai Nagasaki

Our Nagasaki friends Hayden and Meg = good times out and a free place to stay!
Night OutNight Out
Night Out

Causing trouble...
Defacing the BarDefacing the Bar
Defacing the Bar

They will never forget us

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