2009 trip

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Yoyogi Park

Tokyo Dive




Nuts & Bolts


Northern Japan Hitchhiking Story--Pages from the Journal
As a point of reference, virtually no one goes to Aomori-ken. It is one of the poorest prefectures in Japan, a backwater where land lies fallow and no foreign tourists visit. And no one hitchhikes in Japan, either.

Norio and the world's cutest kid
     Very interesting day; the hitchhiking had a few surprises. I went to visit Norio, a great man and a Servas host whom I met 5 years ago. At the time he introduced me to two great things from Japan that makes me forever indebted to him: edamame (young soybeans) and the TV show, "Susunu Denpa Shonen", which was the only reality show worth watching.
      Norio lives in Hachinohe now, but I was to meet him an hour north in Noheji and then we were to go another hour north to his parent's place in Mutsu, just about the farthest north you can get in mainland Japan, in Aomori-ken.
      I told him days ago I would be in the Noheji train station at noon. Morioka to Noheji is probably 200-250km to the north and in any other country it would be preposterous to suggest such an appointment time and presume to get there by hitchhiking--but not Japan. I was 30 minutes late for reasons that were funny to both of us, so he wasn't upset.
      I got a ride from the Morioka interchange to a service area with an older couple, and then I really scored, quickly getting a ride about 120km north to near Hachinohe. I was left in a strategically bad place, and I knew it, so I decided to go on back roads for the rest of the way. I could go 20km west to Towada-shi and then 30km north to Noheji. Easy.

      A woman in a tiny car stopped. I asked if she was going to Towada and she said yes, but I made the mistake in this case to say I was continuing on to Noheji. This flummoxed her. She couldn't comprehend it for some reason and she thought about it for a long time on the side of the road before she agreed to take me.
      Not far along, she drives away from the main road. I ask again if she is going to Towada and she said yes, but she keeps asking me how I'm going to Noheji and where in Towada I want to go. Even though everything conversed was in Japanese, I know I can speak hitchhiking Japanese well enough to be understood, but she kept looking at her cell phone and slowing down to talk it over to herself while I implored her to keep going, that anywhere in Towada would be fine. In the meantime I was wondering what we are doing on this back road.
      After another round of slow driving and looking at her cell phone for no reason and pulling over again to talk things over, I snapped. Normally I accept that it is a great privilege and honor that someone let's me in their car for a free ride, but in this very rare case, I thought I might go berserk. I got out of the car, said "Arigato", and fumed to myself. She followed in her car and tried to engage me as I walked ahead on the road, but I ignored her and she eventually turned around and went away.
      I walked ahead to a lonely intersection, not sure where I was or which way to go. I threw out the thumb and in a couple of minutes a man in a van stopped for me. He was going to Misawa, sort of on the way. As is common when I hitchhike, we did this kind of dance where he asks questions in his halting English and I answer in my halting Japanese. But a couple of minutes into it he says, "Please, you teach my daughter English....10 minutes, OK?"
     If I was witty at the time I might have said something like, "Although I am indeed a tremendous educator, to teach your daughter the English language in 10 minutes is a Herculean challenge--I'll need a minimum of 15", but it was so out of the blue that I only said, "Now?"
     He repeated his statement/question. I was going to be late for Norio, but I thought I could call him and it would be OK.
     I asked, "How old is your daughter?"
     He said, "17".
     I didn't say anything and I let him take me to his home. When we got there, as he was parking he said, "This is my house." And again, "This is my house", over and over like a lunatic.
     "What am I doing here?" I thought to myself.
     We walk through the front door, he leads me to the living room and there was his daughter studying English at a table. A place next to her was set up for me. The look on her face was funny to me; it didn't appear to be 100% surprise. It was as if the father told her, "OK, I'm going out to drive the backroads looking for an English-speaking hitchhiker to teach you for 10 minutes. Don't move."
      I played along. I sat right down and started teaching. I held up some bananas. "What are these?"
     "These is bananas."
     "No, these are...."
     Maybe she was petrified, for she could barely speak at all, and I felt bad that her little summer vacation was going to be spent right at this table studying English.
      I was brought drinks and snacks, made a phone call and was offered a spaghetti lunch. If I didn't have anywhere to go I could envision being offered a place to stay and I would have accepted.
      Nonetheless, I had the father drive me to the main road to continue on...

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