Hitchhiking in Japan (16)

Hitchhiking Culture Japan

If I would have to reward the best hitchhiking country, then I would choose Japan. Of course you can not do that objectively and this would be a political decision, like Obama got the Nobel Peace Price. Hithhiking in Japan is awesome! What really impressed me, was the politeness of the japanese people and this article is also a way to say thank you for all the people that picked me up. I am happy about this experience. Had no expectation and got surprised.

Stats

Hitchhiked distance: 4711 kilometer

Number of lifts: 79

Average waiting time: 11 minutes 36 seconds

Waiting time total: 15 hours 17 minutes

Log you can find here, as always.

Some comment about the stats. I had to wait once around 6 hours at a gas station, more or less hitchhiking, eating, chatting, until I met two japanese hitchhikers who found a ride for us. I did not take this waiting time into the statistics. Yes I faked it, haha! I want to admit this openly. It has a purpose, because this time would change the average waiting time and would not represent the real Japan, how I experienced it. A first-class hitchhiking country.

And in difference towoards my other logs, we have been hitching around in a team (F&M) most of the distance.

My Route

I started my hitchhiking trip in Tokio, went to Matsumoto, Tokio again and then down to Tokushima. We made a round on Shikoku island and visited Okayama on our way back to Tokyo.

Second expedition lead up to Aomori and back down to Tokio, while as we were visiting several onsens and exploring some mountain roads on our way back. Basically I was hitchhiking through all mainland of Japan.

Japanese people – Your hitchiking friends

It is really hard to imagine, that there would be another place in the world, where the people are as polite as in Japan. Politeness and feeling comfortable have a very crucial position in social interaction in Japan. For example: If you sleep somewhere in front of an entrance and people come the next morning, because they need to go to work. They would excuse themselve for passing by, because they have to go to work. They would never shout at you. Typical japanese.

While hitchhiking through Japan, of course, I had some awesome experiences. There is no coutnry in the world where people stopped as fast as here. Two reasons: On the one hand the politeness and friendly nature towards strangers, but also curiosity about you as a person. I think Japan is a very secluded country and they are happy to get some fresh impressions from outside. Therefore you should learn some japanese! I totally failed that mission and feel a bit pity about it. I think as a matter of respect towards the people you should have some language skills, because they are really happy, if you can tell them a little bit out of your traveller life.

Once we got 100€ as a present from our drivers. Just because. My hitchhiking partner said, that she was giving chocolate as a present to the drivers for a while, but it turned out, that people gave tons of stuff back to her. Something about the culture, if you receive a present, you give something back. For her it was a bit awkward, because the people gave too much and she stopped giving away chocolate.

If you ask me: Is hitchhiking in Japan dangerous? I would say: “Hell, no!” It might be one of the safest countries to hitchhike in. Even as a solo female hitchhiker you won’t have much issues of people harrassing you in this Japan. People in general are very careful, in means they care about you. Sometimes they might even take you, because they think something is wrong and they don’t get, that you hitchhike.

Japanese people did not really understand the basic principle of hitchhiking, which is: They go their way and give you a ride for a part of this way. No need to do detours. We don’t need detours. But japanese people do this all the time. Sometimes they drive 1,5 hours to your destination and if you ask them, where they go now, they point out a place 15 minutes from where they picked you up. Damn.

Without speaking japanese, those coincidences are hard to avoid. All in all a bit too friendly, but not a disadvantage for hitchhiking at all. Still I don’t feel very good with it. Btw.: The first time this happened while being with two japanese hitchhikers and hour driver paid 50€ toll fee, while doing a 1,5 hour drive to the place we had to go. So it is not just a phenomen which is related to foreigners.

Beside that I want to say, that Japan has a very young japanese hitchhiking community. I found several times other hitchhikers (all male) at the gas stations. Every time equipped with a sign. ALWAYS! Very well dressed as well. Made a good impression to me. Very likeable generation of hitchhikers, that is carrying out pioneers work for making hitchhiking in Japan more popular.

I got different explanations for this. There is a tv-series in Japan. Some team which is hanging out at the airport in Tokio and waiting for travellers to come out of the airplane and escort them. This series is very popular. And there is some girl, which is travelling with hitchhiking through the country and using couchsurfing. And if the japanese people see this they get totally intrigued.

A second reason: It is relatively hard to get cheap from A to B. There are trains, but those are expensive. Japanese has a very active ans superb underground music scene. I assume, that many musicians might travel with hitchhiking from as well. Once I got picked up by a young lady, who said, that she listened to a radio show of some musician and he said he is hitchhiking and that was the reason, why she picked me up. It is definitely very exciting what is happening in Japan at the moment.

Little sidenote, which I found very special in Japan: There are many female truckers and they also stop sometimes, to give you a ride.

Japanese Roads

Japan has an almost perfect highway system. Most of the country (except Hokkaido) is easily accessable through the expressways. An there you got THE infrastructure for hitchhiking. So called SA&PA (Service & Parking Areas). On the parking areas you got only some vending machines and toilettes sometimes. The service areas are much bigger most of the time, with gas stations, shopping malls and sometimes even swimming pools. Especially around Tokyo you got service areas that feel like a wellness spa for hitchhikers. Bakery, supermarkets, free Wifi, Toilette, little shops and massive traffic. But hey, I have never been on a SA or PA in Japan, where I was afraid to get stucked. They all work.

The normal japanese road is first of all: Tight and narrow. Sometimes we got rides with people that could not go on the Expressway, because it is too expensive and we had to give our lifes into the navigation system. It felt like a bad joke at some points, because we entered those really really small roads. Sometimes even missing the raod, because it looked like a gateway to a house. I never have seen anything like this. When I complained about Colombia and Chile because of the missing keeping area, so I have to say, that I was happy in Japan, if there was a keeping area at all. Same for the Expressways btw. Sometimes they totally forgot the emergency line. I think this is the biggest problem, while hithchiking in Japan: Space for stopping.

Beside that there is a second deficit. The locomotion is very slow. The tempo limit in the Expressway is usually 100 km/h. If you move on the country roads, you mostly do 50-60 km/h. Fortunately Japan is not very big and you just need 2-3 days to go across the whole main island. But if you move on the small roads, be prepared for an exciting tour!

Btw.: What venice for bridges…..oh no, stop. What Hamburg for bridges (Hamburg has the most bridges in all Europe. 2.486, more than Venice, Amsterdam and London together) is Japan for tunnel. There are so many tunnels in Japan. Unbelievable. Everywhere in the country. I guess there are far more tunnels than Expressways. Definitely a marked characteristic.

The bridges are also very scenic. I mean, I was impressed when I crossed through the US by the Golden gate Bridge, Brooklyn Bridge and some other constructions I crossed. But honestly, against japanese Engineering the US look like a developing country to me!

Especially about Tokio:

Hitchwiki says Tokio is not hitchable. I mean, it is true that you have NO SPACE AT ALL on the onramps. But hitchhiking  in Tokio works anyway. Awesome good, I have to say. I hitched three times on the Expressway from Tokyo and I waited not longer than 5 minutes. The second time I even got picked up together with two japanese hitchhikers that where waiting there with their signs. I mean, if the locals do it?

In Tokyo you got onramps that suck and you got onramps that REALLY suck (f.e. Shibuya in direction Nagano first entrance). I can not really recommend to hitch out there. I mean, it works. But it feels not right. Also I got send away by the police once.

Tactics for hitchhiking in Japan

Japanese hitchhikers use signs. If you know me, you know that I never do that. But I would recommend to follow this tradition n Japan. Maybe it also stops the drivers to do long detours for you, cause they know where you go and don’t stop, if it is off the track. Names/Signs of destinations is absolutely enough. Like in Europa. No need for complicated messages on your sign.

Keeping area is a big big problem, but you get picked up anyway. But I have to say, that this keeping areas are very important for people in Japan. Much more than in other countries I have crossed. Several times cars stopped up to 500m behind you (!) because they couldn’t figure out, where to stop. Once a guy walked back and approached me 5 minutes, after they passed by, coming back to get me into the car. Japanese people are very determed, if they decide to take you. I thought this is a outstanding quality!

Remember: Every car that passes by is a potential ride, even if they don’t stop! It happened so often, that people turned around and came back, 10-15 minutes after they passed by, because they thought about it and wanted to pick us up. For that reason stay charming and happy, even if nobody stops. All potential rides! If they stop at the horizon and turn on the emergency lights, it is a sure sign, that they give you a ride. And don’t worry, they wait!

Country roads are recommended for hitchhiking., Super easy. Super fun. But very slow locomotion.

About Expressways:

Every onramp has a toll station, so called Interchange (IC). You are not allowed to cross them by foot. I tried it several times and got icked out by the employees. But you can stand in front of those tations, that is not a problem at all!

About service areas:

Usually I would walk to the end of a service area and position myself behind the gas station (which are usually at the very end in Japan) at the beginning of the onramp. Several times people approached me and told me to take position much further in front of this in the middle of the parking area cause there would be ‘more space’. I mean, yeah, it doesn’t make sense objectively. But if you want to be a japanese style hitchhiker, you should take position in the middle of the service area. Or just out of politeness.

If you want to get out of Tokyo you can simply use Google Maps as it includes all Bus and Train routes and gives you also the cheapest price, to get to your destination. It is very simple and very helpful. In general that is a great way to navigate in Tokyo. You life will be improved, if you don’t need to sit for hours in front of the metro plan, to figure out, where to leave the train.

If you want to hitch into Tokyo, it is worth to have a look at the signs on the number plate. Just find out, how the district you want to go is written and scout out the right cars at the parking areas near the city. Usually you can see with the first two signs, where they go. If you don’t know, just ask some local to help you out. People showed me what cars I should look for several times, without me even asking for it.

Japan has a very young and sensible hitchhiking. Compared to the US, where people put hitchhikers on the same step as criminals or mental sick people, people in Japan have no fear at all to pick someon up. Hitchhiking and hitchhikers as well are perceived positively! No prejudices! This is a fucking unique situation which can’t be valued high enough folks!

Once a young woman turned around to pick me up and she said, she passed by, then called her boyfriend and asked him, if she should pick me up. He said: „Yes, go for it!“ and she returned to give me a ride. Anything more to say?

Be as polite as possible if you hitchhike in Japan, that this positive vibe will be preserved and the country can rise as a great hitchhiking nation! Don’t fuck this up, it is so precious!

Impressions

Specifics

Dumpster Diving works in Japan. They have so much ready to eat food, which they throw away every day. Trashwiki says that the 100-Yen-Store is good for this, but the stores I checked had locked dumpsters (they have special little sheds for the trash in Japan): Better choice might be the Family Marts! We had the most succes from all convenient stores in Japan at this ones. Around 10 they might clean the old food. Be there, observe and enjoy. If you find something, it will be awesome much and delicious.

Japan has a stunning bathing culture which is absolutely worth to explore. You got Onsens and Sentos. Onsens are like hot-springs, while as Sentos are public baths with heated water. There are several places with free outdoor Onsens, but this needs to be investigated. Btw. Being in an Onsen has a specific style: You first wash yourself, before you go into the hot swimming pool! Also there is a sauna most of the time. Beside Syria and Turkey Japan is my most favourite country in case of washing yourself.

The japanese kitchen is awesome and was a positive suprise to me. There is almost nothing, that I don’t like (except Natto which looks like slimy bit of snod). Beside Ramen there is Udon and Soba, which you should eat cold. But you can also try Tempora (deep fried…..stuff) and raw fish. In the supermarket you get some croquettes made with potatoes or meat. They are cheap and filling. Also the bakerys are very good. Best food since 1,5 years that I had in Japan!

Internet without provider might be difficult in the first sight in Japan. You have free Wifi everywhere but most of the time it requires registration and a official number to use it for free (1 day or 2 weeks sometimes). But there are other ways to get online. Almost every convenience store has Internet (Family Mart, 7Eleven and Lawson [Lawson is the best!]). Starbucks is also a good spot to go. If you hitchhike on the country roads, you can ask people to drop you there. Btw. McDonals has no Internet but plugs. Somteimes you also might find public open Wifis.

Not worth a note, but anyway: In Japan they drive on the left side. Keep that in mind, if you plan your route and watch out for Service Areas and hitchhiking spots.

Between the north and the south is a huge climate difference. When we went to Shikoku island, there where pleasent 20° and spring time, while as two weeks later in the north was still heavy snow and in Hokkaido you even could make an iglo. Japan is big and the climate divers.

So, if you want to hitchhike in Japan, just do it and enjoy! It is gonna be a great experience!

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