Hitchhiker’s guide to Japan (pt. 1)

Introduction to hitchhiking — Japan style

Hitchhiking can be a scary word but if there’s ever a perfect place to try it, it’s Japan. The people are friendly, the service stations are to die for and some of the best spots to wait are pretty damn gorgeous.

I spent 4 months hitchhiking around Japan from Tokyo to Kagoshima and back again and everywhere in-between with my partner B. We travelled 6705km, had around 25 lifts and made around 28 stops. It was, without a doubt, the best way to see Japan and get a real picture of what it’s like outside of the bright lights and late nights of Tokyo.

The hustle and bustle of Asakusa Temple in Tokyo

Hitchhiking doesn’t have a great rep in the Western world, partly due to horror movies and a big focus on ‘stranger danger’ but Japan is a very different beast. In this series, I’ll share a few tips and tricks to get the most out of it if you fancy giving it a go.

Safety first!

First thing’s first, be aware. Hitchhiking isn’t as scary as it seems but it’s important that you feel safe. This can be as simple as travelling as a pair, and remembering that you can say no to a lift you don’t feel comfortable about. Travel by day, with plenty of daylight hours left and remember to plan just a little ahead so you don’t get stranded in the sticks.

It’s also important to remember that a lot of people may be fearful of you too, but they’re in the power position. They can just not stop if they don’t want to. We met a lot of people who thought that Japanese people would be scared of us as strangers or generally being a bit fearful of foreigners. This is definitely a big myth. For every 20 cars that didn’t pick us up, 1 did, and they’re pretty good odds. People also stopped to give us food, talk to us and would apologize for not picking us up.

But where?

Some of the best places to hitchhike from are service areas on toll roads but they can be a bit tricky to get to. They’ll almost always need a bit of travel by local train or bus to get to and make sure you pick one you can get into on foot. This’ll give you the chance to travel fast on the toll roads without paying the toll fee. The Japanese will see you as being a guest in their car so it’s a bit insulting to offer money to help with this. Instead, offer a small gift, something from your home country or a personal token to say thank you for their generosity.

If you can’t get to a service area the next best thing is a konbini. These are convenience stores. Family mart, 7–11, Lawson. They’re all good. Not only are they the best thing in Japan if not the world, they should be your life source while in Japan. The food is awesome, hot or cold, the snacks are numerous, the booze is cheap and you can do pretty much everything you could ever need to in them. Pay bills, buy gig tickets, buy food, eat food, top up your phone, print stuff, scan stuff and even buy plane tickets(!). All this and they’re a great place to hitchhike from.

With both places, make sure you don’t block peoples ways and pick somewhere that you’re clearly visible and where people can pull over to pick you up without causing an accident.

If you can, get a sign with the direction and ideally the place you’re going to written in Kanji or kana at the very least. Make sure you add please as well (also in Japanese) and if you can ‘give us a ride’. For example, 東京、乗せて 下さい。

Once you’ve got the basics down, stick out your thumb and you’re good to go.

Freelance everything, London bound.

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