The Day I Hitchhiked to Tokyo

I really enjoy hitchhiking. I hitchhiked for the first time in Iceland on the Ring Road when I was 19. Now, 5 years later, I always try to do some when I visit a country – at least one ride.ย 

I mostly hitchhike not to save money (well… except in Japan ๐Ÿ˜‰ ), but to meet the drivers, to force the unpredictable and to spice up the backpacking routine.

Hitchhiking in Japan

So I was in Nagoya and needed to go back to Tokyo. I didn’t have a JR Pass and felt it was time to try hicchi haikingude (as they say!). I am always anxious between the time I decide to do it and the first ride. To force myself not to run away, my trick is just to tell everyone that I’m going to hitchhike to Tokyo. I would look quite stupid if I didn’t go after all, uh?

After the hitchwiki ritual, there I was in Nagoya’s subway to go as far as possible and get closer to the highway – I ended up on Toyota City’s main square where a traditional Japanese drums concert was about to start. “A good omen” I was telling myself; I couldn’t really go back, anyway. I took another train from there to go further, and this time, ended up in the middle of nowhere with only one car in the horizon. “I am not prepared yet to approach them and ask for a ride, I need some more time to be in the mood”, I was thinking. But then I heard the engine.

The first ride

I realised that they were the only human-beings around; so I ran. I ran to them with my sign high in the air and asked if they could bring me to the nearest gas station. Luckily, they spoke perfect English and told me that, of course, they would bring me to the highway! They were very helpful and were going out of their way to drop me to the gas station.

If I put things in perspective: they had no idea I existed 2 minutes ago until I popped in front of them, they had no obligation to help me and even did more than expected! Looking at how I was overthinking, I felt a bit stupid but, eh, that’s how you learn! It is actually a principle I try to live with: you can’t predict the unpredictable.

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My first driver and his father

 

Let’s get back to that gas station… because it was the biggest one I’ve ever seen! I was quiteย confused on how I should behave, but I was prepared: I learned a bunch of sentences introducing myself and what I was doing. Anyway, hicchi haikingude is pure trial & error: I first tried to stand at the entrance of the gas station, then went to speak directly to people going out from the mall complex, then stood at the exit or spoke to the people about to leave.

What was the best strategy eventually? I think none. I was still stuck and receiving the harsh (I deliberately use that word, comparing to my former hitchhiking experiences) refusal of the Japanese. Anyway, it’s quite normal when you ask for a ride.

How not to lose hope?

You just need to be patient and… at some point, something will happen. Between 2 refusals, I would rehearse my intro, laugh by myself or pray to get a ride within the next 3 cars.

A few hours later, a truck driver finally opened his door! And guess what? He was going straight to Tokyo! He was really friendly and, spoiler alert, even offered to pay for my accommodation in Tokyo (I obviously refused). Unfortunately, our conversation was limited as we couldn’t really communicate… so I observed what a Japanese truck driver can do toย entertain himself.ย The whole ride, the driver alternatively focused on 4 things: his Japanese drama on a small screen, his fantasy football league on a tablet, his can of beer on a cup holder and, last but not least, the (beautiful) road!

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Hicchi haikingude is not easy; you need time, patience and perseverance. But most of all, you need the right mindset: hitchhiking is not a free ride. It’s a human encounter, it’s running into someone you would have never met, it’s seeing a total stranger opening the door to help you out, and it’s definitely restoring faith in humanity.

41 thoughts on “The Day I Hitchhiked to Tokyo”

  1. I have to say, that I think you’re very brave to hitchhike. Maybe as a woman I would never feel safe, especially alone, but as a male, I guess you have no trouble. So right about connecting with humanity though; I felt the same trying Couchsurfing, and I thought that was semi risky!

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    1. Thank you Lisa! You are right, never felt really in danger when I hitchhiked (maybe one time, but eventually everything was fine!) but the good thing is that I meet more and more solo females who hitchhike too ๐Ÿ˜‰ CS is great, and actually it’s the same mindset to have: to be willing to share and meet a local and not just to have a free accommodation!

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  2. This is such an interesting topic! I have never hitch hiked or picked up a hitch hiker before. Having been to Iceland’s ring road, I feel like that would actually be a really good place to try it out. Partly because I felt like most people on the ring road are tourist so they are also traveling so you would have that in common. And because of how safe it felt in Iceland. I feel like hitch hiking in a big city would be much harder.

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    1. On top of that, the Ring Road is just a circle so quite easy to find your way and not to get lost ๐Ÿ˜‰

      And yes, indeed, I think the hardest part of hitchhiking is to leave a big city… I hitchhiked a bit in South Korea, and it was such a mess to leave Busan!

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  3. You know In all the years I’ve been traveling, especially as a solo budget traveler I’ve only hitchhiked a few times. However like you I’ve always had a great time doing it. I can imagine the Japanese being very friendly towards hitchhikers ๐Ÿ˜€ – Japan is a country I’ve not crossed off my list yet but it will be very soon (I hope haha) – this was a Really great read

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    1. Thank you!!! Yes the 2 that offered me a ride were so friendly!!! Just a bit frustrating for the last one because of the language barrier (and the time spent in the truck!)… Just read your post about language barrier actually and in that case, the best thing for me would have been to use Google Trad I guess ๐Ÿ˜‰

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    1. I can only encourage you to do so ๐Ÿ˜‰ Have good and colorful signs ready!!! And one last tip that I didn’t try but heard a lot; hitchhiking on Hokkaido Island is quite smooth!

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  4. Wow! That is so sweet of him to offer to pay for your accommodation but yeah, I find the Japanese are really super nice and thoughtful like that. Even simply asking for directions, they will go out of their way to walk you to where you need to go. They’re so sweet.

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  5. Haha, I love that attitude! I only hitchhiked once, it was in the countryside and there was no public transport around and it was in the middle of winter. A nice lady helped us get where we needed to go. In the country, people are more helpful because they know you have limited options. I am very surprised by the Japanese truck driver’s form of entertainment! I would have never expected that! Well, stay safe of the road!

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  6. I had the nerve to hitchhike when I was younger but probably wonโ€™t do it now without a companion. I love the term hicchi haikingude! What an incredible experience hitchhiking to Tokyo. I canโ€™t believe the truck driver who picked you up actually offered to pay for your accommodation too.

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  7. wow I have never hitchhiked before but I can imagine it would be a nerve wrecking experience. I’m so glad it went so well for you even after a couple of refusals. You did however lost me at the mention of the driver focusing on a screen, a tablet and a cup of beer?? Can’t believe he was doing this while driving! Lol I’m also glad you made it safely haha

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  8. Japanese people are extremely kind and polite though they are skeptical and don’t trust people easily, once you got to know them, they’re truly awesome people! Yay! That truck driver is cool and generous to offer you a free stay! But be careful tho, and while hitchhiking is fun to do, it also requires extra patience! X

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  9. I hitchhike regularly in Albania but never thought of doing this in Japan. Next time I’m visiting I would love to try it out. The people are so friendly, I guess the only difficulty would be trying to communicate with them.

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  10. I grew up in Australia and we were brought up with hitchhiking horror stories, so itโ€™s very difficult for me to break that mindset now that itโ€™s unsafe โ€“ but Iโ€™ve heard wonderful stories from people all over the world that itโ€™s a great way to keep your travel costs down, and meet cool locals as well. I think it would just come down to trusting your gut re safety.

    Love your strategy of publicly announcing your goal to force you to not back out โ€“ haha I do that with things too! Definitely I can see how language barrier and communication would be an added challenge to hitchhiking in another country โ€“ good plan to have prepared a couple of sentences before!

    Cool that you had a truck driver open his door ๐Ÿ™‚

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    1. Would be awesome if one day someone you trusts just embarks you on a hitchhiking journey ๐Ÿ™‚ I guess it’s easier to start as a pair!

      First time I ever heard about hitchhiking was from a guy who just hitchhiked a few cars to come where I was: I definitely had a positive biais on it from the very beginning ๐Ÿ˜‰

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