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.
I mostly hitchhike not to save money (well… except in Japan 😉 ), 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.
Let’s get back to that gas station… because it was the biggest one I’ve ever seen! I was quite 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 to entertain himself. 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!
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.