Hitchhiking in Japan is fun! The Tokyo story in words and pictures

     Had a great time hitching to Tokyo from Ueda, which is about 200km away. It was easy, interesting, free, good for my Japanese and a nice story. How could anyone pass it up?
     I waited only a few minutes in Ueda when a woman stopped, but she was going the wrong direction. (I only mention it because it isn’t rare that women stop for me.) Another few minutes later a guy I know, Daisuke, picked me up. He didn’t know I was in Japan, so he was surprised. He had this look on his face the whole time.
     I love this picture below. This guy took me next. I was standing at the end of the service area (the highway rest area with a ton of clean facilities such as a big restaurant, numerous souvenir and snack stands, gas station, etc.) and he skidded to a halt. The guys working at the gas station must have been as surprised as I was. I don’t see these cars often on the road, and hipsters like this, when would I ever have contact with them? It is the miracle of hitchhiking. Know the name of this car? It’s a Nissan Fairlady. No joke! He asked, “Is it OK to drive fast?” Yes sir!

     Above is a sign in a smoking area and below is a map of the Tokyo area traffic for commuters showing traffic delays. Miyoshi is at the last big parking area before Tokyo. As a hitchhiker you need to know what you are going to do from here. Japanese drivers, too, want to know exactly where you are going because they don’t want to get stuck driving you out of their way if they don’t intend to, and sometimes they feel obligated to no matter how much you try and convince them that you will be OK.
     Tokyo has a unbelievably complicated transport system as you’d expect from such a huge megalopolis. (What’s the statistic? 30 million people live within a 50km radius of the Imperial Palace?) The zenith of this is the elevated city highway system. All of Bangkok’s highways are elevated, which can make for quite a sight, but Tokyo’s makes it look quaint by comparison. It feels like you are in a video game or a science fiction movie.

     But this time at Miyoshi there was some construction, a new side exit for cars AND police all over checking papers. All of this meant I couldn’t hitchhike. Instead, I had to hustle rides from the parking lot. I dislike doing this in any country for various reasons, but at least I can speak a form of hitchhiking Japanese and I know how to submissively approach people.
     I profiled the people coming out and I approached a couple of young guys that looked like good candidates, but they were on a bus. 10 minutes later they came back and said that they had asked the teacher on their bus and he said I could go with them to Shinjuku, right in the middle of town. Yes!
     They were 30 Keio University students, all studying international tax, on their way back from a “study trip” to Shigakogen. When I heard that, I called them liars (it’s a very mild thing to say in Japanese, really!) and they admitted that it was indeed a weekend of drinking. I was surprised so many pretty girls study international tax. The comely girl in the middle of the photo specialized in Dutch tax. She asked if I had been to Holland and if I could speak Dutch. “Of course!”, I said (That coughing sound you hear is from my Dutch friends.) She gazed boldly into my eyes with more seriousness than I was expecting and pleaded, “Teach me Dutch!”
     It’s easy to get anywhere from Shinjuku as it’s the busiest train station in the world (3.6 million passengers a day). Changing trains and running around Shinjuku and Shibuya train stations on a Saturday night is something everyone on this planet should see once. It’s hectic beyond belief, and the people are dressed in ways I can’t describe. Young Japanese are nothing if not fashionable, and in the high heat and humidity, let’s just say it was quite a show.

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