Hiroshima to Kyoto (travel day 3) part two

Continuing the story from my ride with Mr. Isida.

——–

We arrived at the last service area he was going to go by on his way and he we spent a while scouting for cars with Kyoto or near licence plates. Since the first couple who picked me up I’d also noticed that 20-30s couples were both likely to give hitchhikers rides and provided good entertainment, as quite often the girl of the two spoke pretty good English while the guy worked the car.

Akko and Kaeko (hitch no. 9)

This theory held true as these (above) were the candidates that Isida-san and I found. They were happy to take me to Kyoto as they were headed that way home, their names are Akko and Kaeko.

It was only when Mr Isida asked me about my hostel did I realise that I didn’t have any pamphlets, any phone numbers or any idea where it was. I knew I’d booked the Japan-famous K’s House in Kyoto but didn’t know a damn thing else about it.

Akko came to the rescue and using her mobile-internet not only found the right hostel but called and asked about my booking and the location. I couldn’t help but fall asleep on our evening/night drive, although I tried my best to keep talking with Akko, she made some fantastic Japanese girl squeaking/general expressive noises.

We got slightly lost once in Kyoto but we eventually found our way. That’s them dropping me off in the photo just up there. Akko is holding a red crane I managed to make on the sly. Originally I’d planned to make and give one to everyone who helped me, as it happened I didn’t manage that at all. Hm.

Another day of hectic and ambitious hitching has landed me in Kyoto successfully! Combato! (@ K’s House) http://4sq.com/abNtY7Tue Jul 27 via foursquare

(you have no idea how long it took me to fix the broken twitter quote html Blackbird Pie just gave me)

I stumbled into the hostel – which really felt more like a big hotel/student dorm. It was super clean but a bit impersonal with the sheer number of people milling about. Large numbers of French people in fact, but that’s neither here not there.

As I said, it was more like a hotel, in fact not only do they have a big, big lounge/common room but a kitchen, laundry room and even a bar. The bar was my first point of call. Mainly out of curiosity – I’d by this point committed myself to spending no money unnecessarily, but the bar was too fancy looking to ignore.

Remember the time I said I met some Americans? Well here they are, or rather there they were, in the bar!

they, on the other hand, hand gone to Hello Kitty world

Friendly Americans - no car but good conversation and quite generous. Oh, and that is a hostel bar they are in. I know, right?

At this point I was unaware that I looked ridiculously weary.  I’d spent a lot of time in cars yes, but that massive walk/long time in the service station had taken its toll and I guess I smelled? Anyway they seemed pleased to see me and impressed with my story so far. The chap on the right there wandered off to his room while I borrowed the girl’s computer for email and that.

Sunburn update: feels like someone is blow-torching the back of my neck.Tue Jul 27 via Twitter for iPhone

Apparently I’d caught the sun.

He came back after a little time with a goodie-bag full of aspirin, paracetamol, anti-histamines, vitamins, protein brownies and fibre bars (god knows I needed them).

Look at all that stuff!

Those protein brownies are bloody, bloody delicious.

been given a Hello Kitty bag full of vitamins, analgesics and fibre/protein bars by a girl & guy I met back in Busan, people are wonderful.Tue Jul 27 via Twitter for iPhone

These items formed the rest of my dinner and breakfast for the next day, meaning that as I ate the free rice at the hostel for breakfast and lunch had been provided by kind Japanese ladies, I’d managed to spend £0 on food that day. In fact accommodation was my only expense. I was an awesome traveller in my eyes at that moment. The feeling was only slightly marred by my terrifying reflection I saw when I eventually did clean myself up and go to bed.

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Miyajima to Hiroshima (travel day two)

The next day I awoke feeling well rested which was just as well, I had a long day ahead. On my giant map of all of Japan, I reasoned that Miyajima and Hiroshima were perishingly close to each other and that I some of the shoreline I could see further up the coast was deffinately Hiroshima. I would walk there.

basically the same place anyway

I started strong with a sturdy stride and a spring in my flip-flops.

.

..

The flip-flops were the worst idea of my life (‘walking in Japan’-wise). While airy and springy (that was probably where most of the spring was coming from), they were also somehow magnifiers of the sun’s strength and had blister-enhancing technology. The entire ball part of my foot was aching half way there and by the time I had become delirious with heat, hunger and boredom of listening to the same audio book on my iPod*, I felt like I was walking on squishy pebbles.

At one point that sensation seemed to vanish in one foot, to be replaced by a slippery feeling and sharp pain, just letting me know that it had burst. For the rest of my time in Japan I was hobbling around, trying to simultaneously not put too much pressure on it, while walking it off. A month later (as I type) and not to labour the point, but they haven’t yet fully healed.

Back to the travel story – At the outskirts of Hiroshima I was having a little difficulty keeping my “follow the coastline” tactic. I found that trying to navigate with a clear map but when you are not sure exactly where you are, where you should be heading, have no clue as to landmarks, and can understand neither language actually written on the map in the blazing heat is not particularly easy.

Hiroshima city limits - if there's one thing to be said, it's that there are an awful lot of large bridges and sawmills along that coast

I ended up heading along a path way too North (somehow) and had to stop for directions as well as food and drinks in a 7 Eleven. I worked out exactly where I had gone wrong with the help of a lady working at the store. Have I mentioned how bloody helpful everyone is in Japan? Even in a foreign-chain convenience store like this, I was met with apologies and sincere thanks before I’d actually asked anything particularly complicated. The helpfulness extended beyond the call of duty when she reappeared at my side, where I was pouring over a city-level street map I’d found in the store and had no intention of paying for, introducing him as her brother and explaining that he would drive me to my hostel in town. I had somehow accidently hitchhiked. Throwing away my ambilions to complete my walking quest like the carton of 1/2 milk 1/2 coffee I’d just drank (and thrown in the bin), I abandoned my fool’s errand to take up a seat next to this friendly chap.

Habwaki Takata - a nice guy with a perchant for British Rock and Roll and a skill in imitating thunder and lightning (hitch no. 3)

Along the way I rolled out my standard carpet of pleasantries and embarased Japanese greetings. We discussed recent storms and whatnot, but I really enjoyed our little conversation about British music: “Every Japanese knows England-o singer The Beatles and Elton John-0”.

His helpfulness didn’t falter when I discovered that I didn’t know exactly where the hostel was, he wandered out and asked a taxi-driver! Bidding farewell, taking a snapshot and entering the hostel, my day’s walk was nearly over.

It wasn’t, I had to go out for cash to pay for the hostel. There are just NO cash machines in Japan within a 4-mile radius of each other I’m sure. I had a quick nap and a hobble off and up for road, snapping pictures of Hiroshima by evening light. I even made a quick night-time jaunt to Peace Park and a somewhat extended wander trying to find somewhere cheep to eat. I failed but bought some things at a supermarket and headed back to the hostel.

Hiroshima is famous for it's beautiful old trams (aside from being bombed to bloody-hell)

The view through the memorial in Peace Park, Hiroshima.

Daruma doll over a restaurant entrance

At the hostel I met a very chatty Californian kindergarten teacher (a real one) and two students from Michigan. The latter two were suitably impressed with my travel so far and general plan and gave me a train ticket because they probably wouldn’t need it! If it was good for the Shinkansen from Tokyo back to Fukuoka, my proposed total cost of Japanese travel would be £0. I was quite excited and very grateful.

I didn't get a picture of them in Japan, but this is from when we visited a folk village when they came to stay with me in Korea.

I finished my noodle-box, banana and Asahi and slept in my Hiroshima hostel bed for the second time that day. The next day I had the longest planned journey of the trip – Hiroshima to Kyoto, every minute of sleep was necessary, the next day was a bitch.

—-

*I was listening an odd free audio book called Down And Out In The Magic Kingdom. It is about a future society where everyone lives forever, swaps bodies with computer back-ups and the only currency is esteem from your peers. Interesting in pricipal if the majority of the storyline didn’t centre around one man’s boring quest to stop Disneyland Florida from over-developing. Also it was entirely voiced by a man with an irritating Southern America nasal-drawl  – if that’s even possible. Good value for money though I suppose.

Fukuoka to Miyajima (travel day one)

Started my day wondering why I was in a narrow plastic tube.

That passed and I got down to the heavy job of swinging my brain around to awake gear. This was probably hurried along by the sound of an old man vomiting violently in the adjoining toilets. As it was 6:30 am I could probably forgive him for having had quite a late night.

The inbuilt television had obviously been put on a scheduling mode, meaning I could now turn it on. The previous night it was unusable. Nothing good really, I seem to remember a reality/gameshow programme about Japanese cowboys but I can’t be sure.

I forwent another dip in the large baths as I noticed the same gentleman who’d woke me up slumped against them. I did not need to bathe in sick.

The Day’s Plan: Get from Fukuoka to Miyajima (163 miles/263 km)

(click for Google Maps directions)

A hot, hot morning it was, with that only getting worse as my trek from the hotel to a decent place to get picked up carried on. I left the hotel at 07:37 At one point I’d gone from the inner city to the airport. Carrying along to something that looked like the highway I started vainly flashing my sign in various locations to no avail. No-one seemed the least interested in picking me up, except one taxi who pulled in and popped his rear door open in a magical, but unhelpful gesture. Clearly he had mistaken my vague thumb-waggling for a hail.

That's a long, long walk when it's hot (7 miles/11 km)

Luckily the road was not boring and I saw a few interesting sights along my way.

clearly Winston have no problem sugesting their cigarettes make you a stong man in Japan

wouldn't the rice be polluted or something?

inner-city rice paddy

What's he doing with his hand there? ...I hope it's his hand :(

strangest, strangest advertisments for a garage ever

Eventually, under the shade of the Shinkansen line passing overhead and next to the gated highway I stood for a while, again futility abound. 10 minutes later I was approached by an old man on a bicycle. He told me in very broken English that I had no hope and needed to get up to the toll booth way up the road. My confusion clearly paid off as he dismounted his bike and started walking me there. On our journey which I’ve estimated at about an hour as I’ve gone back and found the exact route we took from meeting to departing (thank you Google Maps Streetview you glorious bastard).

click for that walk on Google Maps

Along the way we had a good old chat about our respective countries in the limited English vocabulary we shared (and some pretty harsh prononciation on his part). I valued every minute of it though, using my notebook and hand gestures he gave me a run-down on how to hitch in Japan. Apparently (and this bore out later), Japanese people probably wont pick up a hitcher advertising by the side of the road. You need to approach them while stopped at traffic light, tollbooths and service stations (called: サービスエリア sābisu eria, SA). He’d hitched in a fair few places in Asia in his youth he told me. I began to think of him as my hitchhiking sensei.

he also wrote a note to drivers expressing my travel wishes - not sure what the "Before" or "He Match" bits are about now

Squeezing through a fence to the tollbooth area of the expressway (you can see that too at the end on the Streetview of that map just there) we got me a ride within minutes from Tumi (girl) and Takai (guy). I really regret getting neither the name of the old guy, nor his photo (he waved me off and disappeared before I could get my camera ready).

Tumi and Takae (hitch no. 1)

Sadly my elation at getting my first ride came to an end as Tumi and Takae took me from the southern island of Kyushu to Honshu – the main body of Japan. They dropped me off at a ‘parking area’ in Shiminoseki. Takae then surprised me somewhat by jogging over to another guy and arranging for him to drop me off at the exact place I wanted to get to – the port to Miyajima.

Matizama (hitch no. 2)

I suppose now that he noticed his numberplate local to that area and guessed he was probably heading home. It was at the exchange of instructions between the drivers that I first noticed something really funny but still quite touching. After introducing me and arranging my next hitch, drivers of both parties tended to bow deeply, thank each other profusely and even apologise! More than I could ever manage by far, not to say that I wasn’t ever grateful or didn’t show it, obviously.

My new driver’s name was Matziama and he seemed to speak a fraction more English than I spoke Japanese, so beyond the pleasantaries, we mostly rode in silence. I even nodded off through some of the mountain tunnels.

I arrived at 14:25 the rest of the day was spent exploring the natural and man-made beauty of Miyajima and enjoying the friendliness of fellow travellers and staff at Backpacker’s Miyajima (not a five minute walk from the port).

Miyajima island as seen from the ferry

one of the many tame deer on Miyajima

a giant freaking rice paddle

The floating torii gate set against storms clouds

The game when the tide's out is to try to get a stone onto the crossbeams of the gate. I eventually managed it, crying "YATTA!"

Shinto shrine lanterns

I was hideously sunburned.

Japan on a shoestring

As I write this I’m hurtling along at 200mph (maybe) on the KTX from Seoul to Busan. I’m also taking advantage of the first truly useful item of ‘service’ I’ve received in Korea – a free first-class wifi card for the train.

Within 2.5 hours I will arrive and board a high-speed ferry to Fukuoka in Japan. From Fukuoka my solo-Japanese adventure begins. I plan (and this is really a difficult plan to guarantee) to hitchhike to Tokyo, clean on the other side of the country at a distance of 686 miles (1100 km).

Maintaining the free, if hazardous, theme of my trip, I will further reduce costs by trying to stay with strangers for free. If that sounds a bit mental rest assured (somewhat) that will be doing it though a reciprocal philanthropic online network called CouchSurfing. Actually this may be of limited solace to those of you who may really worry about me (my Mum for example), but of the twenty or so requests I’ve sent so far, two have come back negative (hosts not at home), one has come back positive and the rest haven’t replied at all.

The one who did respond positively was maybe the least practical but most fantastically located of the the requests I made. It’s with a Japanese chap called Tomo who lives in Fuji, resting in the foothills of Mt. Fuji. When I was planning my route I decided it best to take the south road through that province just to get a good look at the magical looking Mt. Fuji. Being able to stay so close to it is a bit of a dream. If I hightail it there I could even climb it! Enough about Fuji for now. As I continue on from Fukuoka I hope to reach a small island near Hiroshima renowned for being the most holy island in Japan.

A day trip there would suffice as I press on to Hiroshima city for a visit to the place the atomic bomb landed.

Not wasting any time I will try to go the full distance of Hiroshima to the ancient capital of Kyoto. These cities are also linked by the atomic bomb (as I recently read on Cracked.com would you have it). Apparently Kyoto was the first choice military target for the bomb as it was the home of the emperor. However, a high ranking (perhaps head? I don’t know I can’t check on-the-fly) commander rather liked Kyoto as he’d spent his honeymoon there. I guess after checking his Lonely Planet he’d decided that Hiroshima wasn’t all that.

From Kyoto to Fuji, as I already mentioned, then to Tokyo to have a good old immersion in J-Culture, find Godzilla, anime-cosplayers, giant fighting robots, Giaru and the other assorted weirdos I was kinda hoping to find in Korea.

One plan for my return trip to the Ferry in Fukuoka is by the Japanese high-speed rail network, turning a 14 hour drive into 4 glorious hours of yet more hurtling.

If I fail, however, to find free or cheap accommodation in Tokyo, I may take the night bus back to Fukuoka and risk being grumpy for my the whole 19.5 hours back to Seoul from Tokyo. A bridge to be crossed later.
Wish me luck and feel free to offer me accommodation!

^ my first hitchhiking sign, says “in the direction of Hiroshima”