Hiroshima to Kyoto (travel day 3) part two

Continuing the story from my ride with Mr. Isida.

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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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Hiroshima to Kyoto (travel day 3) part one


Katerine and Hagia, wrote my new hitchhiking sign (please take me towards Kyoto) and helped me find a good hitch-from spot.

Armed with this sign, as produced by the two beaming Filipino workers at the Hiroshima hostel. (In Japan learning both Japanese and English – impressive), I headed out into the baking Hiroshima sunlight. I did another circuit of Peace Park to appreciate it while not in darkness or extraordinarily tired.

I walked a little towards the north to get myself on a good main road. Studying the traffic pattern at some lights, I picked my moment well, finding a suitable ride at the lights. I told him I just wanted to get to the highway if I could, he agreed and I was off within seconds in the first car I’d approached that day. A personal record I’m sure.

Nobuya, for that was his name took me a good distance up to the main road on his way to work in a nearby town.

Nobuya (hitch no. 4)

The next while – something like an hour probably, was quite, quite gruelling. The intense sunlight quite got to me as I made my way on foot up the main road, thumb out quite fruitlessly, not a single car picked me up. Perhaps to counterbalance my early good luck. Eventually, just as my iced-water reserve was running low, a chap named Tamura picked me up. Sadly I don’t have a picture of him as I had to hop out on the hard shoulder just before the tollbooth for the major highway. During our quick journey we discussed his like of several English things, such as Queen (the band, not the old lady), James Bond, and his recital of the ‘She Sells Seashells’ tongue twister.

For my part I did my best to remember a Korean tongue twister. Here it is, reproduced for your pleasure, my own romanisation underneath.

간장공장 공장장은 장 공장장이고 된장공장 공장장은 강 공장장이다.

(ganjang gongjang gongjangjangun jang gongjangjangi go duinjang gongjang gong jangjangun gang gongjangjangida)

Which means:

The manager of the soy sauce factory is Manager Jang and the manager of the soy paste factory is Manager Gang.

As I said, he dropped me off on the hard shoulder, thus began the biggest pain in the arse in getting a ride I’ve had yet. I stood with my sign as the Fukuoka sensei instructed, I guess the toll booth people tolerated it for 30 mins or so because after a while I was told in the politest possible hand signals to take it back down onto the road, where it was more legal. Walking on the hard shoulder is scary. The heat was still kicking it and I was still pretty unable to catch a lift from whatever position I angled myself. It was also two hours since the first ride had dropped me off, so I took a break in a nearby department store. I then had the fantastic idea of using some of their road atlases and service station directories – which I’m pretty sure I found only after wondering if they existed.

The service station directory was a massive help and even went into details such as how big it was and what services/stores were available. I took photos and notes about each service station on the nearby highways going towards and away from Kyoto, deciding that if I couldn’t get a ride going one way, I could try going the other, then swapping highway side at the next service station. (assuming they were paired, in retrospect that seems like a rash assumption). After another 30 minutes or so I’d managed to do just that.

I got a ride going west. He dropped me off at the only service station for miles at, as I’ve said, a station without an opposite number on the other side of the road. I decided that I had spent enough time trying to get out of Hiroshima to head back towards it now. Actually, I have a bit of a difficulty in this way. I get very irritated if I have to backtrack. It might have even been a longer path but I decided to take the Northern road.

It turns out the road was pretty much the same distance, possibly slightly longer for climbing into the mountains. The next lift took a while coming. After approaching cars pretty fruitlessly for a while in unrelenting sun, I rested for a while on one of those sheltered raised platforms you see dotted about Korea and Japan. Some older Japanese ladies took pity on me it seemed and gave me a rice-ball, a banana and some sandwiches.

Free lunch - the rice ball (between the banana and the sandwiches) had some bitter, tart fruit in the middle of that took quite a liking to.

Eventually I got a ride with these two happy chaps. Hiro and Joe.

Hiro and Joe (hitch no. 7)

They were travelling salesmen, selling some sort of grabbing-arm thing for surgeons. They told me that they didn’t think I could get to Tokyo on time. I didn’t worry too much about getting to Tokyo, I didn’t have any commitments there, if I could get back to Fukuoka, I’d have been happy with any destination. It didn’t make me too confident for my day’s travel through inhospitable and frankly hostel-less countryside though.

Once again the Japanese Hitchhiking Domino Theory panned out and they spent a good while finding and negotiating my ride onwards with this nice old man called Mr Isida (or Isida-san if you want to be polite japanese style).

Mr. Isida (hitch no. 8)

His English wasn’t great so we spent a lot of the journey in quiet, with the odd bout of basic English. With the scenery it was quite relaxing – all mountains and forests and valley villages. He told me he had two sons 18 and 26. We also talked about Kanji (Chinese letters), he wrote some, resting on the steering wheel, which was slightly unnerving because he was still driving. He taught me 英国 which means Britain. I can actually read that in Korean Hanja now which is quite nice (young-guk).

The ride with Isida-san was actually incredibly helpful, he took me a full 240km (149 miles) down the road.

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I’ll continue the rest in a second post, this one is pretty damn long already.

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”