Journal - Napló

Days 421-426. Hokkaido (Japan 4.)

Posted on February 9, 2011 at 8:05 AM


Day 421.


The Russian visa had just one little flaw. It did not entitle you to stay a month from the day you step on Russian land but from a day given. In order to take full advantage of my ’Russian time’, I had four days to cross Japan and reach the ferry.

    I took the metro, went to Tokyo’s northern half and after a few kilometres of walking I started to hitch.


   I got picked up by Tomoaki. He travels in real estate (now in a car). As I brougth up Hokkaido (the northest one amongst the four islands), he cheerfully told me that he visited that place and how beautiful he finds it. He was just about to go a couple of days’ holiday, and by the ’backpack experiences’ he became so enthusiastic the he suggested we go there together, sharing the fuel expenses. We dropped on his relatives so that I could talk with two kids in English thus making them want to learn English more. Then he invited me for dinner – in the meantime, he was totally crazy about the plan. He called his mom who agreed in, i.e. ’let her son go’. That was followed by another call: she told Tomoaki that her cat got sick and needed to be taken to the vet. This is how he had to give up the plan.

    He took me to a motorway rest spot and, a little bit depressed, he said goodbye. I found a desk at the side of the catering establishment. I attached my backpack to it, for a while fought with the mosquitos and then fell asleep.


Days 422-423.


   The Sun woke me up at 6 a.m. First, a carpenter gave me a ride – through his profession, we had many common topics. Then, an older gentleman picked me up. Though he didn’t speak any English, he called his daughter living in Minesota, who kindly but unsuccesfully tried to talk me out of hitch-hiking. His father offered me pear-flavoured ’nushi’ which he considered to be the finest apple in Japan.


   …I was standing at a rest spot, near Seido, when a gentleman addressed me. We exchanged a few words, on the map I showed him where I’ve been so far and the upcoming destinations. He wasn’t heading far so I didn’t join him. However, he wrote a couple of lines on a piece of paper that would help me find a ride when the truck drivers wake up. We said goodbye to each other and I made my way to the access road. After some minutes a small car slowed down next to me. It was the gentleman from before: he leant out the window, gave me 5000 yen, his card and saying goodbye he drove away…

    An army officer picked me up. He knew only one English word: army. For a while I was trying with the communication but his soldier-like answers were lacking any gestures and his face didn’t display anything, so the conversation soon broke down.

    The road now was running among ricefields, then among thick woods. Getting nothern and northern, the mountains were becoming dominant.

    …An Italian sportscar stopped. Unfiltered legionary cigarettes, exceeding the speed limit; at the other end of the phone line a secretary helpfully giving me information on ferry schedules…


    …Suburbs. As it soon turned out, I was swinging in a wrong direction. A young soldier helped me out and took me to the dock. Thinking hard, trying the word he was repeating ’Hungary’. Then suddenly he turned to me and asked if we are part of the NATO. Hearing the affirmative, he stated with a sigh of relief that ’friend then’.

    On the ferry that took me to the island of Hokkaido I was the only ’passer-by’. All the other passengers were truck drivers. In the hope of easily finding a ride the next day by inquiring, I closed my eyes on the tatami. A ’sailor’ woke me up – I fell asleep. The trucks were all gone so I set out walking alone in the nightly dark.


Soon it became clear to me that for the first time during my journey in Japan now I was walking in a city that lacked buildings taller than 2-3 storey (at least its suburbs). Eventually I went to bed behind a shop. In 90 minutes the rain woke me up.

    I staggered back to the main road and hitching in the dawn raining I was heading -walking- toward the edge of the city.

    A German gentleman picked me up. He has been living in Japan for 30 years and was just taking his daughter to school. During the short ride he didn’t say much about Hokkaido but that it’s really beautiful although fast urbanization is going on there.

    I was standing at a shop, staring at the pouring rain and addressing those dropping in. At last, a fortyish man agreed on giving me a ride.

    …He has no family, he works, works and works all day long. Sometimes he plays baseball…


   Seeing my curiosity, he made a bigger detour and showed me a lake concealed in fog with plenty of tiny islands. We also dropped on his girl friends working in a laundry to say a quick hi. Then he added another 30 kilometres to his ride that I was thankful for already.

    …I was walking in a small town along the main road. When it started to rain real hard, I got under a roof. A few minutes walking, then a couple of minutes under a roof – that was the case for a while until three cool kids took me some towns further. It was already dark when thanking for the ride I said goodbye to them.

    For a while I was trying at a crossing, under the lampposts, then I walked to a nearby shop. I was in the middle of eating when, ’puffing and blowing’ hard, a truck parked in front of the shop. Inquiring about a ride from the driver, he indicated with a smile that he would give me a ride with pleasure and I should just finish my dinner while he drops in the shop.

My mirth returned, and the driver was perhaps glad for the sudden came company. Nevertheless, during the first half hour, having big laughs, we were talking, spicing the joyful chat with exaggerating gestures. But eventually the lack of sleep won and I nodded off in the dark. I was dropped off in Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido. After a little bit of searching, I found a netcafé, offering, at an acceptable price, a small cabin equipped with a comfortable couch suitable for sleeping, too. I looked up a few webpages regarding Russia, then sleep overcame me.

Day 424.


   Moral of the day: do not travel in mind to Russia when you’re still in Japan! Because it can easily happen that you end up at the wrong part of Sapporo after many hours of walking.

If a gentleman hadn’t talked to me at a shop where I was just grabbing a bite, I would’ve continued my journey in the wrong direction. The gentleman did not only come back to the shop with a hitcher board in his hands but he also took me to the beginning of the proper road. From that point still many kilometres’ walking was ahead of me, but I was in the home straight.


   Eventually, I got out of Sapporo (which, compared to other Japanese big cities had shorter buildings) with the help of a teacher. She took me as far as Asahikawa. For the night my lodging were firestairs.

Days 425-426.


   For the morning the bottom half of my sleeping bag got pretty wet so I stayed an hour at the top of the firestairs so that my ’mobile bed’ could dry up at least a little.

   I made my way to road 40 but before I could use my Wakkanai-board, ’the powers above began to weep once again’. I found some shelter at a shop where I soon was offered a ride by a carpenter guy who mentioned Wakkanai many times. At first I thought he’d go there but after a few kilometres he pulled over, showing I’ll have better chance getting a ride there.

I was sitting on the ground under a roof when a lady stepped to me, lit her cigarette and settled down next to me. She offered me candy. We exchanged a couple of words, then –finishing the cigarette- she said goodbye.


   Only later, on Russian land did I understand why that gesture –a lady, as a Japanese, sat down right next to me- meant so much to me… In Japan I encountered kindness and politeness everywhere. Everybody is kind and polite. Everybody is equally and very much the same way kind and polite. However, this lady didn’t fit in the picture: she didn’t bow, wasn’t smiling, she just sat down next to me. On the ground.

    After three more rides I finally got to Wakkanai, located in the northern end of Hokkaido. The two ladies, who, detouring the main road took me on smaller roads –much to my delight as we passed among impressive landscapes- dropped me off at the entrance of the dock. Everything was closed by that time, so I had dinner a little bit far from the shore, then I went to bed at the last dry spot of an apartment block’s landing.

    Next day I bought my ferry ticket and spent the remaining amount on food. It turned out that you need to pay some money (equal to about 4 dollars) when you get ont he ferry. They didn’t accept any other currency and I couldn’t pay with credit card, either… The guards showed me out.

    This is where I met the two Polish travellers, the university student Bart and the professional photographer Paul. They both have hitch-hiked in Siberia, many times, so I enthusiastically absorbed every piece of information on the Siberian conditions of traveling and their experiences.

translated by Ágoston Galambos



Categories: English, Japan, by Peter

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