Thursday, March 27, 2014

A new hope

I am walking the streets of Osaka still wondering weather someone is going to pick me up and also what and how am I going to eat. The prices for food are not that high, you can buy bread for about 200 yen and it'll last for the day. However 200 yen that's almost my two euros, I have no margin. Plus, since french taxes wrecked havoc in my bank account I should spend rather less than more.
Japan is a rich country, what about dumpster diving? I have never tried it, not having a tent makes me feel like a homeless bum already, eating from dumpsters would seal the picture completly. The only thing that would distinguish me from a real homeless person is my tablet and it starts to look a bit homeless too. Long gone are the days where people stared at it with envy in china. But after all, supermarket are rumoured to throw away perfectly good food, a lot of respectable people in europe dumpster dive, so I decide to give it a try.
I have a look behind a few shops, there is just regular garbage, I guess Japanese people don't like to waste. Scrach that; not long afterwards I sneak a peak behind a family-mart food shop. There are three separate garbage bags. The first two are filled with disgusting garbage and the third one, much cleaner contains packed products. There are prepared microwaved dishes sealed under plastic, bread, sweets, everything that you would buy in a shop in the same exact packaging except for how it is disposed. Instead of being on the shelves, it is in a garbage bag and the expiration date is set to yesterday which is seven hours ago. Considering the japanese high standards for food, this stuff is in better condition than what I would buy in a supermarket in Mongolia or Kyrgyzstan and it is way better than what I used to eat as a student.
Following this conclusion I start taking as much stuff as I can from that garbage bag. There are strawberry pastries, I am like a kid in a sweet shop and everything is free. There is a garbage truck just behind me politely waiting until I finish my quest so it can destroy these deliscious things in  the black hole of organic waste.
I can't carry everything but I think I have enough for three days. I took 2 microwavable dishes, a lot of sweet buns, some sandwiches and some special pastries from france.

I have a lot of food!
I have food, I have alright weather, now I just need a ride and internet because I always need internet. I enter this cafe and tell the waitress that I need anything. She is super-smily and bows in all directions to make everything feel ping and kawaiiiiii and gives me the wifi password. After a while I also get breakfast paid by a middle-aged couple sitting nearby. Appearently not eating breakfast at breakfast hour is a tragedy and these good-hearted people must save me so I had my second breakfast in that cafe: bread and butter, egg and coffee.
The waitress was super nice and super-kawaii and she bowed down so much that I really was afraid that she'll spill that coffee on herself but she didn't.
second breakfast

What was weird that the couple was too shy to talk to me, yet they insisted on buying me breakfast. From my uninformed understanding they really didn’t get anything out of it. Anyway, my garbage prize will have to wait for another rainy day.
Another thing worries me though; I still didn’t manage to get a ride. If hitchhiking doesn’t work in Japan, I’ll just have to get to Hokkaido on foot.
I don’t want to use the signboard saying “Japanese can!” used by many hitchhikers to trick people into stopping. According to the legend, the main worry of Japanese people is to know whether the hitchhiker can communicate and behave properly in accordance to the Japanese culture. If he or she can’t the embarrassment resulting from frequent awkward situations would be so unbearable that they prefer not to stop.
Most people use the Japanese can sign even though they don’t speak Japanese. However, Japanese culture is quite popular in Europe and in France especially so most people have a very elementary understanding of Japanese and they are more eligible to the “Japanese can!” sign than me. Because if there is a country in the world for which I expressed no curiosity at all during my life, it would be Japan. I think I just know how to say “konichiwa” because I watched American Pie and “Arigato” because my father used to come home from Japanese conferences in mathematics and told me that word at home.
So I walk and walk through Osaka, seldom stopping at lights and trying to hitchhike. At last, a car stops. Not any car, a BMW convertible sports car. The guy speaks English, he is a bike shop owner and he thinks my trip is very cool.

I got my first ride with a sportscar


He goes all the way to Wakayama which is a city on the seaside of the main island with a ferry connection to Shikoku island, my next destination. There is a highway connecting the main island to Shikoku but it is on the other side of Osaka so hitching a ferry is more comfortable. I don’t remember having hitched a ferry for comfort when there was a land alternative present but I decided to give it a try.
But now, we are still driving in the sports car and Hiro, that is the driver’s name decides to invite me to the restaurant. He spends some time searching for that place, according to what he says it’s supposed to be pretty good. There are some guys in suits waiting outside, I am starting to feel quite underdress and under-Japanese for the situation. I am afraid that in front of us will appear a white table with seven hundred kinds of forks and chopsticks and you have to juggle through them using a perfect Japanese etiquette.
But there is nothing of the sort! The owner is a hyperactive guy who literally screams at us an laughs all over the place. He juggles with knifes and chopsticks while frying fish on a dirty pan which catches on fire every now and then.
In this chaos he goes serving the very noble businessman next to us and everyone seems to enjoy themselves in a very loud and complex-less way.
We get raw fish with miso soup and some other dishes. It’s really good food and I can keep my garbage diving lunch for a moment longer. Japanese raw fish is actually pretty good and so far there was not a single dish on this trip which grossed me out. It will come later when I was given raw eggs to eat on Shikoku; that was too much, even for me.
I am invited to a Japanese restaurant to eat raw fish

Hiro has 3 children, two daughters and a son. The daughters are called Yuka and Yuna and I’ll later discover that almost every Japanese girl is named Yuka or Yuna, especially Yuka.

After lunch, he lets me off at the ferry terminal. I hesitate between hitching for a ticked payed for by someone else, going back and asking for a free ride. They are Japanese, I very much doubt the free ticket as a result of too much rule-following but since my Japanese is still nil, I can’t even write a sign saying “buy me a ticket” so I try to ask for the ride.
The counter lady calls the manager which in turn calls the manager and a few moments later the person considers my case and gives me a free pass! He walks me through the tunnel leading to the fairy and tells to the person who checks the tickets to let me through for free. I don’t even get a ticket!

The ride is quite long between Wakayama and Tokushima and I find it quite funny that my second hitch in Japan is actually something different than a car.

On the ferry I meet Anna, a girl from France who speaks English better than normal French people and she is also less annoying that what French people usually are so I am quite grateful about that and happy to talk to her.
She is starting a trip by bike from Japan in the west direction. She has a similar way of travelling as me, also sleeping in a tent in random places. We part ways in Tokushima harbor, she goes on bike and me on foot.
That day, I do a very important thing. I go from hotel to hotel until I find someone who speaks both Japanese and English. I ask him to write a kind of introduction about me and my trip which explains where I come from and how I came to Japan. I hope that this magic letter will help me in the process of getting free ferries even if the people there don’t speak English.
It is getting late already; I need to find a place to sleep. I haven’t been so lucky with home invitations, I can’t remember the last time I showered but right now I mostly need a place where I can sleep quietly without people waking me up at five in the morning.
There is a hill in Tokushima called Mt. Bizan, it’s uninhabited so I go there. The path is steep and there really is no one. I come across an abandoned place which still looks less messy than my room back in France.
At the top of the hill there is a temple and a number of radio towers. I sleep there, it’s a bit cold but quite alright.
The next day, I decide to get out of cities as far into the countryside as I can. Shikoku is not supposed to be the most interesting island but it is the one with the most countryside and countryside can mean invitations and maybe showers. And a shower is more interesting to me now than anything else.
The second car that picks me up is… also a sports car. A stylish black convertible driven by a beautiful young girl. She looks cool and sharp but doesn’t speak English and is shy as an autumn leave in the wind.
I try to explain to her that I am going in this direction, to leave me when our ways part, to not go out of her way. But she doesn’t understand and gets japanese-emnbarassed at every little thing that she doesn’t understand. So I just say “anywhere”, hoping she goes in the direction of Kamiyama, a small town in the mountains. Anyway, I don’t mind riding with a cute girl in a sports car.
She is 22, studies psychology and is overly japanese-kawaii-emotional. However, she quickly deviates from my dream course through small roads and back towards Tokushima. Getting back to Tokushima, that’s a bad perspective and even a cute girl with a sports car doesn’t make up for that. I tell her to stop at a gas station, that I’ll get another car which confuses her a lot, wondering what is wront, what did she do wrong, what don’t I like about how she behaves and a lot of useless questions baked by japanese overthinking.
I tell her that everything is alright but she is still embarrassed and confused, I bet she will never take a hitchhiker again. I guess I should have let her take me out of her way to Kamiyama, it would save both of us a lot of trouble.

Me, Yuna/Yuka and her black sportscar


The next ride I get are two very young girls, sixteen and nineteen who drive me exactly where I need to, to a gas station at the intersection which leads to Kamiyama. They are incredibly sorry that they don’t have time to drive me to the bus station which is the most hated spot of all hitchhikers. I am really happy they can’t but they insist on giving me money to compensate the trouble. I manage to refuse at least half of it and I buy ice-cream with the rest.
I am still on zero-budget and now have an extra 300 yen of donations.
The way to Kamiyama is marked as almost a highway but is in face a really tiny and steep mountain road. However, it is in perfect condition. Nobody goes in that direction. At last a middle-aged woman stops. This is crazy, in Japan, I get more rides with women than men! She says that is is only going home but that she’ll be back. I don’t really know what for but after a while, her husband drives back with a bigger car. He tells me that Kamiyama is too far but he can drive me to a temple about two-thirds of the way. First we drive to his home which is two steps away, he gives me two super-yummy pastries and two cans of yoghurt for the road. His wife hops in too and we drive into the mountains.
I am surprised about how harsh the roads are. They are in perfect condition alright but so tiny and going through cliffs and serpentines that it gets me nauseous which really doesn’t happen that often. The couple seems to be enjoying the ride quite a bit even though we get lost in the mountain roads and it is getting dark.



“Maybe he thinks that we are driving to a dark place and rob him,” I understand from their conversation. I think they have no idea how safe I feel in Japan.

We pass cherry trees blossoming, it’s really beautiful.
“Sakura,” they say.
After getting lost a couple of times, we arrive in front of the temple. It is big and impressive. There are 88 great temples on Shikoku island and pilgrims often make a tour around the island, stopping at each of the temples.
Some cherry blossoms


“Here is for 5 days,” the husband says and hands me a 1000 yen note. He refers to my 200\/day policy. Since I am on zero-budget, that might cover even more time.
I sleep on a bench near a wooden shed a bit aside from the main monastery. In the morning, I am woken up by pilgrims but nobody bothers me. I just get a lesson from the head monk of the temple who doesn’t like that I leave my computer in public to charge.
temple entrance

Temple

Pilgrims

“In Japan forbidden! Not possible! Thieves everywhere!”
I guess every position of authority can create assholes and Buddhist monks are not exempt from it.

That morning, I pack my things and prepare to walk out of this maze of mountain roads and at least get to the mountain town of Naka.