Sunday, October 11, 2009

Aomori & Hitchhiker’s Luck

My first city in Honshu was Aomori. It’s fairly large port city located on the northern tip of Honshu. I stayed with an American guy who is a JET and teaches English in local school. His interesting mix of American and Chinese background offers him an advantage in few areas such as understanding of Asian culture and experience with character language.

Ted was kind enough to lend me his bike and I was able to explore the city. However, the traveling hassle has finally caught up with me and I dedicated a few days to staying home and relaxing. My primary method of relaxation was watching Japanese shows on internet. There are several sites on the web dedicated to Japanese/Korean/Taiwanese shows which I exploit regularly for my entertainment. The shows I watched were in Japanese with English subtitles. I have started to notice that I’m picking up on certain words and phrases. ..

A few days into my stay in Aomori, I took a side trip to a nearby town, Hirosaki, to visit its main attraction: a 17th century castle which is set in a beautiful park. I was lucky enough to go during the weekday and therefore encountered almost no tourists.  The beautiful gardens, spledid moutain views and a general feeling of serenity, have left a very peaceful memory.

My stay with Ted was long but refreshing. I left with wonderful memories of my first karaoke experience in Japan; of watching Battlestar Galactica on a huge white bed sheet hanging on the wall which was serving the purpose of a screen; of midnight snacks in a local convenient store; of breathtaking views of the sea; of being silly in department stores and trying on "Japanese fashion"; and of of Japanese and Xhosa lessons taught by Ted.

Sooner than I expected, my time in Aomori came to an end and I was again standing on the side of the road.

My first ride out of Aomori was the scariest ride of my life.

As I was waiting for my next traveling companion, a car pulled over. Two 50some year old men came out of the car and inquired where I was going. The passenger, Kudo-san, looked happy and drank; he was very eager for me to join them and was willing to “drive” me anywhere I wanted. The driver, Nakato-san, had more sense and realized my destination city was out of their way but he offered to drive me 1/3 of the way. Nakato-san looked quiet sensible and after careful consideration I decided to go with them. I realized my mistake when we hit the main road.

It seemed Nakato-san was 14 years old and received his license a day before. His driving was so reckless that 2 or 3 times I almost said good-bye to my family in prayers. He didn’t pay attention to the road, kept his eyes on the passenger and drove extremely fast on small town streets and even faster on wider roads. A few times he ran red lights and once took a turn at an intersection without noticing an approaching car which was traveling at high speed. I knew I had to get out. But the sky was turning gray quit fast; also it was getting late. The sun sets very early in Japan and around 6pm, it’s usually dark. I had to make a decision: leave the car and take a chance to hitch a car in the dark and possibly under the rain or continue with two reckless middle-aged men. The decision was obvious. My life is way too important. I got out.

With very low spirits, quiet stressed and nervous, I was standing on the side of the road again. The sun was near the horizon and it started to drizzle. Cars weren’t stopping. People are usually more cautious picking up hitchhikers after dark and especially in the rain. I started to lose my cool. I really didn’t want to be stranded in the middle of nowhere under the rain. Suddenly, I saw a construction van pull over; the driver looked at me and gave me a nod. I came up to the window and saw something in his passenger seat but it was too dark and I was too busy looking at the driver and weighing whether he was trustworthy to pay attention. He looked good. I decided to get in. Right before I opened the door, he gave me a sign to get in the back seat (instead of the passenger seat next to him) and then he put a finger to his lips. Huh, be quiet? OK, I’ll play along. I got in the back, quietly sliding my heavy bag in front of me.

Konbanwa, (Good Evening). Arigato gozaimasu (Thank you so much)” I whispered. He smiled. Shy, quiet and very handsome. Suddenly, I heard a cough from the passenger seat. Huh? Did I miss another person? I raised my head and looked at the front seat.

There, in a sweet slumber and tiredly hunched over, slept two little boys. Their faces were glowing with angelic innocence such only children posses. Their beautiful small faces looked peaceful. I couldn’t breathe. Holding my breath I looked over to the father. He smiled at me again. His face resembled his children, calm and content.

My ride with Nameto-san was out of this world. He drove his construction van very carefully. Looking over at his sleeping boys every 20-30 seconds to be sure their sleep stayed undisturbed. His older son, a 4 year old, was a bit sick and kept coughing in his sleep. I took off my cardigan and covered him. Father gave me a grateful nod. I was so touched by his tenderness, I wanted to stay by his side forever. Soon, his 2 year old son awoke and discovered me. He was so surprised and mesmerized by me, he couldn’t take his eyes off me. I felt exactly the same. His divine face, still veiled in reminiscence of recent dream, was serene and beautiful. We studied each other with careful consideration, each looking satisfied with end results.

It was very difficult to part with the family when the time came. Our paths crossed only for a short period of time but it was magical. I will remember this night for a long time. And not the two maniac middle-aged drunk men but the faces of little boys, the father’s smile, the feeling of love and tenderness, the cardigan covering boy’s shoulder, the quite mutual understanding, the old construction van, the moonless rainy night…


  1. I can imagine you praying to God to save you from a 14 year old maniac driving down the road. I know you were scared but the story was hysterical. Even Scooby was laughing.

  2. I'm confused. Was the driver middle aged or fourteen years old? Make up your mind.

    And I'm glad the second ride was better. Children are really incredible, aren't they?

    I'm off to read your other entry!

    PS - I love that outfit in the dressing room!

  3. I said it SEEMED he was 14 years old. I was describing his driving skills. But in reality he was in his 50s.

  4. wow! so glad you got to visit hirosaki. i lived there for a year and visited the castle often. if you ever get the chance to visit it during cherry blossom season, you will not be disappointed!! glad to hear you survived the crazy drivers. i've known a few of those drivers here, too. it's like driving with somebody who has a high degree of road rage back in the states. good decision to get out and you were rewarded, too. nice!!