Summer in Japan means hitting the festival circuit. The best way to do this is gliding along in the cool comfort of the air-conditioned shinkansen, then taxi-ing to the local Four Seasons and hanging out by the poolside bar for an hour or so, before eventually being whisked past security backstage to listen to the band in their chill room. But if you’re not doing as well under Abe-Nomics as the news says you should be, then you might consider doing the pilgrim’s trail. Become a watarimono (渡り者) — be the wanderer. Which is easy since you’re unemployed. One of the best things about being funemployed and hitchhiking in Japan is meeting people. Meeting people offers an opportunity to explore deeper within the human psyche, but also means plenty of ride opportunities for the adventurous hitchhiker to see the undiscovered country. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you should choose to go the road (more or) less traveled.

Hitchhiking in Japan – Beautiful Strangers

The first rule in hitchhiking is that there are no rules. Approaching the road with a concrete set of values is the same as being a rigid oak tree during a typhoon: you end up lying prone and wet on the side of the road (Don’t Panic! Bring a towel, just in case).

Tokyo is exciting and glittery and full of great people, but it’s a big city, and as big cities go they are pretty much the same all across the world. Like Mary Schmich famously said, “Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft. Travel.” So, leave behind the shambles of a hard winter and travel, expand outward into the countryside, not expecting anything at all.

It’s at these times, when you least expect it, as they say, that things tend to happen. You wander around nameless back country roads surrounded by rice paddies. Exhausted by the heat, you seek solace in things. You go into strange cafes and order something you have never tried before. You wander into antique shops and peruse the esoterica of different cultures and ages. You open doors to restaurants you can’t read the name of and eat and drink strange and delicious things. You meet people. The inevitable eye contact, the nod and smile. No expectations.

Let’s just have a drink together and you can tell me all about this place you call your town. Ok?


By the way, I’m doing this project, do you mind if I take your photo…? I hope you don’t mind.


Don’t worry about it…this light is very flattering.

If you insist.

I insist we get some sushi and beers.

Yes, let’s.

Or something like that. You talk and drink and eat. But sometimes it goes further. There is an intimacy that can arise between strangers that is so sincere and open as to restore your faith in humanity over nothing more than edamame & Sapporo drafts. Granting personal access to yourself gives you access to these beautiful strangers and the secrets of their own weird trips. They open up, they smile and act coy, they hide and seek, they pose and croon in awe, they trust you and open up their humanity and you reciprocate. All you do is try to show that honest power inherent in every molecular flicker of energy swirling around the galaxy trying to make sense of all the infinite range of motion in life. You do your best.

No expectations.

Part of the Hitchhiking Japan Series. Read more here:

Hitting the Tokaido Road