Thursday, January 27, 2011


On a warm Tuesday in July, it happened that two individuals, a man and a woman, sat in rather close proximity to one another on a bench in the entrance of a restaurant. They had never met – in fact, they had not even looked at each other.

Complete strangers, yes, but on this day they shared both a craving for sushi and, as I said, a small space in the restaurant’s entrance. They’d arrived at the same time, appeared similar in age, and both were unaccompanied.

Under such conditions, anyone who saw the pair might’ve thought they were a couple and I’ll be damned if a nearby waitress didn’t happen to think just that.

“Table for two?”

The man and the woman looked at each other, both somewhat surprised at the suggestion. The man considered his options. He should probably set things straight, but on the other hand, why not take a leap and invest in the possibility of having some company for dinner? The idea grew in his mind until he’d decided to ask her.

Yet, tragically, in summoning both the courage to ask and the Japanese words comprising his query, the man took just a moment too long and the woman spoke first.

“No, no, we’re not together. I’m waiting for some others.”

How simple a response; how blunt; and how surprisingly devastating for the man, who’d somehow formed quite an expectation in his mind of the merry meal they might’ve soon shared. Truly, on the plains of hesitation lie the blackened bones of countless millions who at the dawn of victory lay down to rest, and in resting died.*

He ate alone and walked along the canal back to the small, plain room in the small, plain business hotel he’d booked for the night.

IMG_5826 (2)

*Hesitation quote to Adlai E. Stevenson

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Thousand Words

I spent the morning admiring Furano’s famous fields of flowers. There, I met Yukiko.

We shared ice cream and laughter among the lavender, but as with so many travellers’ connections, our time together was ephemeral. So long, Yukiko.









Sunday, December 5, 2010


Nothing in particular happened on the first day in Furano, but complete chronicles require diligent documentation and thus you are presented below with a description of events which are not necessarily of interest, but did indeed occur and so shall be recorded.

A woman at a tourist information desk explained which bus to take to get to the rider house I’d be staying at. She followed her advice with a smile, a bow, and the following statement:

“Thanks for using our tourist information desk. I hope you’ve found our services to be helpful, and also that you might find a permanent home here, settle down, and meet with me regularly to practice English. Have a good day.”

“Are you kidding, your English is perfect!”

Her response was another polite bow. I walked to meet the bus.

I walked down a narrow, little used path to get to the rider house. Upon entering, it felt like I’d stepped back in time. It was an old, 2-story wooden building offering refuge for tired bikers and cyclists.

The hundred-year-old structure complained with creaks and moans as I walked, and carried on into the evening with various utterances of old age. Wary of the ghosts and spooks that often live in such places, I slowly and carefully walked down the old wooden steps for a bath.

I caught my breath as a figure appeared at the bottom of the stairs.

An old man emerged from the shadows and faced me, but said nothing. We both stood in silence, assessing the situation. Old Japanese men are unpredictable. They also sometimes dislike foreigners and have considerable training in martial arts. I steadied my gaze and tensed my legs.

His wild grey hair moved with life as he broke the silence with a grave warning: “Don’t go in the bathwater without washing first. Understand?”

I nodded yes and proceeded in, glad that the situation had diffused. I pulled on the door to shut it behind me. It clamoured and stuttered as it closed, protesting the movement.


The bath was a hand-built wooden box, full with hot water. It looked more like a waterboarding device than a bathtub. I washed first and entered, imagining the screams of people fighting for their lives to withhold information from angry, brutal captors.

I stretched out as much as possible and closed my eyes but the experience was anything but restful. The old building was again full of noises. The walls creaked and moaned. The ceiling wasn’t quiet either. Tick. Tick. Tick. Thump. Tick. Tick. Tick. Thump.

I tried to relax, but couldn’t. The old man had rattled me. I felt naked and vulnerable, submerged inside the small, wooden torture device. What were all the noises?

A spider above me stared from its web. I swear there was distain in his little spider eyes. I’d had enough. There would be no relaxation tonight, and morning couldn’t come too quickly.

I slept in a big room along with several other guests. Among these guests was the old man, but I awoke alive and unharmed – a fact for which you, my reader, should be grateful, for it means that you will see, at the very least, one more entry in this ongoing journal of mine. If you are still reading, I thank you.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Yuki-san and The Tree

This post is a fictitious entry from the diary of Yuki-san, who picked me up on the way to the town of Biei. The events are real but it’s written by me – it’s my attempt at her perspective.

Dear Diary:

Today was so exciting! It was my second day traveling in Hokkaido and you won’t believe it – I picked up a Canadian hitchhiker!

I saw him in the distance wearing a big, blue backpack. The next thing I knew my foot was on the brake and I was slowing down. It must have been fate! Two travellers crossing paths, but only one with transportation – yes, dear diary, I have rented a beautiful, white, Toyota Fielder. Check it out! Cool, right?!


I stopped, rolling down my window as the hitchhiker said hello in Japanese. He looked super cool with his sunglasses on. He looked like Bruce Willis.

I introduced myself as Yuki because I think my family name is difficult for foreigners to say. I asked him to join me and of course, he agreed. Why wouldn’t he? As a hitchhiker, I believe that is is singular purpose!

He got in the car beside me. We both wore big smiles. You know how excited eyes can glisten, dear diary? I believe mine were gleaming like stars. I had a travel companion! I remembered the English word, adventure, and I yelled it out loud as I accelerated.


David laughed – oh yes, I should mention, he told me his name was David – like David Beckham! He called himself “Dave” and I told him that in Japanese it sounds like de-bu, which means “fat.” He acted offended, but I’m pretty sure he was kidding about that. Anyway, I called him David after that.

Oh, dear diary, you know how I can carry on sometimes. I think I talked for twenty minutes straight. I told him about my hairdressing job in Aichi, a recent history of my annual vacations, even the air-miles I used to get here! David grinned a lot and tried to make jokes. I believe that trying to be funny is more important than actually being so. Most likely, David shares this opinion.

I told him that he looks like Bruce Willis. He disagreed and suggested that perhaps all white people look the same to me, but no, no I’m right about this.

I was happy to find that David spoke a fair amount of Japanese. He still used his dictionary a lot though, even for simple words like “wheat” and “taxes.” He tried to speak some English with me but I got a bit embarrassed and changed the subject. Anyway, we had an adventure to discuss!

My goal for the day was to find a tree. Of course, it was not just any tree – it’s quite famous and I had come a long way to see it, so David had no choice in the matter. We were off to find the tree. Of course, I asked him if it was ok, but I was not prepared to take ‘no’ for an answer. I locked the doors just in case.

I handed him a map and asked him to navigate.

David is kind of funny, but he is not a good navigator. We ended up on a road that got more and more narrow until it wasn’t a road anymore. He kept saying, “No, I think this is right.”

He taught me a fun English phrase: the scenic route. Diversions are fun! We found some very scenic wheat!


Eventually, we found the tree. I explained to David that it’s famous because it was in a TV commercial. He said “Oh, that makes perfect sense.” He looked in his dictionary but found no translation for the word ‘sarcasm.’ What do you think it means, dear diary?

I photographed the tree endlessly from every possible angle, but this one is the best. Majestic! I can’t wait to show my friends back home.


I dropped David off in Furano, the beautiful town of lavender. I told him to have some lavender-flavoured ice cream. I hope he does!

He told me he plans to hitchhike all the way back to Tokyo. I advised him to check his compass and maps often. His directional handicap worries me a little.

Well, in summation, dear diary, today was one of the best days of my life. I met a cool hitchhiker who looks like Bruce Willis and shares a name with David Beckham. And oh, that tree! Such noble and dignified majesty! Yes, I believe my life is complete.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

“So, why did you pick me up?”

Hitchhiking is rare in Japan (even more than in Canada) and for many drivers, I was the first one they’d picked up. For others, I was the first they’d ever seen. Answers to the question, “What made you decide to pick me up?” were interesting and varied.

Some people were complimentary:

“You have a good, handsome face.”

You seem like a cool guy.”

“You looked friendly.”

Others had hoped to spare me from various perceived discomforts:

“You looked cold.”

You looked hot.”

You looked wet.”

“You looked lost.”

And many others gave answers that just can’t be categorized:

“It seemed like I was in a movie.”

“You’re tall, and easy to see.”

“I saw you and thought, the longer I spend helping a hitchhiker, the less time I have to spend with my annoying wife.”

My next driver, Daisuke-san, picked me up because he was lonely.

“I moved here recently for work,” he explained. “I don’t have any friends nearby.”

“How far are you going?” I asked.

“Well, I was on my way to buy some shoes, but I’ll take you as far as you need.

That’s what I call a win-win.

Sunday, July 4, 2010


Maybe it was just a coincidence, or perhaps some kind of benevolent guiding spirit influenced my fate, but I showed up in Nayoro just in time to check out Takeshi and Makoto’s university festival (remember the posters from the Mission?).

The food vendors were all university students, but they might as well have been Bangkok cabbies battling for my attention. I suspect that it had something to do with my race, which often gave me an undeserved (but not entirely unwelcome) celebrity status in Japan. The students hounded me until I’d eaten about 15 plates of yakisoba, yakitori, takoyaki, and all kinds of other delicious Japanese festival fare. I topped it all off with ice cream. Yes, my life is rich.

While I ate, I planned my escape from the food tents. It would not be easy. With determination and focus, I strode quickly away from the tents, complimenting the students on their cooking accomplishments as I passed.

“Eat more!” they cried, but I ignored them.

“Come back!” they yelled, but I played deaf.

I did not share their interest in slowly killing me with hot, delicious karaage.

My escape landed me in the audience of a comedy show, which I’m sure was funny if you’re fluent in Japanese. I was better able to appreciate the second act of traditional dancing, complete with flags, drums, and elaborate costumes.

07 - July 17 - Nayoro

By the end of the day I was exhausted from all the eating and didn’t want to go back to my campsite to sleep in the rain. A stroke of luck sat me beside Yuri, who offered me a place to stay for the night. She invited some friends over and we took turns killing zombies in a subtitled version of Biohazard for Xbox. Who’s too old for a video game sleepover? Not this guy.


In the morning, I must regretfully report, my masculinity took a big hit, as I was convinced to try a favourite Japanese activity known as purikura. Yuri told me to be as ‘cute’ as possible. I hesitate to post this picture, but see below for the unfortunate results of my first foray into modeling.

08 - Aug - Randoms

Now listen here, reader – instead of thinking less of me for participating, be impressed that it took more than a year in Japan for me to get roped into the extremely popular activity (very few boyfriends in Japan have the option of saying no). Also, I can’t help but think that the cameras were somehow mis-calibrated to produce the creepy, pale, ghost-faces you see in the photos.

It was time to hit the road again, but it was nearing noon so Yuri and her friend made some lunch, sending me off with a full stomach. Thanks, girls.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Today, I Smelled of Oil

I stood beside the large, hot, pool of water, wondering whether I should enter. My hesitation stemmed from the shimmer of oil covering much of its surface and its strong sulphuric smell. A man near me guessed my dilemma and was happy to offer advice.

“Go on, get in. It’s ok, it’s healthy. The oil is good for your skin.”

The colourful, fluid shapes on the water’s surface danced around my legs as I dipped them into the water. I sat down and began to relax, imagining the oil’s therapeutic qualities rejuvenating my skin. The other bather joined me and we chatted for a bit, but he seemed to fall asleep during our conversation. I’d had enough of my oil bath anyway and got out to shower off. I lathered twice but still left smelling like a gas station.

My next driver took me to a local reindeer farm for the simple reason that he loves reindeer. I hoped he didn’t notice the scent of crude oil I’d been emanating since the bath.


Back on the pavement, I came across a bicycle gang of junior high school girls. I saw them sizing me up so I took a risk and asked them about local places to stay the night. They giggled a lot but eventually pointed me in the direction of camp mosquitoville.


It seems that in Hokkaido, there’s just no escaping these suckers. Amazingly, I suffered not a single bite. Maybe that oil did some good after all. Anyone up for a vacation in the Gulf?