Eri dropped me off at a convenience store at 5am where I scored another ride.
At this point in the trip I was long past the stage of worrying about whether someone would stop. Drivers had been faithfully responding to my “thumbs up” for two weeks now and my confidence in the method was unshakeable. I’d mentally added hitchhiking rides in Japan to ‘death’ and ‘taxes’ as one of those few things that are certain in this life.
I hopped in with Naomi, who, despite a toothache (and the fact that it was 5:00 am!), drove me 20km out of her way to show me a famous wildflower park. She was in good spirits (oral-anguish be damned, I think she said in Japanese), and was happy to tell me about her work as a scallop factory worker. Apparently it’s a fascinating vocation, though I think the smell would get to me.
In the next town, that unshakeable confidence I mentioned earlier was challenged. It was a dreary fishing town, made even drearier by a steady drizzle.
Half an hour of walking on a nice day is nothing, but in the rain it’s pretty depressing so when another scallop-worker picked me up I was more than grateful. Wait – another scallop worker? Yep. Different company, same industry.
I support positive stereotypes, so spread the word: all scallop workers are friendly – this one gave me a sweet peanut butter sandwich (The Japanese add lots of sugar to their peanut butter).
A little further down the road, I walked into a rest stop to wait out the rain. I was sitting beside the window thinking about scallops when an old woman nearby told me to sit down beside her. I paused, but she motioned aggressively for me join her at the table.
“Come here, sit down. Here, these are for you.”
As though it were the most natural thing in the world, she handed me a bag of dried scallops and continued to speak.
“I’m rich, you know. I have lots of money and a big house. Very big.”
She didn’t appear to be rich, but appearances certainly aren’t everything. I ate a scallop and played along.
“That’s impressive,” I said. “Do you live near here?”
“Yes, all my life. Yes, yes, it’s very big indeed. So many rooms, and you know, it’s only me living there. It’s very sad. Isn’t it sad?
“Yes, sad,” I said.
“I have so much money and so much food and no one to share it with. No one to share the warmth of my table heater. My children are gone; my husband is gone… If I died, no one would find me for weeks. Maybe longer.”
(What do you say to that? I bet the smell would be pretty bad …)
I didn’t have time to answer anyway. She surprised me with a question.
“Do you think maybe you and I could get married? You’re good-looking, and I’m rich.”
“Sure,” I said, popping a dried scallop into my mouth. It was raining out, and I was thinking that perhaps we could both benefit here – her from some much-needed company, and I from a place to sleep, and, well, she was an interesting old lady, if a bit depressed.
“Well, maybe you could stay at my house—“ she paused, thinking. “No,” she said. “No, it's too ______." And with that, she bid me goodbye and left.
Too what? Your guess is as good as mine. It was a word I didn’t know, and by the time I had the sense to check my dictionary I’d forgotten it. It bugged me for days. What was the reason?
I put the scallops in my pack, which, for the next 3 days, smelled like scallops.