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.