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Not So Lost in Translation...

Monday, August 7, 2006 Posted: 12:17 PM JST

"A steady summer rain pelted the two salvaged umbrellas covering my backpack and summer-clad body as I stood, thumb out and somewhat hopelessly, by the Japanese highway. Cars passed by but did not stop." So starts Terry Redding's recall of a two week trip hitchhiking through Japan. It sounds ominous, another foreigner lost in translation in enigmatic Japan. Another story about how strange the Japanese are. Or so it seemed. When I read on, I instead discovered a declaration of love.

"Before I had been washed completely from the landscape, a couple stopped and drove me six hours directly into the heart of Tokyo, stopping at an ideal central district before heading on to their suburban home."

Six hours. That is amazing in any country, especially when you consider that the couple clearly went out of their way into central Tokyo, a traffic nightmare, to drop Redding off. I hitchedhiked all over Europe in my younger years and know that these things are rare (although I had many wonderful experiences myself).

"Japan, it turns out," continues Redding, "is fabulous for hitchhiking."

He even goes as far as to compare it with other countries. "Of the 40-odd countries in which I have hitched, the Japanese were the most generous with their time and automobiles. The rain-day wait was the anomaly (hey, no one anywhere wants to haul around a soggy tourist)."

All the other days during his two-week trip turned out to be far beyond expectations.

"My favorite patron picked me up in his SUV with a mixed look of anxiety and concern. After an hour or so on the highway, he asked my objective for the evening. After blurting something about finding a cheap hostel or camping, he got on his car phone and chatted a bit, then turned to me and asked, "Do you like sushi?" He was on the phone with his wife, telling her he was bringing home a stray.

The generosity of drivers almost grew routine. If it was a hot day on a secondary road, the driver would inevitably stop at the first roadside vending machine (they occur every few miles) and offer me a soft drink. If it was lunch time, we would pull off for a fast-food noodle lunch. Although consistent, their empathy was still surprising and always gratifying."

Redding's decision to thumb his way across Japan, especially considering the fact that he didn't speak a word of Japanese, was courageous. To him it also was a revelation. It confronted him with the 'real' Japanese. Instead of observing, and analyzing, Japanese from far away through weird TV shows and undigested customs, he interacted with the average person on the street, and found it exhilarating.

"Initially shy," he concludes his article, "Japanese drivers warmed quickly, and most had a wonderful sense of humor. They usually do not hesitate to pick up strangers; an average wait was only a few minutes, whether on a busy main highway or a less-traveled back road. Hitchhiking revealed the extraordinary generosity of the ordinary Japanese driver."

Source: Chicago Tribune - One thumb up for Japan

Keywords: travel_news trends_lifestyle

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1 comments so far post your own

1 | At 07:07am on Aug 29 2006, tim .t wrote:
cool story. maybe someday i will try the same thing.
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The now legendary Sir Ernest Mason Satow (1843-1929) was a member of the British legation in Tokyo for twenty-one years. This classic book is based on the author's detailed diary, personal encounters, and keen memory. In it, Satow records the history of the critical years of social and political upheaval that accompanied Japan's first encounters with the West around the time of the Meiji Restoration. Fascinating.
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