I’m always a little bit nervous when hitchhiking in a new country, especially where there’s a language barrier. But Japan is great to hitchhike! People know the concept (pronouncing it ‘hitch hike’, emphasising the space between the two syallables). We also saw some Japanese hitchhikers.
To hitchhike, you do the same as you would in western Europe, and stand with your thumb out. Sometimes we used a sign, sometimes we didn’t.
Waiting times were similar to in Europe, ranging from three minutes to three hours.
Hitchhiking at the exit of a rest area. We have a sign which may or may not say ‘west’!
The mountainous island of Yakushima is said to be 90% covered with forest. 90%! Because of this, Chris and I board the oldest, rustiest and cheapest ship in Japan’s waters and sail to this fairytale place.
Yakushima has actually been extensively logged and replanted. However, some old-growth forest still remains, and two-thousand year old yakusugi trees live on. They silently watch Japanese walkers who come for a two day holiday: a brief break from their sixty-hour working weeks.
“Remain calm and ready your bear spray,” I read on the Bear Smart website as we go up up up in a cable car.
“BEAR SPRAY? What bear spray?” I moan at Chris. “No-one told us to carry bear spray! Do they sell it in the tourist information shop down there? WE NEED BEAR SPRAY!”
But it’s too late. The cable car is already taking us up through thick clouds, leading us to the trailhead of our hike in Daisetsuzan national park. My phone loses signal as I frantically search online for what to do if you don’t have bear spray.
Japan is a hiker’s paradise, and the Dewa Sanzan (the three mountains of Dewa) is a pilgrimage route of the aesthetic Shugendo religion. Shugendo pilgrims and Japanese hikers can walk all three mountains – Haguro San, Gas San and Yudono San – although many non-religious hikers choose to walk just one or two of the mountains. Each mountain has a Shugendo shrine perched on the top.
The first mountain of the pilgrimage, Haguro San, is an easy walk, involving hundreds of beautiful stone steps.
Walking the hundreds of steps between Japanese cedar trees up Haguro San
Shrines at the bottom of Haguro San. These shrines weirdly worship the deities of mining, nation-building, fisheries, and national prosperity, to name a few. To me and Chris, this is contradictory to the little we have learned about Shugendo
Tokyo is surely the most capitalist, consumerist city in the world, and is not a good introduction to beautiful Japan. Billboards and lights scream at people to buy stuff. Trains are crammed with adverts whilst people are transfixed with smartphones. Everywhere I turn, there are women who look like film stars. Looking perfect is seemingly important in Tokyo.
The gaudy lights of central Tokyo make no sense to me. They seem out of place in a culture with such beautiful ornate art, shrines and intricate wooden buildings.
One advert says “life is beautiful.” Not in central Tokyo.