On January 31, 2016 I hitchhiked from the Hanawa service area in Akita Prefecture on the Tohoku Expressway back home to Niigata city. My friend Keiji who is from Akita Prefecture was amazed that I made the 505 kilometer (316 miles) trip in a single day. To be honest I myself am amazed! It’s only because of the good Hand of my Creator Who provides all my needs. His Name is Jesus.
I shaved my one month growth of beard the day before the trip. I shaved it because I wasn’t sure whether people would want to pick up a Westerner with a beard. Would you?
The hardest part of hitchhiking from A to B is often the very beginning. Somehow I had to make my way to the Tohoku Expressway if I wanted to return home the same day. Using Google Maps on my Android Tablet, I perceived the Hanawa Service Area is within walking distance from the Kazuno Hanawa train station. Kazuno Hanawa is only two stations away from Towada Minami from was. It was only a 210 yen (1.75 USD) fare for me to get to Kazuno Hanawa,
I have never been to this part of Japan before. But thanks to Google Maps and my Asus Tablet PC, and especially thanks to the Global Positioning System (GPS), I was able to find my way from Towada Minami to the Hanawa Service Area in spite of taking three wrong turns. I estimated the walk would take less than 30 minutes. It took me over an hour!
The weather was clear with a blue sky and the temperature was a few degrees below frezing. I walked over hard and slippery icey and hard packed snow much of the way carrying my or pulling suitcase (it has wheels) with me.
Twice I was puzzled in trying to find the expressway service area. The first time I misunderstood the navigation directions on my tablet and took a wrong turn witch ended in a dead end. For those who have never been to Japan, most areas are not divided into blocks like they are in America. The “go around the block” concept is not common in Japan unless you happen to live in Kyoto or Sapporo. Arriving at a dead end of a road in Japan basically means, “go back the way you came to get back to the turn you should have taken.” The other alternatives are either trespassing on private property and / or trying to find a safe way to the road you want to get to which is just below a fairy high and steep hill. I contemplated both. But because the steep hill was covered with deep snow, and because I would rather not walk on property that is obviously not public, I deemed it a no go.
After that and more more wrong turn, I finally walked to the point of visual distance of the Tohoku Expressway. Due to recent poor eyesight, I can mainly tell I’m close only when I hear the traffic of vehicles on the expressway.
The problem I faced then was the navigation led me to follow a road that was filled with snow! I needed to get to the opposite side of the expressway. This meant I needed to find an underpass that led under the expressway, or a bridge the lad over the exprssway. It was clear that no vehicles were taking the road which the navigation showed me to take. There weren’t any tire tracks in the snow on the road. I walked back a hundred meters (yards) back to the well travelled road that ran parallel to the expressway and walked a couple hundred meters to the direction I perceived the expressway service area to be. But initially I wasn’t even sure I was indeed walking in the right direction! After walking 2 or 3 hunderd meters (yards) further, I saw a passageway under tee Tohoku Expressway which the snow covered road I previously saw led to. What to do? I turned around to get back point I was a few minutes before, back to the snow covered road. There was a mountain of snow that was created by a snow removal vehicle but I saw just around it were were footprints in the snow which were going the direction I needed to go! Would those footprihts take me to the underpass to get to the opposite side of the Tohoku Expressway? Can you guess? They didn’t. The footprints ended a hut a hundred meters away. It was a small man-made structure of the size that probably no more than two people could be in at the same time! I walked around the hut only to find myself in knee-deep snow! There were no more tracks in the snow that headed in the direction I needed to go. I looked and saw only level (and deep) snow, and a fence that bordered the expressway, but no underpass in sight that led under the expressway to the other side.
What to do? In such a situation I learned from experience there is only one good and effective solution: Go back they way I came.
(To be continued!)