Definitely Not Girls

by Michele Bigley  <Submit your comments to the author>
(Originally published in Student World Traveler)

I'm no poster-girl for adventure. But when a guy in the karaoke bar told us there was no way we could hitchhike from Osaka to Tokyo, that was all we needed. "Not in Japan - definitely not girls," he said as he stumbled past us to the stage, mike in hand, to sing "I Will Survive." I don't think he understood that by saying that, he essentially turned our harebrained idea into a challenge.

We must have looked a sight. An Asian/American hip-hopper, a New Jersey native with pink hair, and moi, a combat-booted California blonde with a lot of teeth, holding out our thumbs. Our first ride drove us into the middle of the Japanese flatlands and deposited us on the side of the highway sputtering, "I no go to Tokyo," and zoomed off.

"There's no way in hell I'm sleeping on the side of this highway with big-rigs blowing dust onto me all night," Jenn yelled. Sara and I followed her, holding hands as we raced across the screaming intersection, dodging monster trucks, to ask some dudes in a truck stop to hook us up with a ride. The beanie-headed mechanic in the station told us gruffly that we needed a sign. His fingers reeked of gas and oil; his English was perfect. He disappeared into the back room, returning minutes later with rice crackers and a foot-long sign written in Japanese scrawl. He told us the symbols read "Tokyo", bowed, and stood watching as we frogged back to the north side of the road.

I prayed our sign didn't say "Mail Order Brides" when a small truck piled with men stopped and rolled down the window. Butterflies sputtered in my belly as they laughed when Sara - the only one of us who knew any Japanese - asked for a ride to Tokyo. When they finally caught their breath to shout "No way!" she kicked the side of their car, crumpling the bumper with her boot.

None of us noticed the stopped car until the guy at the wheel waved and opened the doors of his sedan. We gave up trying to thank him when we realized that his English was worse than our Japanese. Though we didn't know his name or where we were headed, when he twisted the knob on the radio, and the Grateful Dead kicked on, I felt OK.

Relieved to find a ride out of nowhere before night tripped and fell upon Japan, slowly inching past miles of countryside, mountains, and yellow lights, I could not help but wonder why I felt so safe in this country, with no command of the language, a cheesy map noting only the main cities, and less than adequate funds to save my butt if I happened to end up in jail. I would never hitchhike in the States. Not even with my two toughest chick friends. Not even with my ten toughest male buds. But here I was, hitching through Japan, unafraid.

The lights of Tokyo woke me around 2 a.m. Driver-Guy stopped on a hill in Rappongi, bought us water and Snicker bars from a vending machine, unloaded our packs onto the sidewalk, refused our money, and then sailed off, leaving us alone in Tokyo.

We headed for the nearest bar and toasted our giant Asahi's to Driver-Guy. If only Karaoke dude could see us now, lying on vinyl couches, listening to "Rock Around the Clock"--exhausted, famished, but most important, in Tokyo. It took us 16 hours to hitchhike 250 miles of Japan - the fastest moving country in the world - but we made it.

After our next round Sara told Jenn and me that Driver-Guy was on his way to visit his parents about 2 hours outside of Tokyo--but he couldn't leave us in the middle of the night on the highway "Not Americans," he said. "Definitely not girls."

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