But this morning I had help to get started. Rather than walk to the highway and try to hitchhike 5 kilometers to the Aomori Chuo entrance of the Tohoku expressway, the friend with whom I stayed with offered to drive me there. This gave me a 30 minute head start. My home in Niigata is 580 kilometers distance via the Tohoku and Ban’etsu expressways and I hoped to return the same day.
The first driver, Mr. Kato, said he would only go as far as Kuroishi, about 20 kilometers down the road. The traffic at Kuroshi was only a tiny fraction of Aomori Chuo, and I wondered if I made a mistake taking the ride from Mr. Kato. I knew the next expressway entrance at Hirosaki Owani would be much better for me, and headed that direction on foot. I knew it was too far to walk all the way, but nevertheless I continued walking down the road until I caught the next ride nearly an hour later. Twin brothers with the family name of Kitayama picked me up! They are highly skilled carpenters who make Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. One of them said when he was young just after graduating from university, he traveled in Europe for 3 months hitchhiking from place to place. Japanese who have traveled overseas, and the ones who themselves have experienced hitchhiking will usually stop for me.
The most interesting person to pick me up today was Yoshi, a former Sumo wrestler. He said he lived in a Sumo world from 8 years old till 20, and all he wanted to be in life was a professional sumo. But that dream suddenly ended with an injury to his knee. The doctor told him he couldn’t wrestle anymore. In despair he left Japan and moved to San Diego to start a new life. There he grew fond of the local Mexican people, and learned to speak Spanish. He also met a Japanese girl in San Diego with whom he fell in love with and expressed that love. She told him, “Yoshi, you know nothing about real love! Come to church with me tonight and learn about love.” So he went with her to a Spanish speaking church in San Diego, heard the Gospel of Jesus for the first time in his life, and was so moved with the Message he wept with emotion! God came into his life that night and by and by, he felt called to become a missionary to Peru! Yoshi described to me in detail life in Peru, the poverty and the lack of morals. And I thought Japan is tough! The Japanese are hard to sell but they do have a strong sense of morals in their culture. Though they don’t know the teachings of the New Testament, many Japanese live by its principles better than Westerners who do know the Bible.
Yoshi took me to the Adatara parking area just before the junction of the Ban’estu expressway that goes to Niigata. It was 4:30PM and I still had an hour and a half of sunlight left. The previous time standing at Adatara I caught a ride in only 20 minutes, but 3 hours later by 7:30 I still hadn’t caught a ride and was standing in the dark unable to even read the license plates until the car was about to pass me. Over 95% of the traffic was heading toward Tokyo, not toward Niigata. I realized rather than wait for cars to come to me, I would have to walk up to drivers in the parking area, the ones that have Niigata license plates. Normally I don’t do this because drivers who do give me rides this way are usually not friendly or talkative, but I was in a desperate situation! The first driver I asked did give me a ride, and I was so grateful to know I would be home in two hours and not have to try to figure out how to sleep at Adatara that night. :-)