September 19: Today was warm, bright and sunny, a very good day to travel by hitchhiking. I was on my way to Aomori city, about 480 kilometers from my home in Niigata city. It was imperative that I reach Aomori by evening because I had to travel further the next day to Misawa city, 70 kilometers from Aomori, and be there by 10PAM to do a job assignment.
My motivation to hitchhike is not just to save money, but to make new friends. The very first driver who picked me up was a talkative lady, Miss Tsuneko, who took me to Tainai city on Route 7, about 60 kilometers from home, a very good distance for the first ride. Tsuneko is not a Christian but she is interested in helping her Christian friend find a Christian husband.
From Route 7 I walked 4 kilometers to get to the Arakawa–Tainai interchange of the Nihonkai-Tohoku Expressway. I hoped catching a ride on the expressway would speed my journey by getting a vehicle going at least as far as somewhere in Yamagata Prefecture and thereby bypassing Murakami City entirely. Expressway drivers tend to go longer distances. Moreover, traffic on Route 7 past Murakami is minimal. In times past I had to wait more than an hour in Murakami to catch a ride going any significant distance.
The 40 minute hike to the expressway bore fruit – I got an immediate ride to Atsumi Onsen in Yamagata! From Atsumi Onsen I caught 3 more cars and got as far as Nikaho City in Akita Prefecture. It was about 3PM. I hoped to catch a ride from Nikaho to Akita city. There was just enough time for me to catch the 4:30 train from Akita station which would arrive in Aomori at 8PM.
After just a few minutes wait in Nikaho, a truck stopped and the driver said he would take me to Route 13 in Akita. I assumed he meant the intersection of Route 13 and Route 7 in Akita City, but I was terribly wrong! The driver was a foreigner, a man from Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. He’s lived in Japan for 18 years and spoke good Japanese, the only common language between us. The driver got off Route 7 to take a free expressway heading toward Akita City, but partway he got off the expressway at Ohuchi and took Route 105 toward Daizen city. I didn’t know it at the time, but Daizen city is the new name for Omagari city. Had he said he was going to Omagari, I would have immediately asked him to let me off at Ohuchi for I knew that Omagari was way out of my way! But the name “Daizen” confused me. The driver was so positive and tried to be encouraging. “Don’t worry! This road runs through the rice fields with very few stop lights and little traffic! I’ll take you to Route 13 and from there you can catch a ride to Akita city which is next to Daizen! But looking at the map, I realized I made an awful mistake!
Why did I heed the driver’s advice and go with him further? It could be because he is Vietnamese, and I don’t ever remember meeting anyone from Vietnam before. It’s always interesting to meet people from difference countries and cultures. On September 9th two young men from Nepal took me to Akita city. They corrected me when I said the founder of Buddhism was from India. “You’re twice our age and know many things, and yet you didn’t know that Buddha was born in our country, in Nepal!” :-)
There was now no way I could arrive Akita city in time to catch the 4:35PM train. After that there was only one more train left, the one leaving Akita station at 6:46PM which would get me to Aomori city at 10:40PM. If I missed that one too, I would be in bad trouble indeed. It would mean hitchhiking in the dark. I have hitchhiked after sunset occasionally, but it’s not nearly as easy as hitchhiking during daylight hours. It’s harder for drivers to see me and more dangerous at night.
I began to realize I had to stop listening to the driver and start to follow what I knew from experience to be best. Letting him take me to Route 13 was no guarantee I would make the 6:46PM train. From the map I saw the Omagari Interchange of the Akita expressway a few kilometers before Route 13. It was right on Route 105. I asked the driver to let me off at the expressway entrance, and he did so but expressed doubts I would catch a car going on it. I didn’t listen to him this time, I knew catching a ride on the expressway had the potential to make up for the time I lost on the detour.
The decision to take the Akita Expressway paid off! After only a couple minutes wait, a driver stopped and took me to the Nishisenboku Service Area. I got off there because the driver was going to Akita Airport. From Nishisenboku an elderly couple took me to the train station at Hachuryu, about 30 kilometers past Akita city. Because of the speed of the expressway, I actually caught up with and past the 4:35PM train from Akita city and caught it at Hachiryu with 5 minutes to spare! It was a happy ending to an otherwise traumatic trip. God is good. :-)