Once in Gotemba, it only took ten minutes for me to be picked up by Naoyo, a medical equipment salesman on his way to meet old friends. The next two rides were with young families: the first were moving house and made space by shifting boxes from the car into a truck following behind; the second were returning from a safari park and I squeezed in between two child seats.
By the sixth and final ride, I was no longer bothering to put my backpack down while I waited. I was soon picked up by Koto and Yoshi, on their way to compete in a dirt bike race in Hyogo. They’d already motioned for me to get in before thinking to ask where I was going, and when I gave the unspecific answer of ‘Kansai’ (which includes Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto), they declared they would take me to Kyoto, conferring with each other about all the things a foreign tourist would enjoy there. After some confusion I explained that, if it made no difference to them, I’d prefer Osaka.
‘We’ll take you to Osaka then!’
After we’d spoken for a while the two began to talk earnestly between themselves, confirming each detail we’d just discussed.
‘He’s 27.’ ‘Amazing! He hitchhiked from Tokyo today!’
‘Amazing, isn’t it? He’s from England!’
‘Amazing! He’s going to Osaka!’
Eventually they exhausted all they’d learned about me, and I was tempted to feed the conversation with a few more tidbits but decided that was probably beneath someone as amazing as me. Instead, I got to the questions I’d asked everybody that day.
‘We stopped for you because you’re a good person,’ they answered.
‘But how did you know I was a good person?’
Koto looked thoughtful. ‘You have a kind face. And you’re travelling around Japan so you must be interested in our culture, you must be a good person, right?’
After a couple of hours we reached Osaka. While there, I learnt some Kansai-ben from drunken locals who were amused to hear their dialect in a foreign accent, and ate nothing but dishes ending in -yaki for three days.