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Hitchhiking in Japan and why it is so easy

We were not hitch hikers before we came to Japan. Travelling is so much easier when you have some cash in your pocket and full time jobs have always allowed us to take the mode of transport of our choice. Fast forward to 2017 and a lot has changed. We quit our jobs to travel and 6 months on Japanese trains quickly gets expensive.

This is when we decided to give hitchhiking a go. After hearing how easy it is to hitch a ride in Japan, we thought we should test out the rumours ourselves. So far we’re pleased to say that hitchhiking has been unbelievably easy in both Japan and Okinawa!

Hitchhiking as a couple is not a problem

We were slightly worried that hitching for 2 spaces in a car would be a problem but it really has not been the case. The majority of Japanese cars are empty at the back, besides all of the junk they seem to carry around on their backseats!

We don’t speak Japanese, but we still manage to get by

Surprisingly, us not speaking Japanese has not stopped drivers from picking us up. Very few people speak English in Japan but we still manage to have short conversations using basic English. When in doubt, tell them about the places you have already seen in Japan – they love that you’re visiting their country!

Safety is not an issue for the Japanese

We have always tried really hard to find hitchhiking spots where cars can easily and safely pull over. On the rare occasion where our pull-over spot with not great, we still got picked up.

Also, don’t be surprised if you get in the back of a Japanese car and the seat belts are tidied away or trapped in the boot. Legally you don’t have to wear a seat belt in the back (and it has taken us a long while to figure that one out!). Of course, we would always advise you to wear a seat belt, especially considering some of the driving we have seen!!

The average waiting time is unbelievably short

The longest we have waited is around 2 hours, but that was entirely our own fault for having a terrible spot. On average you wait no longer than 20 minutes and sometimes as short as 30 seconds (that has happened to us around 5 times now!).

A whole range of people will pick you up!

We couldn’t possibly put the people who pick you up into a category. Everyone from students to business people and elderly couples have kindly rolled down their window and offered their back seat. The only thing they have in common is a warm heart 🙂

So why is it so easy?

The answer is simple curiosity. The majority of Japanese people have never even seen a hitchhiker before and rarely come across foreigners in smaller towns. There is a reason why the first question is often “Where are you from?”.

What you need to know before hitchhiking in Japan

  • Make sure you know where they are dropping you off if they can only take you part of the way. We have had a couple of occasions where people were so eager to take us and we ended up being dropped off somewhere really useless. Both times we had to finish our journey on the train.
  • Shorter distances work better. In the Japanese fashion to do their job really well, most people don’t stop because they are not going all the way to your destination. This is problematic for longer journeys, but a simple ‘north’ or ‘south’ sign is pretty effective too.
  • The kindness goes above and beyond. Don’t be surprised if you have a break in a rest area and the driver comes back with drinks for everyone. If you’re travelling over lunch you might also end up unsuccessfully trying to refuse a free meal. It is always just as embarrassing, but sometimes you just have to swallow your pride and let the driver be as hospitable as ever!

So there you have it, hitchhiking in Japan is really easy AND it will save you a ton of money that you would have otherwise wasted on the bullet train.

Tell us your hitchhiking stories in the comments! Have you ever hitched a ride in Japan?

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