The First Stomp

Having arrived alone in Japan without a job or knowing anyone, I had no obligations except deciding where I would like to live, and then finding a job. Tokyo was too hectic, so I headed down to some southern cities. I fell in love with Kyoto city because of its natural beauty and cultural heritage, and thus decided to call it home for a while.

I met an Austrian girl at the guesthouse I was staying at, and we decided to share an apartment. There was a week before we could move in, so I felt this was an auspicious sign to take a road trip.

Strapped for cash, I'd have to do an ultra-budget trip, that is, if I'd like to eat in the coming months. Hitchhiking became the game plan. Catching rides was rather easy, and half a day later I was being dropped off at Hiroshima castle by a truck driver.

Sticking to the minimal expenditure goal, I pulled out my sleeping bag and curled up in a pile of leaves on the castle grounds. Around 6 AM, just before dawn, hundreds of people poured into the castle park (where I was sound asleep) to sing in circles and pace around extolling prayers. Several people saw me watching them from the pile of leaves as I awoke, but just pretended I wasn't there. In an hour they were all gone and I went back to sleep. When I woke again, it seemed like some weird surrealistic dream. I still can't figure it out.

In the morning I checked into the city's youth hostel, and went into town to look around. Hiroshima is very much a modern city today, rebuilt after having been completely obliterated on August 6th, 1945. The Atomic Dome is the only standing monument from the city of old, overwhelming the visitor with the awesome destructive power humanity can inflict upon each other. The Peace Memorial Museum and Memorial Hall document the carnage and suffering further. Very depressing indeed, but a feeling every person should experience in order to rid the planet of mankind's most deadly weapon.

"I'm so ashamed to be an American whose country did this to you." I said to a Japanese woman who sat on the bench next to me. "And we are more ashamed of Pearl Harbor and the war we brought on to you," she replied.

The trip continues...

Hitchhiking again along the Inland Sea and on to Kyushu Island where I was picked up by one Mr. Hagimoto and his wife. They threw out the red carpet for me, a killer dinner, loads of sake, a bed to sleep in, and a drive out to the expressway the next day. The Hagimotos bought me many gifts along the way, as did several other rides I caught. Film, phone cards, meals, fruit, tea bags, snacks, potatoes, and $10 cash! At the rate I was going, I'd show a profit from this little advoyage!

A mother in a traditional kimono blessing her newborn baby at a Shinto Shrine in Usa.

After soaking in the famous Beppu hot springs with a bunch of mixed bathers, I wasn't sure where I'd crash as night fell, so I impulsively jumped on a ferry to Shikoku Island. The ferry docked in some rinky-dink village around 3:00 AM, so I wandered around looking for a place to crash for the rest of the night. I came across a baseball field with dugouts. "Familiar territory" I said to no one as I threw out my sleeping bag on a bench. When I opened my eyes the next morning the first thing I saw was an old woman leaning over me, probably wondering what the hell I was doing here. Startled, I asked "What?" She gasped, dropped a bag of groceries on my chest, and ran off. More gifts from the gods.

On the road again, I continued to meet loads of classic characters. The speed demon who had to show off how fast his car went, ( I made good time on that ride), the woman who raised mini-chin dogs and insisted I come to her home for lunch to see them. The spaced out housewife who talked non-stop in Japanese. I guess I encouraged her by constantly nodding in agreement.

Himiji Castle crash. Morning photo by self-timer.

By the end of the day I made it back to Honshu (the main island), and my desired destination -- Himiji Castle. A standard dinner in a noodle shop and an early crash on the castle grounds. My wake up was uneventful, and I was the first person into the enormous castle for some quiet reflection. The crowds soon filed in, and after touring the inside, I noticed four young school girls following me in the extensive courtyards. I walked quickly and hid behind a wall before they could catch up. As they were asking each other "Where'd he go?" I jumped out of my hiding place and scared them. Stunned like deer's caught in headlights, I had them pose for this picture...

Six school girls.

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