Kobayashi Tomoki of Hokkaido.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”
― Plato

I got home a little past midnight tonight, after my business trip to Nara City turned into an unexpected adventure with a complete stranger.

We had our annual, mandatory JET orientation for Nara prefecture this afternoon, and I think everything went quite well. It’s always great to see the giddiness and enthusiasm of the first year JETs, and it seems to spread amongst most of us, every year. Afterwards, I decided to head to dinner with a fellow 4th year JET where we talked about everything we could relating to work. After that, I decided to head over to an event called “International Free Talk” organized by one of Nara’s newest CIR’s, but sadly only made it for the last 30 seconds. Hahaha. Fortunately enough, they invited me to go out to a local izakaya where I proceeded to order soft drinks – as I needed to drive myself home afterwards.

Once I got to my car, I was on my way home when I hit a red light in front of Kintetsu Nara Station where I saw a Japanese guy standing at the corner holding a sign that read “Kashiwara”, written in hiragana, on it. Never had I seen someone hitchhike in Japan before, yet what was even more peculiar was how bold he was about it. He was standing in an area with heavy traffic, where cars were parked on the side of the road, waiting to pick certain people up, but no one seemed to bat an eye at him.

As the light turned green, I drove past him, asking myself why he would be hitchhiking and whether or not he had managed to have missed his last train and/or didn’t have enough cash to get him to his destination. Thinking about all of these various scenarios, I couldn’t (in good conscience) leave him potentially stranded where he was when I had a means of transporting him and all the extra time in the world because I requested the day off tomorrow.

I turned back around and parked near the area he was standing and looked up how to get to Kashiwara. I thought that it was in Nara prefecture, but to my surprise it was actually a place in Osaka. Regardless it looked to only be a 48 minute drive (which is quicker than my drive home – which is easily over an hour long from Nara City). I waved him down and at first he looked behind himself to see if I was waving at someone else when he approached me. I told him that I could take him to Kashiwara and he seemed extremely pleased. He had a regular sized guitar (in-case) and a small (overhead luggage sized) suitcase with him and that was it. He got into my car, and we started on a road trip to Ando Station in Kashiwara.

On the way, we had ample amount of time to get to know each other, so we asked each other a plethora of questions along the way. I can’t remember everything we talked about, but here’s a generalized transcript of our conversation, translated from Japanese to English.

(T) Tomoki: Thank you so much for taking me to Kashiwara.
(M) Me: No problem at all.
T: May I ask you… what country are you from?
M: America.
T: That’s so cool!
M: Have you ever been?
T: No, but I really want to go.
M: Where are you from? Are you from Nara? Kansai?
T: No. I’m actually from Hokkaido.
M: Oh, really? Why are you in Nara?
T: I’m actually traveling across Japan. I start my new job in October so I’m traveling.
M: Wow. That sounds great. How did you find your way to Nara.
T: I’ve been hitchhiking all of the way.
M: From Hokkaido? But how did you get from Hokkaido to north-eastern Honshu (Tohoku)?
T: I hitchhiked from Hokkaido and then took a ferry from there to Iwate.
M: How far are you planning to travel?
T: My plan is to travel from Hokkaido, all the way down to Okinawa by hitchhiking. And then, maybe take a plane from Okinawa to Tokyo and then return to Hokkaido by October.
M: That’s quite an ambitious plan, you have. I think it’s great.
T: Well, I wouldn’t be able to do it if it wasn’t for generous people like you.
M: Why are you hitchhiking across Japan, though? Do you have a purpose.
T: I guess I just wanted to do it. I wanted to see if I could. I also want to experience more of Japan. I’ve only lived in Hokkaido all of my life, and I wanted to travel and see as much of Japan as I can.

M: What about your parents? Aren’t they worried about you?
T: No. They’re not worried at all.
M: What? Seriously?
T: Yeah. My parents and I don’t really have a good relationship. Actually, we don’t talk. We split up.
M: Oh wow. I’m sorry to hear that.
T: Yeah, my parents left me when I was about 14 and my brother was 16 years old.
M: They left you?
T: Yeah. I lived together with my older brother. He pretty much raised me after they left us.
M: Oh wow. That’s so sad. How old is your brother? And how old are you?
T: My brother is 26 and I’m 24. I actually just turned 24 recently.
M: Oh really? When was your birthday?
T: It was August … [I think it was the 17th, but I can’t remember for the life of me. I just know he’s a Leo, so before the 23rd]
M: Oh, that’s cool! My birthday is actually this Saturday. I actually have plans to spend time with friends in Osaka.
T: Oh, wow! That’s great. Do you come to Osaka often?

M: Did you eat anything today?
T: No. I haven’t eaten anything yet. I just drank water, mostly.
M: Are you serious? But you seem so energetic. Why haven’t you eaten yet?
T: I spent most of the day hitchhiking through Mie, so I was riding in random peoples’ cars, then performing street music and writing music lyrics, today.
M: What about yesterday? Did you eat anything?
T: Hmmm… Yeah, I ate bread and a hot dog.

When we got to Ando Station I noticed that it was nowhere near a convenience store and it seemed to be in quite the isolated area, so we made a pit stop at a local 7 Eleven, as I asked him if there was another place I could take him that would be even more convenient for him. In the meantime, we took a little break and he asked if he could go inside to buy an orange juice and a snack, and of course I said – yes. After he had made his small purchases, I proceeded to buy him some energy, protein, and vitamin jelly-drink pouches for his travels for the next day. As expected he was grateful, and I brushed his compliment aside. Shortly after returning to the car, he had found a place that was close to our location at the time that he wanted to get dropped off. He was following Route 170 towards Wakayama (his second destination) but as I looked at the map, I noticed that I still needed to head south in order to get home, anyway, so I decided to drive an extended 38 minutes to a more populated station, south of where we were situated. I figured that a popular station may be best for his street performances, as well as a nice place to find food and a place to sleep if he needed it. He was ecstatic to find out that I would drive him even further towards his destination, so since we had come to an agreement, I started the car up and we continued on our way.

M: So do you have a desire to become a celebrity?
T: I think it would be nice, if I could. Along my travels I think it would be great if I could meet someone who has a connection to the celebrity world, during my travels. That’s part of the reason why I perform in public. In hopes of being discovered. Honestly, 60% of me would love for it to happen, but 40% of me is alright if God doesn’t give it to me.
M: What kind of life do you want for yourself?
T: I just want to be happy. I don’t have a desire for money or material things, so I don’t really work hard to get it. But I love performing, playing music, singing, and writing music so I try to focus my energy on the things that I love and that I enjoy. I just want to live a full life and achieve my personal goals. I would also like to find a nice wife who has similar ambitions and desires as I do, and live a life pursuing our dreams, together.

We had plenty more conversations, but these are the only ones that have managed to stick with me about last night. As we approached the station, he seemed to have begin to hit the wall as he began dozing off in my car. And it was at that point that our fettered paths had finally reached its end. After living in Japan for over 3 years, it amazes me how open and real he was with me, as I thought to myself about how most Japanese people really aren’t like this. Not only that, but I couldn’t help but think to myself about how the full abandonment of his parents has lead him to become the person that he currently is, today. Additionally, I couldn’t help but empathize and sympathize for his situation. I noticed the hurt he felt when he talked about his parents, perhaps a bit of anger and resentment, but even he was unsure about why he was out on this journey. I feel as though he is searching for something – perhaps, he could be searching for himself; However, all-in-all, I felt truly inspired by him. It was for this reason, at the end of our journey together, I gave him 20,000円 for his journey to Okinawa back to Hokkaido. He continuously tried to refuse me giving him the money, but in the end – I told him that I would feel offended if he didn’t take it. (Works every time, in Japan.)

At any rate, life is so hard and so harsh, yet for someone like him to continue to endure through these hardships and attempt to achieve his dreams – it truly is inspiring to me. Although I could have come home and gone straight to bed, instead of stay up, write, and complete this blog entry – I chose to do my best to (as accurately as possible) blog about this man and the priceless experience I managed to experience with him.

May our paths cross again, someday, Tomoki.