Which way is that way

by Michael Secular

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The day began at 6:30, our usual wake up. But our routine of breakfast and house chores had ended. We were now packing and cleaning up to move on to our next destination: Kyoto.

We said our various goodbyes to friends made over the course of three weeks and some over the past few days. The goodbyes were quick. We took a few photos, and shook a few hands, but life on the farm continued on without us. Our host, Akio-San, dropped us off at the entrance of a highway. We have our final farewell and continue on our way.

Hitchhiking began at 9. We had two signs. One in English, one in Japanese, both with the words “going to Kyoto” written on it. Each of us took a sign and began waiting on the side of the road. In the beginning, the sight of each new car drew excitement of a potential ride. But soon, passing cars became a common sight.

Many would look at the signs with confused expressions, some pointed and laughed; others gave us a thumbs up. One man stopped and read the sign carefully, and upon realizing it said “Kyoto”, shook his head indicating he was not going in that direction, put his hand up to apologize, and continued on his route.

After 3 hours with zero success, a highway patrol man came by wearing a helmet, radio in his ear, and holding a flag. He tried to communicate with us, however, the lack of English made it impossible. He took out a laminated book filled with tiny pictures that resembled a children’s story.He pointed to a picture with a caption that said “not safe police coming soon”. He lead us off the highway, and communicated we should go in front of a 7/11.

Outside of the 7/ 11 we sat on the side of the road under a tree, eating curry, sushi and chocolate. The sun began to dim. We took shifts, one of us holding the sign while the other read or slept on the sidewalk. After two and a half hours we made the decision to call it a day.

Carrying our giant backpacks the two of us headed to the train station. Upon our arrival we learned the cheapest train to Kyoto was leaving in less than 10 minutes.  We rushed to buy tickets and ran to the track. After getting on we looked at each other, unsure if we had even got on the right train. Thankfully we did. Our minds relaxed with the chaos of the day behind us.

The train ride was a perfect substitute for our failure. The train swept through valleys and farmlands; over rivers and small dams and tiny bamboo forests. Small towns passed through our view with everyday people going about their lives. The train sped forward toward the south of the country, chasing the sun. Its final golden rays cast out among the land leaving large shadows. A day’s end was coming near, and a small stage of a long journey closing. Today was a big realization that so much lies ahead. The train makes for a bad metaphor for our long voyage in Japan. Kyoto waits in the distance.

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