Japan is not the most backpacking-friendly destination when it comes to travelling on a budget, but that doesn’t mean you should skip this incredible country! if you stick to go hitchhiking everywhere in Japan your adventures’ budget will be able to breath a lot…and you will meet wonderful people in between!
Compared to most Asian countries, in Japan you will certainly spend more money on food and accommodation, but when it comes to transport the figures are almost ridiculous on the cost of moving around Japan.
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Because of this, in almost two months I spent there I took just a couple of local trains and one night bus, the rest of my solo adventures in Japan were all made possible by almost always sticking to Hitchhiking in Japan.
The trains in Japan run smoothly and they’re famous all over the world for their punctuality.
Having first built the Shinkansen (aka Bullet Train) in time for the Tokyo olympics in 1964, now these trains can travel at up to 320 Km/h.
If you’re curious about taking one of the Shinkansen trains in Japan be prepared to spend +$250 USD for a 7 day pass or +$400 USD for a 14 day pass…
As those figures are way beyond my tight backpacker budget, and the buses are not much cheaper either, I opted for hitchhiking pretty much all the time.
Hitchhiking in Japan is super safe, and my average waiting time was less than 20 minutes.
In one occasion I was literally getting off one ride at a service area and another car stopped to take me on, so that was a waiting time of less than 1 second!
These are some things I experienced on how to hitchhike Japan across all the rides I got offered:
It doesn’t matter if you don’t speak Japanese
I wrote my signs in Japanese copying the characters from Google or maps.me, if the person that offered a ride started talking Japanese very quickly I would say in English: “Japanese not good”, which everyone understood.
If they were not going to my destination I would show them maps.me on my phone so they could point out where they were going.
Even if they don’t speak English you can say “Service Area” or learn the words for the direction you’re heading:
North = Kita, South = Minami, East = Higashi, West = Nishi.
Once on the car we could still have some basic conversations as they’d know simple words in English.
Write your sign in Japanese + 方面
During all my rides hitchhiking in Japan, I found more effective to write a destination no farther than 100-150 Km away. I would sometimes even put a second line with a destination some 50 Km away in the same direction.
Then the key will be to add on your sign the character 方面 which means “in the direction of/towards”
For example, to go from Fukuoka to Hiroshima (280Km apart) I started with a sign to Kitakyushu and then another sign to Hiroshima. Below is the sign to Kitakyushu with the “magic” 方面 character.
How to find a box in Japan?
Japan is such a clean country! It’s nearly impossible to find a box on the street. Always go to a convenience store (Kombinis in Japanese) such as 7Eleven, FamilyMart, etc. and ask for a box, they never say no.
In one 7Eleven I also asked for a marker pen as I lost mine and they gave me a new one as a gift plus a coffee!
Don’t start hitchhiking in Japan too early
I found much better to start hitchhiking from 9 or 10 am as earlier than that the traffic is mainly from people rushing it going to work.
It was also harder to find rides after 4pm.
Japanese people is very hospitable so If you’re hitchhiking around noon, it’s highly likely you may be offered lunch. At other times I also got offered coffees and snacks.
Where to hitchhike?
Always try to go towards the exit of the town/city you’re at. I’d normally check on both Google Maps and maps.me what would be the driving route to go from A to B and find a spot that I could reach easily, either walking or by bus.
When deciding for a spot on where to hitchhike, consider how safe it’d be for a driver to stop there and how visible you are in the distance so they have a few seconds to quickly consider to stop for you.
If there was a traffic light I’d not stop before the light itself but after the crossing, as that way, if they were waiting on a red light they would have enough time to see me hitchhiking and consider for a while to take me on board.
I found many rides when putting up my thumb by the road outside convenience stores as many people will go there for a pit stop and then consider to take me on while they order a coffee. I even got drinks offered by people that were going in the opposite direction but still wanted to help.
If you’re on a service area I’d just find a spot in the direction to the toilets, most people would see you first, think about it and then take you on when they come out of the toilet.
What sort of people would stop?
I didn’t find any stereotype on who would stop. But definitely the one stereotype of “truck drivers are the ones that offer rides” never applied to me. I got always a mix of young and old people, males and females. Below are most of this unknown heroes, thank you all! arigato!
How long would it take to hitchhike in Japan?
If you’re planning a long ride between far away places, I found that I would be averaging some 30-40 Km per hour, considering waiting times, traffic, stops, etc.
Calculate your day for this.
If you’re going somewhere 150 Km away, it may take you some 5 hours across different rides. Of course, if you’re lucky and find someone stopping and going to your same destination then it will be much faster.
Talking with the drivers is very helpful as well, not only you get to know a good and friendly person, but in a couple of occasions they were not going to my final destination and if they were free they would actually keep driving and leave me at the doorstep of the place I wanted to spend the night on.
Do you always need to hitchhike?
Not really, unless you’re on an extremely tight budget.
Some destinations linked by local trains are very easy and cheap to reach, for example, to go by train from Osaka to Kyoto (or viceversa) cost only about USD $4, and to go from Tokyo towards the surfing beaches around Zushi/Chigasaki costs less than USD $10.
Want to hitchhike in Japan?
Go for it! it’s super safe and you will meet really fun people. Feel free to ask me anything if you need any help or want to know anything else on what to do while hitchhiking in Japan.
Check out my adventures while solo backpacking in Japan for ideas on your next trip!