After my working days in Nasushiobara I rushed south towards Tokyo. The very first night after leaving the hotel I stayed with the same family that picked me hitch-hiking and hosted me for a night two weeks before, cheerful and kind people and with that great deal of honor and cuteness that only Japanese seem to be able to put together. But faith had a lot to do right before that, I was picked by a “Shintoist” devote that took me a couple extra kilometres to my destination, a calm man with his jingle bells clinking while walking. He was a calligraphy artist and gave me the beautiful piece of art you see below.
Right after that, on a strange morning I hitch-hiked towards Tokyo, not without major incidents. On a narrow street I shoved my thumb towards the slow traffic until two smiley ladies stopped for me.
– We are going in south direction but we have to do something before, would you mind?
– Sure, lets go — My decision was certain when I saw her daughter’s smile, next to her the detour was more than welcome.
Immediately after we set off, they told me who they were. They were followers of “Buppou“. I was about to jump out of the car but something stopped me.
“Buppou” is a Buddhist sect or something like that, born in Japan. Do you remember the Jehovah witnesses? Think about their behavior and marketing-like approach to religion but in a Buddhist book and there you have this people. My host in Aomori had introduced me to this cult and I prayed with over two hundred people in two different places, we gave the beads and a small praying book (in Japanese). They look for foreigners because Japanese people would decline their invitation immediately, so this lost hitch-hiker was multiple times hostage of this people.
And of course, they were eager to take this “fresh foreigner” to the cult centre in Saitama and convert him into his faith, they did take me and they made the PAPER for me. An inscription form that says that I am already part of this religion or whatever you want to call it. With bloody eyes and shaking hands they wrote my name, but I interrupted:
– My friend in Aomori already did this for me
Silence on the room. Way more north I had a similar situation couple of weeks ago, when some devotes took me to the centre to sign me up but as soon as they realized I was already in, or not “fresh” they drove off and dropped me at the station. In this case they didn’t give up and made the paper again, better to be sure I was in it.. This people were definitely confused and doubtful about my presence there. I was a foreigner and quite a messy one, what I was doing there? Was it correct to put this guy in? “But it is one more, one more for our mission, one more…” I heard in their eyes.
Politely they invited me to pray with them looking and their mantra and repeating:
– Nan myou hou len ge kyou
One sensei came and smiling welcomed me praying and reciting some cryptic words that of course I didn’t get. There I was, into a new faith and in between a new heaven-hell dichotomy. Once we finished they offered me a ride to Tokyo and to talk about “Buppou” to my contact in the city, they insisted on this but I refused. Mother and daughter gave a ride nevertheless and dropped me quite close to my contact’s house, I waited a bit before calling him, just in case they were hiding in the shadows.
I arrived to Tokyo with not much more than hope. Just that. My plan was clear, to apply for the Chinese visa and run south with that extra sticker on my passport.
And so I did, almost. Two days in Tokyo, thankfully I was hosted by a nice Filipino that did his best to accommodate me in his small apartment. Of course I spent loads of yen in the metro, commuting to the embassy. On the first day of the week I went to the Chinese Visa Application Centre, and for my great surprise I was told it was possible to get the visa on that place (nowadays you have to be a resident on the place you are applying from). Jumping in one leg I booked hotels (to be cancelled later) for every day of my stay in the country.
Friendly staff, something I have never seen in a Chinese embassy. It was going to happen. The clerk was funny and accepted my documents without much hassle.
– You should collect it on Friday — said the young girl giving me a bill
I run out of the building and jumped around as the happiest grass hopper, I ate a good meal for the great amount of $2 USD and headed west biking. I knew I would have to rush south after getting the visa, but I was happy: I could continue without flying.
Tokyo is a huge city and got lost couple of times in the streets maze. Once I arrived to my host’s apartment after two hours of biking I received the bad news: the embassy had called, and they would have to check my documents for a month.. That’s the usual way to say no when you have visited Turkey and some other Islamic countries, and my passport now looks like the Quran itself. Turkey, Iran, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan had left their blessing on my identity book.. Impossible, that is the word, to get the visa without changing my passport. To do that: 150 USD and one month waiting, no way.
I felt relieved, now I knew it was not doable, I tried and failed but now I was free to go out of the city and head south. The next day was a mess, I got lost for in the metro. And while walking in the centre towards the embassy I was intercepted by the police, a kind officer asked me for my passport:
– Is on the Chinese embassy, they are making my visa
– Mm, what about the bike? Give me the ownership paper, please — In Japan you have to register your bike
– Well, I don’t have one. My friends in Hokkaido gave it to me after they found it in a recycling plant — the officer started scratching his head and called another officer, a small and frail girl that was speaking English
– Sir, we will have to take you to the police station to verify what you are saying
In the US I would have to be handcuffed but thankfully I was in Japan, so they asked me to get in the back of the police car and took me to the station. In the place some people even smiled to me. In the eight floor I was taken to a small room with two tables, in one of them I put both bags, two officers started checking them carefully. I was afraid about only one thing, in one of my endless wrapping bags I had a Japanese envelope with 500 USD in new and unmarked bills, how could I explain that?
But they did not look concerned about that, they found something else. A bland, old and destroyed Tramontina knife.
– What is this for? — the officer asked, shaking
– I am travelling, is for cooking — I wanted to say that I had use it to behead some lads but I skipped the joke
– Do you have any other knife in your backpack? — pointing it in the paroxysm of his terror
– No, sir
They did not know/believe that in Japan there is the so called “recycling plants” where they collect reusable stuff and they give it to people that comes to take a look. You can find furniture, bikes, chainsaws, etc. It is good, now that I think about it, that I didn’t accept a rusty and blood stained chainsaw as a gift.
They faxed the Chinese embassy and after a couple of hours of friendly talk they got the confirmation that my passport was there and that I was not an illegal in Japan. Meanwhile the officer asked me about Japanese girls and photos related. As soon as they got my papers they made a small card that “certifies” that the bike is mine and let me go. The six officers walked me to the main doors and shook my hand.
– Thanks and see you soon — I said while the neat officers waved to me energetically
My backpack, front back and the bike folded were not helping me to navigate the narrow corridors, climbing the stairs and socializing with the commuters on the metro. I had to wait one hour at the embassy to get my passport and when I left the place it was already dark. If there is something I hate about Japan is that they don’t have Daylight saving time, so at 5 or 6 is already pitch dark..
After one hour on the metro I arrived to the street and kissed the pavement, almost crying. No more metros, stairs, tickets and clerks. No more bullshit. Bike and hitch-hike, buddy. After that crazy day I reached a parking area on the highway, luckily it could be accessed from the street; not in mood to jump fences. I hitch-hiked on the exit and the first truck that passed stopped, the guy came with a paper that said, poorly written:
– “STOP, DONT MOVE” — he thought I was going to bike in the highway
– I am just hitch-hiking.. — he felt relieved and left, the trucks NEVER stop for you in Japan
But ten minutes later came a police car and asked me to come back to the service area, the two officers checked my passport and bike card and wished me luck. That night was freezing, I had forgotten what was like to have my toes frozen, that night I remembered it. I waited two hours before going for dinner to the convenience store, a tasty “cup noodle” did the trick and came back to the road. One hour more waiting in the bone-biting cold and gave up, I went out the Parking Area and cycled through the park nearby until I found a hidden spot for my tent. During the night I heard a small animal roaming around the tent, its small steps crunching the fallen leaves and smelling around the foreign object in the middle of his place.
A new day, a new beginning. As early as 7 AM I was back in the parking area, had some bread in the convenience store and sticked out my thumb. Half an hour later I was in the car of an important business man from Chiba, her secretary was driving to a place nearby the Mount Fuji to do some sightseeing. A kind and thoughtful man sixty eight years old, he looked in his fifties. I am amazed on how young the Japanese look.
One hundred kilometres later I saw the astonishing and snow capped Mount Fuji, a giant in the horizon that was not going to be visited by this fugitive.
The smooth highway took us south-west and they dropped me in a quiet Service Area, before leaving the man insisted me take his present: 10000 YEN, something like 90 USD. Refused, he insisted and so on until I gave in and accepted it. Do you remember the size of my monthly budget? Around 60 USD is comfortable to travel with, so that means that Japan has extended my trip funding for almost two years.. I was not expecting such a challenge-less trip, I have to do something about that.
In a wide exit I waited for the next car, just when the sky started spitting a beautiful and shiny black Mercedes stopped for me. I fitted my bike on the boot and my backpack traveled on my lap. They were heading to Osaka, but since my sign said “Nagoya” and since they were not the friendliest people you can imagine I didn’t ask for a longer ride and was dropped off within the messy highway system of Nagoya. Sometimes you can feel that the Japanese are a bit suspicious about you, quite a lot of the ride are not free of the driver’s fear that this guy will turn up a violent and mad guy.
In Nagoya I waited just for four minutes until a smiley guy in a big van stopped for me while laughing. “Osaka?” — asked happily. What a shift! From the serious and bland couple in the Mercedes to this funny and cheerful guy from Osaka. This guy had Buddha in his van, literally. He imports the “mantra” cabinets from China and Vietnam and after he sells that stuff to the temples and devotes.. Guess I am blessed or Buddha wants to make me his hostage once and for all.
Two hours we rode the great highway towards Osaka, meanwhile I was analyzing where to crash at night. “Another big city, will have to bike a lot to find a place”.
– Could you drop me near Nara? — a touristy small town known for the deers freely roaming its parks.
Luckily there was a free shoulder of the Highway that goes down in Tenri, there he stopped near a Seven Eleven convenience store and left me, with two cans of coffee and three bottles of ice tea. Thanks, buddy! May Buddha be with you and I hope he doesn’t mind that you are making such a profit out of the faith.
Cup noodles plus hot water in the convenience store. Lunch. I was really happy to be there, already in Osaka! Meanwhile I was fighting the noodles with my chopsticks a guy came by and laughed as if someone had told him a really good joke.
– Have you visited the “Tenrikyo Church”? Do you want to take a look? — said the young guy with a bright smile.
– Could be nice, but I have to go to Nara and find a place to camp, it should be before dark — I finished my noodles noisily.
– No problem, will take you to the Church and then to Nara, lets go.
I put my bags and bike in his K-car and we headed to Tenri town. He was from Niigata but was living and working in the main Church for the last six months.
From time to time he laughed from the invisible joke, he told me about “Tenrikyo” in his broken English: a religion or cult born in the town of Tenri on the XIX century and now it was fairly big nest where hundreds come to pray, heal and transcend.
The temple was massive, made completely out of wood and a beautiful Japanese roof. We took out our shoes in the entrance and in a immense hall he taught me how to pray. Around ten people praying in the place, and me the newbie trying to catch the movements.
How to do it:
– Kneel and sit in your butt.
– Make a fist in both hands and stick out your thumb, pointing forward lean over your fists like a gorilla would do.
– Once you thought about your problems and dilemmas raise your hands and clap four times, one second interval. Yes, four times. I was surprised for this, usually the things come in three, but not in this case.
We walked over the place, they don’t worship icons, just a red cross and the place where their prophet studied and died. We entered and prayed in several different rooms, he never forgot the joke and kept laughing. He was a good guy as far as a can tell. He asked me if I could stay two more hours to talk about it but we I told him that I needed a place to stay he gave no answer. Sorry man, no bed no faith.
He dropped me in Nara and asked me to come back and solve all my problems and diseases in that place. Yet another successful meeting with faith. I wonder what would happen in my after life, what a mess. I imagine myself in a long corridor with several doors, suddenly all of them open at once: Buddha, Allah, God, the Shinto Gods, Mongolian pagan Gods, all of them inviting me to their place and confused about the situation.
– “Come, you prayed to me, now you are welcome to my place”.
I imagine them gathering trying to resolve where should I head to, and concluding that such a sinner should definitely pay a visit to each hell for a while. Free ticket for several hells, fascinating. Forever in the limbo I will be.