japan on ¥425 a day - part II of the odyssee

From Tokyo Journal September 1999 (part 2 of a 2-part story)
by David Duckett

A four-day respite in Tokyo is instantly forgotten as I, the Mobile English Teacher, begin my second leg to the northernmost point in Japan, Cape Soya, Hokkaido. Deja vu materializes as three middle-aged men in white cars humor me with coffee, cigarettes and a steaming bowl of Ramen along the Joban Expressway. About 200 kilometers north of the big smoke a silver van pulls aside me at a rest area.

"Where are going?" grunts a man sporting a Michael J. Fox t-shirt and a lion on his forehead.
Dino, a tattoo artist who appears to have preformed the bulk of his skills on himself, invites me into his world. He's quite chatty from the front passenger seat and as he talks, the dragon etched into his shaved skull appears to breathe. A gorgeous young woman without tattoos drives the craftsman to Iwaki where he has a "special" job to perform. I assume it's on the back of large man who has curly hair and dark sunglasses.
"You want eating this?" He asks in well-mangled English. I accept the bag of ice cream balls from his multi-color hands. I tell him my story ­- "I'm teaching English the entire length of Japan."
"Have you ever been to Hokkaido?" I ask.

"Yes. I go jail there. It's cold." Dino sputters a self-deprecating laugh and pulls on his cigarette like Keith Richards. We talk about the evils of prisons in America.

"Going to jail in America is the easiest way to get a boyfriend," I explain. "However, you don't get to choose who it is. They choose you."

"Honto!" Dino says turning to me with a look of utter horror. "I think it better to break the law here." His driver shrieks, and nods her head in agreement.

I don't get paid but I am offered a free tat at his studio in Saitama-ken. He says he can replicate my manga character to a tee. Maybe if I have it on my forehead I'll start getting paid for my lessons.

I'm dropped at a very strange rest area. Most Japanese rest areas have more amenities than your average developing nation: free hot beverages, television, restaurants, shopping centers, mini-museums, outdoor recreation, immaculate restrooms, interactive drink machines, tourist information centers. Northeast of Kyoto there are two consecutive rest areas. I assume the second one exists because of all the energy drained from the whirlwind activities at the first one. However, the Joban Expressway doesn't follow suit just outside of Iwaki. There isn't even a coffee machine here. I feel like Amelia Erhardt out here at midnight. Traffic is nonexistent but I don't string up the hammock. I've swapped it for a tent. Like Dino says, Hokkaido is cold.


Tokyo Journal

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