Tales of car rentals and Hokkaido car rental agency girls. And about drivers with good ears and charm.

We took a walk by this beautiful lake in Hokkaido

So last week in Hokkaido, living a Travelife, the Travel Companion and I rented a car for our holiday on the understanding that he would drive and I would navigate.

I’d been looking forward to this, as it meant just us driving around and exploring places by ourselves.

In most other places we’ve been to, we’ve arranged for a driver and a guide to take us around, and it was always so different having another person in the car with us.

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In one country we went to quite recently, we even had an extremely intelligent driver who listened intently to every single word we said.

He was a very kind and professional man, but I didn’t like it one bit that that he would follow our conversations and butt in whenever possible — or whenever something familiar to him came up in a conversation that didn’t actually include him.

Sashimi as one of the courses for a dinner
in Hokkaido, living a Travelife

We began trying to talk in the vernacular, which we usually don’t do, just to get around this over-eager listener in the front seat of the car.

Unfortunately for us, this driver — conversant in about five languages — knew Spanish very well, so he could still follow our conversation half-littered with Spanish words.

Tofu for breakfast at a hot springs inn
in Hokkaido, living a Travelife

The only other time that it had been just us and our rental car was during a week in the Western Cape of South Africa.

It was really nice just to drive around by ourselves, even if we got lost and had to do a couple of U-turns during that pretty wonderful week, in South Africa, living a Travelife.

Our trip to South Africa.
In fact, this was the first of our many breakfasts in Africa,
living a Travelife.

We drove a long way, too, as we’d gone all across the Cape of Good Hope and also in the other direction to the mountains of Franschhoek. We’d also driven major distances to get to lunch a couple of times, mainly at my insistence as I’d chosen some lovely restaurants in vineyards, but the Travel Companion was pretty happy in the end.

We’ve really done some wonderful trips together, around the world, living a Travelife.

All of our trips have been happy, seamless, stress-free and full of that amazing combination of luxury and adventure. 

Each time, the almost perfect Travelife, actually.

Beautiful Africa

This time, in Hokkaido, we did major distances again to go from place to place, and also to go to lunch at some of the island’s most famous restaurants. But with my Japanese skills and the car’s good navigational system, we never got lost.

We drove through some stunning scenery, too, as Hokkaido is simply spectacular in the autumn, even if we only caught the tail-end of the peak.

The lobby of one of our hot springs inns
in Hokkaido, living a Travelife

But here’s a funny story for you.

So upon landing in Hokkaido, off we went to the rental car office. The Travel Companion had left the choice of car to me, with a mild request for something sporty that would also fit our two large luggages.

No such luck with the baggage compartments of the sporty cars, and so we ended up with a top-of-the-line Japanese sedan that was pretty comfortable, instead.

The lobby of one of our hot springs inns
in Hokkaido, living a Travelife

Well, at the rental car office, while the Travel Companion was sorting out the paperwork on our car and all the rental details, I went over to the vending machine to get us some bottles of water.

This wasn’t Tokyo, after all, so stores were few and far between, and I didn’t want to find ourselves stuck in the middle of nowhere in Hokkaido without anything to drink.

This took all of five long minutes or so.

We so enjoyed this incredibly juicy steak
at a Michelin three-star restaurant
in Hokkaido, living a Travelife

And when I got back to the counter where the Travel Companion was just getting back his credit card, I saw him in animated conversation with the rental car girl, she with her halting English and him with what he describes as his equally halting Japanese.

When she went inside to photocopy his documents, he turned to me with a twinkle in his eye, trying to push a button, as usual, I suppose.

We visited this bar in the middle of nowhere,
in Hokkaido, living a Travelife

He said: “You should’ve taken your time buying water. You should’ve bought us snacks, chips, sodas; in fact, you should’ve bought the whole grocery.

I looked at him inquiringly, also with a twinkle in my eye, as I knew what was coming next.

Then he continued: “You just left me for five minutes and this girl starts chatting me up.

Flowers at the entrance,
in Hokkaido, living a Travelife

Then it was my turn to look at him half-amused. Even if I don’t leave him for five minutes, he finds some girl to chat up and I really don’t know who starts the conversations first between them.

But I’m used to this by now, about him, so I just smiled and said: “And what did she expect to get out of this?

It was actually quite funny.

He said: “Well, she said that if my companion ever ditches me, she can fill your place in a minute.

We had this miso ramen
for our last lunch in Hokkaido,
living a Travelife


He does this all the time, but of course it isn’t true. 

Besides, I knew he needed me at that point still, for our Hokkaido holiday. I did have all the information on our hotels and restaurants and all he had was a fancy car going nowhere without this information.

So the rental car girl wouldn’t have known what to do or where to go, even if her Japanese is probably slightly better than mine.

Afternoon tea at a Japanese inn
in Hokkaido, living a Travelife


So he did the smart thing. 

He waited until we returned to Tokyo to ditch me for someone else — literally about five minutes after we said goodbye and he’d dropped me off at the Tokyo American Club, as I had a dinner to catch and he said he had something else to do.

I honestly didn’t see that coming.

A very sweet end to a wonderful meal
at a three-star Michelin restaurant in Hokkaido,
living a Travelife

And if I had known that he would ditch me for someone else five minutes after saying goodbye to me that day, I would have thrown the box of shampoo I’d bought at the Hokkaido hot springs at him, five minutes before saying goodbye to him on that same day.

All in good fun, of course, because life is too short and too wonderful to think about anything sad too seriously.

But that’s another story for another day in my truly never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.