Photo/IllutrationA cyclist believed to be Junya Hida flashes the peace sign in a photo taken Sept. 18 in Suo-Oshima, Yamaguchi Prefecture. (Provided by Ryuichi Okazaki)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

SUO-OSHIMA, Yamaguchi Prefecture--Junya Hida looked every inch the tourist cycling around Japan without a care in the world during his seven weeks on the run from the police.

Rather than disguise his facial features, Hida, 30, seemed to flaunt his burst of freedom and reveled in having photos taken of him having a good time as he rode through the countryside on a white bicycle he apparently stole.

A deeply tanned Hida, 30, was pictured sporting a huge grin, flashing a peace sign and holding up a map of the Japanese archipelago showing his purported cycling route.

The rape and robbery suspect's shenanigans came crashing down Sept. 29 after he was arrested on suspicion of shoplifting food and drink items at the Solene Shunan roadside rest area in Shunan, Yamaguchi Prefecture.

A positive identification quickly followed and Hida was back in police custody.

Hida was placed on a nationwide wanted list after he escaped from Tondabayashi Police Station in a suburb of Osaka Prefecture on Aug. 12. He eluded the law for 49 days.

Ryuichi Okazaki, director of the Sazan Seto Towa roadside rest area on the island of Suo-Oshima, east of Shunan, was stunned when he heard of Hida's arrest and saw a photo of the man who he had befriended and taken photos of just a few days earlier.

Okazaki, 54, described Hida as friendly and polite, having provided the fugitive with a place to camp out for more than a week.

Okazaki recalled that he first met Hida on the morning of Sept. 18 when he spotted two bicycles loaded up with gear parked outside his facility.

“Are you touring around Japan? Where are you from?” he asked, after noticing a sign on Hida's backpack.

Hida, who had cropped his hair and was believed to be using an assumed name, explained that he left his native Wakayama Prefecture three months ago for a round-tour of Japan on his bike.

He added that he met his cycling buddy, whom he called “senpai” (my senior), in the island of Shikoku and that the pair had been traveling together ever since.

Impressed by the account, Okazaki suggested posting photos of Hida on his Facebook. Hida obliged, apparently not worried that he might be recognized.

Okazaki offered the cyclists a place to camp in the premises of the rest area that has a restaurant facility and market selling locally caught fish and agricultural produce.

The two men spent several days collecting oysters in nearby waters, and cycled around a popular course on the island, according to Okazaki.

Hida had no reservations about chatting with other visitors to the rest area, as well as staff members.

On the morning of Sept. 22, the two offered to perform some labor as “a token of gratitude.” Okazaki asked them to weed the facility premises, a task that took two hours in the sweltering summer heat.

Okazaki treated the two men to “katsutoji teishoku” (set meal of deep-fried breaded pork poached in egg) afterward. The two men expressed their appreciation for the food.

On Sept. 25, Hida posed for a photograph to commemorate their encounter, holding a sheet of white paper that read, “Cycling across Japan now!”

Hida left a two-page handwritten letter for Okazaki, in which he promised to “accomplish the round-Japan trip.”

Police said Hida's 44-year-old cycling partner was apparently unaware of the fugitive's identity.

He told police that the two men met in early September and traveled across the Shimanami Kaido Expressway from Ehime Prefecture to Hiroshima Prefecture. They stopped by Atomic Bomb Dome in the city of Hiroshima, and entered Yamaguchi Prefecture in the latter part of September.

“Now I think back, he tended to hide his mouth and don sunglasses when he spoke to other people,” Okazaki said.