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Hokkaido Highway Blues: Hitchhiking Japan

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  4,148 ratings  ·  354 reviews
It had never been done before. Not in 4000 years of Japanese recorded history had anyone followed the Cherry Blossom Front from one end of the country to the other. Nor had anyone hitchhiked the length of Japan. But, heady on sakura and sake, Will Ferguson bet he could do both. The resulting travelogue is one of the funniest and most illuminating books ever written about J ...more
Paperback, 344 pages
Published June 5th 2003 by Canongate Books (first published 1998)
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Meritree Ratzel I just found the earlier version in a thrift bookshop;) and can't understnad what needed to be abridged.

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Nov 28, 2012 rated it liked it
Not many things that advertise themselves as blues actually deliver the emotion. It was somewhat startling, then, to discover that this book is in fact deeply, profoundly melancholic.

Ferguson started with nothing but a boast, elevated by coworkers more enthusiastic than he is into a grand plan. To hitchhike the length of Japan isn't a particularly sane or rational plan, but caught up in the enthusiasm of those who hear of it, he eventually goes through with it.

In the beginning, all
Dec 22, 2013 added it
This book stopped me falling asleep at my regular hour night after night because it had me laughing so much. Will Ferguson's ironic sense of humour is very amusing, and a good balance to his insightful observations on Japan. I'm skeptical of foreigners who spend a few years in Japan and then write a book explaining some unique, mysterious aspect of the country. But this guy is fully qualified, having done enough time in a remote area the country to have learned sufficient Japanese, has the abili ...more
Diane in Australia
Will, a Canadian guy, who has lived in Japan for years, decides to hitchhike the entire length of Japan ... from Cape Sata to Cape Soya, about 3000 kms. Obviously, he meets LOTS of people. One encounter that stands out in my mind was with Mr Nakamura, who was a POW in WWII. Very moving, and caused Will to cry for the first time in years.

Will says, "Before I came to Japan, I had tremendous respect for the Japanese, but I didn't really like them very much. Now, after five years in this agg
Oct 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant, funny and truly enjoyable! Long story short - Will Ferguson decides he would travel all the way from the southern most part of Japan (view spoiler) to its northern end. However, he does that by hitchhiking random Japanese people who are more than perplexed to see a big white man wondering the empty highways of their country and refusing to use any other mean of transport. The conversations that ensue ra ...more
May 29, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another wonderful travelogue... the traveler this time makes astute observations of the Japanese nationals he encounters as he hitchhikes north from the southernmost tip of Japan.

Being an Asian-American, I can see both sides of the espy. It is easy to relate to the often awkward, big-hearted, intensely curious, 'liberal' American being given an opportunity to look through a usually closed window into the private lives of the average Japanese citizen in Japan.
I can also see how
May 13, 2008 rated it really liked it
Greatly enjoyed this - found myself giggling a lot and reading bits out loud to my husband. Many of the author's experiences mirrored my own, and the whole thing is free of the pompousness and attitude of having attained deep insights into the "other" that afflicts so much writing about Japan. Don't know what those who haven't been to Japan, or who led a different sort of life there, would make of it, but it worked for me.
Oct 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A near perfect travel memoir, Will Ferguson embarks upon a hitchhiking journey to follow the Cherry Blossom Front 1800 miles -  from the southernmost part of Japan, to it's northernmost tip at Hokkaido.

Filled with interesting characters, witticisms, commentary and fascinating cultural facts, Hokkaido Highway Blues is a true gem.  Ferguson is a talented writer and his perspective on Japan and it's culture is a must-read for arm-chair travelers.
Sep 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
Will Ferguson seems to be a very honest writer. He not only tells of his journeys, but of this thinking and -- most importantly -- the things he does and says even when he's being a jerk. Very believable. Occasionally laugh out loud funny.

After teaching English in Japan for a few years, he decides to hitchhike from the southernmost tip of Japan (a very lush, almost tropical area) to the northernmost tip (think Northern sea, icebergs off the coast sort of place). He follows the sakura, the cherr
Apr 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I absolutely adored this book. It has hitched its way into my Top 5 Books of the Year and Top 10 Fave books on Japan.

The main thing I enjoyed was Wil Ferguson's writing style. He has this fantastic ability to be poetic in one paragraph:

I think I caught Niigata on a bad day. Everything looked sullen and solied and worn out. Even the cities smokestacks, painted in stripes like candy canes, emerged from the industrial haze like sooty sweets dug out from under a sofa cushion.

and hilari/>I
Aug 08, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of travel books, people interested in japan
Shelves: japan, non-fiction
This one was interesting. Ferguson is definitely a westerner in a different culture and sometimes he seems to revel in making encounters awkward, instead of taking the easy route. However, he hitchhiked from the bottom of Japan to the top, went to dozens and dozens of places off the main tourist routes, met dozens and dozens of people and the book is filled with interesting moments and observations. Observations on places, on people, and on two cultures meeting each other and trying to have a co ...more
Strona po stronie
It's an account of a very unique journey - hitchhiking through Japan alongside the cherry blossom front. The travelogue is both oddly poetic / melancholic and ironic / somewhat crude (it really made me laugh at times :) ). It covers meeting lots of Japanese people, contemplating the Japanese culture and typical Japanese mindsets. Mindsets that the Author is pretty much accustomed to. They are actually one of the reasons why he loves&hates Japan - he knows with every fiber of his being that t ...more
Mar 24, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This book is the answer I needed all those years in Japanese class when my fellow students seemed to idolize the Japanese as if they were some sort of super race that could do no wrong and had invented everything that was cool. This book shows what a gaijin would face during their time in Japan. Like Will Ferguson they would have their share of adventures and meetings with really nice, helpful people and then they would have those times when they just wished they weren't treated as entertainment ...more
May 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: japan
The author hitchhikes north following news alerts on the spring cherry blossoms, timing his trip to meet the blossom "front". He gives the reader his take on the people, places and history of Japan.

At first I thought there was an attitude, but as I read on, I came to understand Ferguson's unique perspective. While this book had me laughing out loud, there is a lot of depth. I came to understand Japan in a whole new way.

Ferguson reminds the reader that outside of the crowd
Tasha Swinney
Feb 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, japan
I thought Ferguson's memoir was excellent and well-written. He provides really important insights and muses on what it's like to be a Westerner in Japanese culture. He's not a total Japanophile and he isn't particularly jaded, he has an average perspective and I think that's important. Too many expats are at one end or the other of the extreme. I've been familiar with Japanese culture for years, but Ferguson had things to teach me as well, including insights into Buddhism and Shintoism, and the ...more
Jul 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Will Ferguson reminds me of a more subdued, Canadian Bill Bryson! I really liked this hitchhiking memoir that Will took to travel across all of Japan. Learning about how Japanese treat gaijins (foreigners) was the most interesting. The ending leaves you hanging, though...

This was written in 1998, and it makes me wonder if people in Japan would still willingly pick up hitchhikers today, in 2018.
Aug 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was fun. As much as it was something it was such a fun and delightful read. And only while finishing it I realized that is was poetic and beautifully written as well.
Candice Walsh
Sep 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Laugh out loud funny, as per usual with Ferguson. I must go to Japan.
Mar 23, 2014 rated it liked it
At the time of writing the book Will Ferguson was a Canadian EFL teacher working in Japan. He sets out from Cape Sata the Southern most point of Japan to travel to Hokkaido in the farthest Northern tip. The purpose of the trip is ostensibly to chase the progress of the sakura or cherry blossoms traditionally a time of festivities and drinking of copious glasses of sake in the company of said cherry blossom trees. He decides to hitch hike for most of the journey as he believes that that is a more ...more
Jun 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This man can do me no wrong with this book, I got a few others hooked on it as well, his stories of his journey from south to north Japan by hitchhiking only to chase the sakura front are laced with wit and sarcasm that could easily put some Brits to shame :p

Ironically I read this book when I was travelling across West Japan and Shikoku from Tokyo, which proved to be a hidden bonus as I decided to retrace some of his steps from his book while I was reading and laughing like an idiot
Oct 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book so much, I deliberately savored it slowly over a month. Ferguson shares irreverent, hilarious anecdotes and wickedly incisive observations that many travel writers would fear to pen. It's a brutally honest book, and I found his truthfulness as sharp and refreshing as an autumn breeze. But it's also evocative and contemplative, waxing Zen when the laughter dies down. For anyone with any experience of Japan, I think you'll be nodding along in recognition of "yes, my thoughts exac ...more
✘✘ Sarah ✘✘ (former Nefarious Breeder of Murderous Crustaceans)
This was such a fun read! I picked this up because I had read Happiness and enjoyed it very much. Now I think I'm fast becoming a Will Ferguson fan:) "Hokkaido Highway Blues" is really refreshing in the sense that it doesn't offer a clichéd view of Japan at all. It's very witty, insightful, thoughtful and highly enjoyable! It definitely makes you want to book a ticket to Japan straight away:o) This is one of the best travelogues I've read recently and would recommend it to anyone with an interes ...more
Jason Keenan
Jul 15, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: japan
Canadian writer and humourist Will Ferguson offers up one of the strangest - and most delightful - travel books about Japan.

Hitching Rides With Buddha takes on the challenge of following the cherry blossoms from south to north in Japan -- all using the rare transportation mode of hitching a ride.

Really this is a collection of great stories about the characters he meets on the journey -- and the kindness of strangers. It's a glimpse into a Japan not often revealed by Western writers.
Mar 23, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommended to Katie by: rough guide to japan
An interesting glimpse into Japan. However, this book needed more editing to whittle it down into the terrific book that could have been. Ferguson, who does seem like an ok guy, tends to showcase his personality in a manner that I find obnoxious. He shows us something, and then he tells us too with phrases along the lines of "I'm just that kind of a guy." Yes, we have picked up on that. Ferguson, don't be so insecure, you've got a great story here, just tell it. Still, recommended if you're inte ...more
Tom Barker
Aug 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Not just one of my favorite travel books or books about Japan,but one of my favorite books period.Nice to read a travel book about Japan that actually gets beneath the surface and strikes a nice balance between fawning or bashing, unlike many others by people who stay for a year and consider themselves experts*see "Learning to bow" for example.

He makes fun of Japan alot but also doesnt take himself too seriously which makes for some funny stuff.
May 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
I totally enjoyed this memoir of hitch hiking the length of Japan, south to north, intent on following the cherry blossoms. There were passages that made me laugh out loud. Mr. Ferguson is everything I like in a travel writer: interesting observations, a sense of humor, a bit of snarkiness, a sense of wonder and most importantly, the knack for making the reader feel like they are on the same journey with the writer. This is the first book I've read of his but it won't be the last!
Michael Blackmer
Will Ferguson has written a wonderfully funny travel memoir of his journey to follow the Cherry Blossom Front along the length of Japan. For the humor alone I would recommend this book. Ferguson has added enough history and human interest stories about the places he visited to give the book more substance than just a diary of his journey.
Mar 01, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, fiction
Ferguson snarks his way up Japan following the cherry blossoms in this mostly humorous account of hitchhiking. Sacred cows like Japanese exceptionalism, lack of racism, etc. are cheerfully roasted. Traveling anywhere as an obvious foreigner off the main tourist routes in Japan can lead to bizarre experiences. A fun read once sort of thing.
May 13, 2010 rated it did not like it
Shelves: so-bad-i-gave-up
Hated this book. As a student learning Japanese and a person who has travelled to Japan multiple times, I found the tone and the narrative voice of this book to be offensive. When it wasn't insulting, it was just tedious.
Jen Show
May 07, 2014 rated it liked it
the revolving cast of characters and constantly changing setting made this book very enjoyable. the author's humor was often more irritating to me than funny, but he makes up for it with moments of insight that are fairly inspiring.
Saturday's Child
May 12, 2010 rated it liked it
This book was an enjoyable read because it showed me a side of Japan that I did not see during my travels around the country.
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Will Ferguson is an award-winning travel writer and novelist. His last work of fiction, 419, won the Scotiabank Giller Prize. He has won the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour a record-tying three times and has been nominated for both the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and a Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. His new novel, The Shoe on the Roof, will be released October 17, 2017. Visit him at
“People don't listen to karaoke, they endure it until it is their turn. It is the singularly most self-indulgent form of entertainment available.” 4 likes
“...when you are constantly prevailing upon the kindness of strangers-as a hitchhiker must-it keeps you in a positive frame of mind. Call it Zen and the Art of Hitchhiking. The Way of the Lift. The chrysanthemum and the Thumb. Heady on beer and the sound of my own voice, the aphorisms spilled out unchecked.” 3 likes
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