Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Hokkaido Highway Blues: Hitchhiking Japan

Rate this book
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 Japan. And, as Ferguson learns, it illustrates that to travel is better than to arrive.

344 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1998

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Will Ferguson

33 books485 followers
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 WillFerguson.ca

Ferguson studied film production and screenwriting at York University in Toronto, graduating with a B.F.A. in 1990. He joined the Japan Exchange Teachers Programme (JET) soon after and spent five years in Asia. He married his wife Terumi in Kumamoto, Japan, in 1995. They now live in Calgary with their two sons. After coming back from Japan he experienced a reverse culture shock, which became the basis for his first book Why I Hate Canadians. With his brother, Ian Ferguson, he wrote the bestselling sequel How to be a Canadian. Ferguson details his experiences hitchhiking across Japan in Hokkaido Highway Blues (later retitled Hitching Rides with Buddha), his travels across Canada in Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw, and a journey through central Africa in Road Trip Rwanda. His debut novel, Happiness, was sold into 23 languages around the world. He has written for The New York Times, Esquire UK, and Canadian Geographic magazine.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
1,702 (31%)
4 stars
2,234 (41%)
3 stars
1,103 (20%)
2 stars
228 (4%)
1 star
70 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 483 reviews
Profile Image for coriolinus.
5 reviews1 follower
November 28, 2012
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 is well. This is exciting! This is an adventure! This is an adventure, and the enthusiasm is palpable; it evidences itself through the lively interactions with the people who give him rides and the enthusiastic descriptions of the places through which he passes. Extroverted and chatty, Ferguson is having a grand time making his way northward from Cape Sata in the company of strangers. The adventure of following the Sakura front is an exhilarating quest.

Quests are tricky things, though. Weeks in, halfway across the nation, Ferguson outruns the Sakura. He's no longer following the blooming rush of spring; he's migrated into places where winter still reigns, and the entire tone of the enterprise changes accordingly. He gives up on the notion of paying only for interisland ferries. He begins drinking heavily. He isn't having fun anymore, but he never considers giving up. Finally reaching Cape Sōya, well overbudget and overdue back at work, he discovers he is not finished; there remain tiny islands, points farther north.

Ferguson is not Don Quixote; if nothing else, his adventures are more engaging. There are strong structural similarities, though. Like the Don, he is engaged in a quest accomplished by means of superficially distinct but ultimately identical subquests. Like the Don, his pursuit of the quest extends well past the point of reason. Like the Don, the ultimate result is tragic. Ferguson books a ferry further north, to Rishiri Island, where he is stranded by a storm. Unable to complete his quest, job and visa in jeopardy, incomplete and unsatisfied, the book ends.

The book matches the tone of the text in its structure; early chapters are long anecdotes about amusing incidents, but later chapters simply lay down the bare facts in terse language. Ferguson can be an engaging and entertaining author, but he chooses instead to induce his emotions of the time in the reader. As a consequence, this is a difficult, powerful, anticathartic story. The hero's journey ends frustrated.

This is more than a travel story. It's a dissection of the soul of Japan. It's the tale of the elation of embarking upon a unique and challenging quest, and the dissatisfaction of accomplishing it. It's about a man discovering that he has evolved. None of these are easy themes, but Ferguson manages them with all the grace possible. You may not like the book after reading it, but you won't regret it.
Profile Image for Daren.
1,280 reviews4,361 followers
December 3, 2021
For three years after making his rash statement - that he would hitch-hike the length of Japan, from Cape Sata to Cape Soya - it hung over him, a burden. Will Ferguson had been at a Faculty Cherry Blossom Viewing party, and was at the time burdened by too much saki, but was embracing the Japanese obsession with Sakura, or cherry blossom. Annually the blooming of the cherry trees sweeps up the country from south to north, and Ferguson decided to make a pilgrimage of it, travelling with the blossom front as it made it way north, travelling the back-roads, thumbing his way.

And so he bit the bullet, and prepared for his journey. Having taught English for five years he had grasped the basics of Japanese - well enough to be able to communicate:
I speak Japanese the way a bear dances. It's not that the bear dances well that impresses people, it's the fact the bear dances at all.
And so we accompany the author on his circa 340 page journey. In its original form it was a 433 page journey, but the publishers forced him to edit to suit the paperback format. The reader might be mistaken for thinking he didn't quite hit his target, given the minute print (in y edition), but there wasn't much in this book that was superfluous.

Accompanying Ferguson on his journey we do, of course, get to see a lot of Japan. He describes the scenery, compares one geographical area to another, and gives a feel for the environment, but you wouldn't go into this book looking for those details because Ferguson is all about the people. He exactly records the name of every person who picks him up, and shares his every interaction with them. it is no real surprise that people share more of themselves when on a car journey of a few hours, in their own comfort, than say on a train, or during air travel. It is here that this book is set apart from others.

It is often compared with Alan Booth's The Roads to Sata, another book I enjoyed a lot. In Booth's book he walks, and he is all about interactions too, but for a large part his were in towns and villages after his walk, (or him turning down offers of lifts!). Booth also travelled north to south, the opposite of Ferguson. Both books are fantastic and have their parallels.

While Ferguson shares the history of the places he visits, and sometimes takes to philosophy he labours neither for too long. Particularly with the philosophy part, for me personally as a reader, is important that he doesn't get too carried away, as that induces me to start skimming, which ends my focus on the narrative, so for me the balance is right.

As we come to expect with travel in Japan there are plenty of laughs with the misunderstanding of Japanese-English. There is of course Tomio Honda, who picks up Ferguson very close to the end of his journey. His job?
"Cow sex," said Tomio, his eyes shining with glee. [...]
"Are you a doctor?" I asked. "An animal doctor?"
"Oh, no." He brushed this aside with a show of modesty.
"But you help animals have babies?"
"Yes, Yes. Cows. Sex. Babies."
He was an artificial inseminator. "My cows," he said, pointing to one herd, and then another. I almost wept for joy. "Do you have any children of your own?" I asked.
"Oh, yes. I have three."
"And you, Ah, had them naturally?
He laughed uproariously over this. "Of course, of course."

But we also see the breadth of Japanese people who interact with a lone, hitchhiking, gaijan, not really commonplace in Japan.
"Are you dangerous?"
"I said, Are you dangerous?"
I wasn't sure I heard her correctly. "Who? me? No, I'm not dangerous at all."
"You promise?"
"All right, then," she said. "You can get in."
And that was how I met the unsinkable, irrepressible, wholly undeniable Kikumi Otsugi, a woman who believed in bad men, but not bad dishonest men. I had given her my word of honor that I would not harm her, and she was satisfied."

Thoroughly enjoyable, and worth seeking out for a quick amusement.

5 stars.
Profile Image for Mikey B..
974 reviews357 followers
January 28, 2022
Highly amusing and erudite. Our author, who is an English language teacher in a rather remote area of Japan (the Amakusa Islands), decides to hitchhike from the southern tip of Japan to the northern end on the island of Hokkaido. He will be following the trajectory of the blossoming of the cherry blossoms trees – south to north.

>Washington DC - April 2015

cherry blossoms - but in Washington DC - gives you an idea!

Along the way, in his rides, he encounters a wide array of the people and the sites of Japan. The author can get by on his rudimentary Japanese – so he can communicate and ingratiate himself, sometimes, with the drivers and folks he meets. We do get an inner perspective of Japan.

Surprisingly, interspersed with the authors’ irreverent humor, are some philosophical meanderings on the Japanese state of mind. Here is one quote that I liked that the author used from Oliver Statler in his book "Japanese Pilgrimage":

Page 103 (my book)

There are pilgrimages all over the world. In most, one travels to a place or places hallowed by events that took place there. One goes; one reaches one’s goal; one returns… But this Shikoku pilgrimage is the only pilgrimage I know of that is essentially a circle. It has no beginning and no end. Like the quest for enlightenment, it is unending.
What is important is not the destination but the act of getting there, not the goal but the going.

Even though I have never been to Japan I found this book intriguing and entertaining. And as a warning I laughed out loud on a number of occasions – and the author pokes good fun at himself as well.

There are many insights on Japan. I was amazed at the number of riders who gave him lifts, who went way out of there way(several kilometers) to show and tour with the author many points of interest. He even stayed as a guest in some of their homes. For the most part the author went to out of the way places where Europeans rarely venture – so he was a welcome anomaly to those he met. Most of his travels were in rural areas – he didn’t go anywhere near Tokyo.

At times, the xenophobia and excessive nationalism of the Japanese abruptly surfaced now and then. The author elucidates how he, as a “foreigner”, could be perceived.

The author was travelling alone and this solitary wandering took its toll on him towards the end of his journey. He could have used a companion, but failed in his attempts. However, he is socially adept and adjusts to many awkward social situations.

The book I have is an abridged edition with about 90 pages removed – and the author felt this made his book better.
Profile Image for Alison.
Author 2 books12 followers
May 22, 2018
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 ability to take the piss out of himself and enough flint in his heart to send up others as well. Most importantly, he writes well. His travelogue about chasing the cherry blossom front north while hitchhiking was funny - sometimes hilarious, and sometimes downright moving (like the part about his Scottish ex-girlfriend).

A journey like this couldn't be done anymore, in an age of total connection and information, no one would get stranded on a remote road, unable to call for help because there was no pay phone nearby, and with only paper travels guides to follow. The chapter on how he got arrested following The Lonely Planets advice to try and pick up a ride at the entrance ramp to the expressway had me splitting my sides.

Many thanks to Lily who gave me this as a 50th (gasp!) birthday present.
Profile Image for Sakura87.
411 reviews99 followers
July 10, 2012
Se incontri il Buddha lungo la strada, non ucciderlo. Tira fuori il pollice. Chissà, potrebbe anche offrirti un passaggio.

Giappone, Giappone... tanto amato quanto malvisto, tanto idealizzato quanto pregiudicato.
Il diario di viaggio di un canadese nel Sol Levante è un facile specchietto per le allodole (i nippofili), decisamente facili all'entusiasmo specialmente, si sa, quando ci sono di mezzo i sakura, ormai divenuti simbolo di quanto di poetico il Giappone possiede. Il pericolo di una simile lettura è quello di ritrovarsi a leggere tutti i peggiori stereotipi cogitabili: nipponici poetici, ordinati, cortesi, riservati, diffidenti; nonché, peggio del peggio, si rischia di annegare in continue e scontate introspezioni filosofiche e poetiche sulla caducità della vita al solo posar lo sguardo su ogni pietra, centimetro di cielo, tazza da té, staccionata in legno, albero, casa, inchino...
Ebbene, dimenticate ogni cosa: non avete ancora inquadrato Will Ferguson. Will è un gran figlio di puttana, un narratore che trasuda lucidità di giudizio, umorismo, immediatezza espressiva, autoironia. Un po' scroccone, facile alla sbronza, provocatorio e riflessivo, Will è una delle voci narranti più dannatamente coinvolgenti che mi sia mai capitato di leggere.
Da capo Sata a capo Soya (l'estremo limite meridionale e quello settentrionale), Ferguson attraversa il Giappone in autostop, anticipando il Sakura Zensen (il Fronte dei ciliegi in fiore) che dal Kyushu all'Hokkaido si lascia dietro un oceano di fiori sbocciati. I momenti poetici e tristi non mancheranno di certo, ma la maggior parte degli aneddoti narrati da Ferguson, storici o personali, sono all’insegna della canzonatura: basti pensare al tratto percorso con un automobilista di Sakai, al quale provocatoriamente il protagonista non ha fatto che ripetere quanto scortesi e indifferenti fossero i suoi concittadini, salvo desiderare di sprofondare dopo aver scoperto che l’uomo l’ha caricato in macchina per una lunga deviazione nonostante dovesse recarsi appena dietro l’angolo; o all’arresto da parte di una pattuglia della Sicurezza Stradale dopo essere stato colto in flagrante a fare l’autostop sul ciglio di una superstrada; o ancora, all’incontro a un karaoke con impiegati di azienda così ubriachi da conferirgli una promozione nella loro azienda.
Will ha scelto l’autostop per viaggiare non tra i giapponesi, ma con loro. Con mentalità tipicamente occidentale seleziona, racconta e commenta usi, costumi, pezzi di storia, sempre in modo irriverente ed esilarante, quanto di più lontano possa esistere dalle idealizzazioni di cui spesso è fatto soggetto tutto ciò che riguarda il Sol Levante. L'itinerario seguito non è quello consueto (e infatti non tocca città note come Tokyo o Kyoto), ma attraversa soprattutto isolette disabitate e paesini di campagna, permettendo un'analisi del Giappone quotidiano attraverso il contatto con persone comuni.
E, tra una risata e una riflessione amara, si finisce per sentirsi realmente un po' in viaggio con Ferguson.
Profile Image for Diane in Australia.
668 reviews788 followers
May 14, 2018
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 aggravating, eccentric nation; having traveled it from end to end; having worked and lived and played with the Japanese; having seen beyond the stereotypes; having come up against their obsessions and their fears, their insecurities and their arrogance, their kindness and their foibles; having experienced firsthand all the many contradictions that are Japan, I found I did not respect the Japanese as much as I used to, but I like them a while lot more."

3 Stars = I liked the book. I enjoyed it. I'm glad I read it.
Profile Image for Tamara Covacevich.
86 reviews2 followers
January 15, 2020
I hated reading this book from the beginning to the end, I guess the only reason I went all the way through was to actually make sure it was horrible and write this review. He is so rude, his humour so bad, and anyone that has travelled hitchhiking knows he totally overexaggerated a lot of things. The last page made me cringe. If you don't like the tone of this review, then get ready for reading 300 pages of it.
Profile Image for Sarah.
489 reviews70 followers
February 4, 2020
I read this for the first time shortly after I moved to Japan 12 years ago. As I was preparing to leave after my long decade-and-a-bit in that amazing-frustrating country, I decided to give it a reread. It's still a good yarn and funny in parts, but wow, Will is much more of an arsehole than I remember him being the first time around. The ego was a bit hard to swallow.
Profile Image for Gergana.
227 reviews390 followers
October 16, 2018
Brilliant, funny and truly enjoyable! Long story short - Will Ferguson decides he would travel all the way from the southern most part of Japan 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 range from hilarious to surprisingly spiritual. It was a magnificent book that made me laugh, contemplate and even tear up a little . Okay, I was bawling for 10 minutes. This book is filled with great messages and funny paragraphs. My only regret is that my Kindle broke recently and I lost all my saved quotations.

Not a fan of travelogues in general, but this one was super entertaining! Adding it to my future family library for sure ;)
Profile Image for Paul.
2,114 reviews
April 20, 2021
Spring in Japan is all about the cherry blossom. It is a national obsession and like with their thing about wacky games shows, they take it very seriously indeed. The season sweeps from Okinawa in the most southerly island up across the two main islands of Shikokuan and Honshu and onto the most northerly island of Hokkaido. It is called the Sakura Zensen and its progress is tracked daily on the news with elaborate maps and statistics on the amount of blossom available in any particular area on a given day.

Ferguson had been teaching in Japan for two years. He liked the job and the substantial salary that came with it and got along really well with the other teachers. One of the highlights of their year was the cherry blossom viewing that they did. They would admire the blossom and drink fairly large quantities of beer. The hangover and realising just how much he had spent the following day were less welcome though.

One year after possibly one too many sake’s he announced that he would like to follow the Cherry Blossom Front from Cape Sata rich up to the northern island. The following morning he couldn’t remember it at all, it was only when people, reminded him of what he has said that it dawned on him that they expected him to actually do it. His supervisor thought it was a good idea and suggested a rail pass. Ferguson thought about it and decided that he would hitchhike there. It would be another three years before he would start his journey.

He did feel slightly daft sticking his thumb out to grab a lift and did wonder if he would have anyone stop to pick him up. He had shaved off his beard and even had gone as far as putting on a tie to try and make himself look a presentable westerner. It is not long before a car pulls over. As he was expecting, it was a white Honda Civic. The passenger door swings open and a young Japanese woman looks out smiling. American she says. He knows it is not a question…

She cannot take him all the way to Cape Sata but drops him in the middle of a town before carrying on. After his first journey, he is already lost. He wandered around hopelessly before managing to grab a second lift. It is a big black saloon car and full of children, one who cannot hide her astonishment about the new passenger in their car. The driver advises him that he was going in the wrong direction and said he would drop him on the coast highway. He pulls over makes a call from a payphone (remember them?). He has told his wife he is going to be late and is going to take him all the way to Cape Sata.

This is just the start of his journey heading northwest across Japan. All the way along the roads he is hitchhiking from he finds drivers who are prepared to go that little bit further for him. Turns out the Japanese people are as warm as they are strange. He is the recipient of countless generous moments from buying drinks to one guy paying for a meal and then the hotel room. He has lots of conversations with the people in what they normally consider part of their private space, their cars.

Each of these transitory meetings with the people of each island of Japan are full of warmth. He has a slightly embarrassing visit to a sex museum and winces at the main object of the Taga shrine. Not all of his travelling in cars, he sometimes has to take a streetcar and mises the odd ferry occasionally, gets spectacularly wet even whilst wearing a plastic poncho and squeezes into a capsule hotel.

I quite liked this book. Ferguson is not a bad writer overall. He doesn’t spend much time in the cities that he passes through so you get more of a flavour about the Japan that most people never see, the rural and coastal places that still support a way of life that has changed very little in some ways. There are some funny parts with some genuine laugh out loud moments, but I felt that the humour felt a bit forced at times. It might not be for everyone, but I have found that reading four books on one country from very different perspectives has given me a range of insights and perspectives on the place and I would love to visit it one day. 3.5 stars
Profile Image for Valeria Franco.
Author 2 books22 followers
June 11, 2021

Nel leggere questo libro non ho assistito soltanto a un semplice itinerario, ma al cambiamento di un essere umano. Un cambiamento che è emerso lentamente, in maniera quasi inaspettata... un cambiamento che, probabilmente, nemmeno lo stesso Will si aspettava.

Questo viaggio è stato un susseguirsi di paesaggi, città, villaggi, automobili, sconosciuti e frammenti di persone. Uno scambio continuo e un cambiamento perenne. Una serie di piccole avventure destinate a scomparire con la stessa velocità con cui sono apparse.

Raccontato in questo modo "Autostop con Buddha" può sembrare un libro molto cupo e malinconico, e sotto certi aspetti lo è veramente, ma in realtà la maggior parte della narrazione è molto gioviale, allegra e frizzante.
È raro che mi metta a ridere leggendo un libro, solitamente non apprezzo il genere umoristico, ma "Autostop con Buddha" mi ha veramente rubato una generosa dose di sorrisi.

Unica osservazione che mi sento di fare è che, alla lunga, come lettura diventa abbastanza monotona. La struttura è sempre la stessa: Will chiede un passaggio, chiacchiera con uno sconosciuto, ci offre alcune riflessioni, ci racconta alcune sue disavventure e poi tutto da capo. E ancora. E ancora. E ancora...
Dopo circa 200/300 pagine ho iniziato a sentire un senso di pesantezza, ma il tutto è stato ammortizzato dallo stile di Will, sempre frizzante e capace di incuriosire e coinvolgere il lettore.

Pian piano che accumulavo capitoli mi sono affezionata sempre di più a Will sia come scrittore, ma soprattutto come persona. E fra tutte le sue riflessioni una mi ha colpita in particolare perchè in essa penso di aver trovato il senso del libro: è il movimento a definire un oggetto e nel momento in cui esso si ferma diventa qualcos'altro.

Nel complesso trovo che questo libro abbia una doppia anima e che sia la perfetta fusione tra un sorriso e una lacrima.
Profile Image for Juli.
17 reviews
May 29, 2008
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 the Japanese use their social customs of thousands of years of traditions that dictate how Asians should behave among foreigners with the strange but benign American.

Hilarious, heartwarming and a real eye-opener for those who have not been really exposed to the traditions of the East -especially traditions in the home (or in the car as this case is).

Profile Image for Serena.. Sery-ously?.
1,084 reviews175 followers
April 1, 2017
Se non avete taaaanto tempo e disponibilità economica, NON leggete questo libro: la voglia di esplorare il Giappone in autostop con Will Ferguson sarà quasi dolorosa..

Giuro, io volevo prendere e partire seduta stante; mentre lavoravo con la mente mi ritrovavo a fantasticare delle mete viste, dei prossimi passi, del "certo quel posto era proprio figo" e soprattutto, ho provato un senso di attesa e di meraviglia come se fossi veramente lì! Will Ferguson ha fatto una piccola magia con il suo libro: ha mostrato meraviglie e ombre, ha reso più 'umani' i giapponesi - perché niente, io ho un po' una visione eterea e magica di questo popolo, quasi fossero alieni -, mi ha fatto ridere e sognare!
Assolutamente consigliato, sappiate però che poi passerete ore a cercare i posti descritti su internet e a creare un vostro itinerario di viaggio.. ♥
52 reviews4 followers
May 14, 2008
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.
Profile Image for Berrylibrary.
22 reviews1 follower
July 6, 2010
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.
Profile Image for Jasmine.
130 reviews
July 29, 2017
I have mixed feelings about this book. It is beautifully written, creating vivid imagery of the places that he visits along his journey north in Japan. It is also often quite humorous, anecdotes here and there bringing out a bit if a chuckle. However, there is also a bit of mean spiritedness in there, in some of his interactions with local people kind enough to give him a ride, or with others he meets along the way. There is a bitterness there as well, and I wonder if the melancholy tone (it is a book about the 'blues' after all) is the result of the writer being genuinely unhappy. That is certainly the feeling I get, and it's a shame.
Profile Image for Suzanne.
891 reviews99 followers
October 27, 2017
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.
Profile Image for fenrir.
265 reviews65 followers
August 28, 2015

William "Will" Ferguson è uno scrittore canadese, nato in Fort Vermilion, Alberta in Canada. Anche informandomi sul suo conto non sono riuscita a capire bene come sia finito in Giappone ad insegnare inglese, visto che sembra aver fatto studi di cinema all'università e niente che giustifichi un viaggio del genere nel paese del sol levante.
E' vero che lui stesso ammette di essere approdato in Giappone senza sapere assolutamente niente della lingua, ma scoprire che non aveva nemmeno le basi per insegnare l'inglese (a parte il fatto che sia la sua lingua madre, ma sapere una cosa non significa saperla insegnare) mi ha profondamente stupido. E' anche vero che non sapeva di studente di lingue, visto che dopo cinque anni dice di sapere il giapponese più o meno: "Conosco due alfabeti e mezzo" dice lui, per poi scoprire che la maggior parte delle cose che spara a caso e solo due giapponesi in tutto il suo viaggio hanno il coraggio di farglielo notare. Certo, ammetto che ci vuole una bella faccia tosta per viaggiare in un paese e parlare la lingua fingendo di saperla quando invece la si sa male! Avrà un gran dono da comunicatore? chi lo sa! da come parla del francese, cioè tirando a caso pronomi, maschile e femminile, ecc. direi che non potrà mai imparare una lingua al 100% visto l'impegno che ci mette.

Il viaggio di Will è stato fatto quasi rigorosamente in autostop. Era partito con assolutamente in autostop ma ha trasgredito almeno tre/quattro volte ovviamente, e non ci trovo niente di così tremendo anche se inizialmente lui cerca di "nascondere" la cosa dietro ad auto fiammanti e belle giapponesi che arrivano dal nulla a dargli un passaggio. Già girare in autostop è difficile, girare completamente in autostop sarebbe stato impossibile. Una cosa che mi ha fatto sorridere è il fatto che tutti i giapponesi che gli davano un passaggio gli chiedevano il perché del suo viaggio in autostop, credendo che non avesse abbastanza soldi per viaggiare normalmente, ma sopratutto che dicessero sempre: "i giapponesi non fanno salire gli autostoppisti!" ma come? se ti sei appena fermato tu! ed infatti a sentire lui in 15-20 minuti quasi sempre rimorchiava un passaggio cosa che sono assolutamente certa in Italia non succederebbe MAI! (c'è sempre da vedere se succederebbe oggi in Giappone, e ne dubito). I commenti poi erano sempre "non si fa l'autostop, è troppo pericoloso" seguiti da "il Giappone è un posto sicurissimo", evviva la coerenza insomma.

Will Ferguson è un viaggiatore un po' strano, chissà ad esempio se poi nella sua città c'è tornato in tempo? si perché se hai i giorni contati ed i soldi contati viaggiare come ha viaggiato lui è .. assurdo! già non ha pagato niente per i passaggi a parte quelle quattro volte in croce in cui ha preso taxi/treni/autobus (che appunto è successo quattro volte al massimo!) dove cavolo hai speso tutti quei soldi!? si lamenta di aver superato il budget ma pasa tre giorni a mangiare in un ristorante di super lusso che descrive come con cibo scarso e tutta apparenza (ma allora perché ci vai?!), o prende un caffè che sa già da prima sapere di fanga (ma non lo prendere allora, no?!) o va in un museo del sesso che descrive come orribile e carissimo. Quella del museo del sesso è una storia a parte. Prima dice di odiare i musei, e c'è da aggiunge che ho pena di lui dopo questa cosa. Ammetto che essendoci musei di praticamente ogni cosa dire di odiare i musei perché sono noiosi e perché dopo 12 anni non ci si dovrebbe più andare è per lo meno molto ignorante come cosa da dire. Ma oltretutto è molto ipocrita da parte sua dire che odia i musei ma visitarsi pagando un occhio della testa un museo del sesso solo per guardare varie riproduzioni giganti di vagine di legno, cosa che poi dice "se viaggiate con me non vi porterò mai a vedere vagine di legno!", spero che in Canada non esistano solo questo tipo di musei e che lui quindi non parli appunto per ignoranza. Anche perché va a vedere incontri di sumo, incontri di toro, ecc. ma ogni volta che va a teatro o deve andare nei musei si annoia a morte... che tristezza! non è che dopo 12 anni certe cose non si devono fare più, è che forse lui in quel lato è rimasto proprio a 12 anni.

Il libro non è nuovissimo, perciò immagino che le informazioni contenute vadano prese con le pinze. E' stato pubblicato per la prima volta nel 1998, che non sembra così lontano a vedero ma che sono effettivamente ben diciasette anni fa. Alcune cose infatti ho seri dubbi che capitino ancora! Ferguson ad esempio evita accuratamente le grandi città nel suo inseguimento del Sakura Zensen, però è comunque molto strano che in un mese di viaggio riesca ad incontrare solamente due occidentali e poi basta. Ok città grandi come Osaka, Kyoto o Tokyo non saranno di certo piene di stranieri come sarebbero delle città occidentali ma sicuramente ormai ai giorni nostri qualcuno ci sarà!

Mi piace che non dipinga i giapponesi come dei santi perfettini come invece alcuni amanti della cultura nipponica fanno sempre. Questa storia dei gaijing è tremendamente vera, ed anche se alcuni lo negano ("non è così per tutti!" "non lo fanno per cattiveria!" "sono razzisti ovunque, non solamente in Giappone!") io sorrido sempre e scuoto la testa con rassegnazione quando sento queste cose. Si, sono razzisti ovunque non solamente in Giappone, ma dato che stiamo parlando di Giappone perché nasconderlo sempre? Perché nascondersi dietro "i Giapponesi sono cordialissimi, veramente ospitali con gli stranieri" quando per ospitali si intende che ti guardano e guarderanno sempre e comunque come una persona che lì non dovrebbe esserci. Profetico infatti il vecchio che continua a chiedergli che cosa ci fa lui lì, ed anche dirgli che sta andando ad Hokkaido non lo convince come risposta perché la domanda non voleva sapere cosa faceva lì in quella città ma che cosa faceva uno straniero in Giappone.

Libro carino e divertente, un viaggio per il Giappone che fa riflettere ma anche sorridere. Lo dovevo leggere da un sacco di tempo ed onestamente sono felice di averlo finalmente preso in mano. Assolutamente consigliato!
Profile Image for Megres..
224 reviews49 followers
August 29, 2015
Se incontri il Budda lungo la strada, uccidilo!

Il libro si legge bene, ed è anche divertente in alcuni punti ( più che per merito di W.Ferguson mi sa che è merito dell'"assurdità" dei giapponesi e della grande differenza tra il mondo asiatico e quello occidentale), ma alcune cose proprio non vanno.
L'autore precisa di avere un giapponese pessimo, ammette di non conoscere per niente i kanji, di essere scarso perfino con hiragana e katakana (sì, ma allora nemmeno hai provato ad impararlo il giapponese però..) e ti tirare "a caso" le preposizioni, così prima o poi ci deve per forza indovinare, no? che ragionamento stupido. Nonostante il suo giapponese sia PESSIMO decide di fare un giro per tutto il Giappone in autostop, e prendersi delle "vacanze" nonostante sappia che a)i giapponesi le vacanze se le sognano normalmente, ed è quasi visto come "maleducato" chiedere le ferie b) il suo lavoro è super-pagato ed è meglio se non tira la corda e difatti, il lavoro alla fine lo ha perso oppure no? Lascia volutamente tutto in sospeso, ma da come si stavano mettendo le cose sembra proprio di sì!

Il suo giro per il Giappone dovrebbe essere per seguire i fiori, ma sembra più che altro per rimorchiare ragazze. Bruttissimo il pezzo con la terza o quarta ragazza che lo rifiuta e lui come scusa:
" La sua vita le piaceva e non cercava vie di fuga. Quello che cercavo io era qualcuno da soccorrere, qualcuno da prendere e portare via" Così sembra proprio che lui voglia "comprarsi" una moglie giapponese disperata, insomma fa proprio brutto Will fattelo dire ( e difatti è sposato con una giapponese, ora non voglio dire che non si amino ma la loro relazione dopo aver letto questo libro mi sembra moolto strana, ma ovviamente affari loro!). Comunque lui non sa praticamente il giapponese o lo sa molto male, nonostante sia lì da cinque anni e cosa fa? Critica ogni volta che qualcuno prova a parlare in inglese con lui dicendo che fanno pena. Appena uno però dimostra di sapere bene l'inglese lo critica perché lui voleva esercitare il suo giapponese con lui e non parlare nella sua lingua ma wtf fai pace con il cervello.

Gestisce il viaggio molto male, spendendo per cose inutili ( museo del sesso, toast-pizza da 10 dollari, alberghi che si dimentica dove sono e continua a pagare anche se non ci va) e credo che abbia un serio, serio problema con l'alcool visto che non fa altro che ubriacarsi tutto il libro. Forse pensava che facesse "figo" far leggere alla gente che lui da vero uomo virile si ubriacava sempre, ma a me fa solo tanta pena. Contando poi che per i viaggi non spende niente, ed anche quando viaggiano in autostrada ( che precisa sono carissime in Giappone ) nessuno gli fa pagare NIENTE, direi che poteva gestire molto meglio i soldi, alla fine invece arriva praticamente senza niente!
Il finale poi sembra fatto apposta per giustificare il fatto che lui non sia riuscito ad arrivare al vero traguardo finale, tipo 'ops, ma non sapevo che questo non fosse il punto più a nord, ovviamente non potevo saperlo" ehm bastava guardare una mappa, ci voleva poco.
Gli aneddoti sul Giappone sono molto divertenti, ed anche se alcune cose mi sanno un po' di "aggiustate" anche i dialoghi con i giapponesi che incautamente lo caricano in macchina sono parecchio divertenti.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Kkraemer.
731 reviews21 followers
September 17, 2012
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 cherry blossoms, as they bloom in the spring, a very interesting reason for the journey.

By hitchhiking, he meets people. Lots of people. Some of the people he meets formerly lived in or visited the U.S. (he's Canadian, but doesn't recoil at being confused with those from the U.S.). Most didn't. Many are scared of gaijin (foreigners), since having watched movies and television, they're convinced that, outside Japan, it's a lawless place, and no place is more lawless than America. Some pick him up to practice their English; some pick him up to show him Japan; all are atypical, since in Japan, they don't pick up hitchhikers.

He is a great storyteller. We hear of conversations with older Japanese about the war and conversations about the Soul of Japan. We "see" temples and castles and cities and villages and an amazing amount of "Korean" garbage on the northern shores.

I learned so much from reading this book. I'll read Ferguson again, for sure, but I doubt I'll ever read such an interesting book about one of the places I find most fascinating on this earth. I know I'll never be able to have the same experience (I don't speak Japanese, I'm a woman, etc), so I am glad to have gotten to ride around with Will Ferguson as he made his way through a Japan I'll never see.
Profile Image for Libby.
354 reviews76 followers
April 9, 2009
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 hilariously profane in the next:

I checked into a generic business hotel, dropped off my pack, and then found a fiery Korean restaurant in which to fill my stomach. (The spiced kimichi would inflame my rectum for the next two days. No wonder the Koreans always looked so pissed off).

Just Gorgeous.
133 reviews4 followers
September 27, 2007
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 conversation.

It makes for a really interesting and very funny read. I definitely highly recommend it, but I also think it would be really interesting to hear what someone from Japan feels about what Ferguson says.
Profile Image for Sara G.
1,735 reviews
February 27, 2022
This book is a weird one for me. Juxtaposed with beautiful details and insights about Japanese culture, the author also exhibits total rudeness and lack of cultural awareness on quite a few occasions. The stated purpose of this book was for him to hitchhike across Japan, south to north, to view the cherry blossoms as they start to bloom. Well, he definitely doesn't focus on this the entire time. He instead ends up wandering in places he knows he shouldn't be, being rude to people on purpose, and then the story ends abruptly. I wouldn't recommend this unless you're dying to find out an ignorant Westerner's take on Japanese people and culture.
Profile Image for Elisabetta.
437 reviews59 followers
January 30, 2020
Un interessante viaggio in Giappone con Will Ferguson.

è stato avvero bello poter vedere da vicino le usanze del Giappone, le sue tradizioni, non attraverso le descrizioni di paesaggi, ma attraverso le storie di persone trovate per strada.
Bellissimo e interessantissimo, ma posso dire una cosa?
Will Ferguson è proprio pesante. è di una pesantezza così elevata che non lo vorrei mai come amico.
è fortunato che ha fatto l'autostop in Giappone, perché in italia, due schiaffoni per ogni posto visitato li avrebbe presi volentieri.
I giapponesi invece sono, per la maggior parte, rispettosi e generosi. Certo c'è sempre qualcuno che Gaijin (straniero) lo dice con disprezzo, soprattutto nei confronti degli americani con il quale il Giappone ha una storia di odio-amore.
Inevitabile trovare anche qualcuno che ricorda la seconda guerra mondiale (anche se Ferguson cercava di evitare questi discorsi), ma anche trovare apertura in un mondo tradizionalmente conservatore.

Non sapevo nulla del Giappone. Ora posso dire di saperne qualcosa di più.
Profile Image for Tasha.
79 reviews4 followers
March 9, 2013
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 real business behind Ainu and Japan's burakumin. The other cool aspect of Ferguson's memoir is that it almost serves as a little informal travel guide highlighting the actually worth-seeing cities in Japan while calling others out on their shit. I've always been interested in Kanazawa because I heard about how old it is and how beautiful the wooden houses are. But now I know that while it is indeed an old city, it's also a very new and expensive and built up city. On the other hand, I'm also now interested in Hokkaido's Hokodate city, one of the only cities in Japan with a really Eastern European influence from the Russian traders who lived, and still live, there.
Profile Image for Aditi Puri.
34 reviews7 followers
March 20, 2021
An excellent read, if one can get past the fact that the author is most likely an a**hole. Funny, insightful and easy to read. No blues, nothing about hitchhiking but a lot about Japan.
Profile Image for Hollowspine.
1,416 reviews29 followers
August 20, 2014
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 and just accepted as a person.

I was amazed at how many Japanese people told Ferguson that he would never find a ride hitch-hiking, yet he seemed to have little trouble finding willing (or less willing) travel mates. I also found it interesting that often once he had been picked up the person who picked him up would invite him to join their journeys or would attempt to join him on his travel. I also loved how Ferguson didn't shy away from "debating" with some of the folks he hitched rides with. I loved the way he gave the racist Monkey expert some troubled moments and even though it was a bit mean, I couldn't help but laugh out loud about the complex he gave the man in the bar whose eyes "just looked Korean"...

The book was both a wake up call to people who would assume that Japanese people are always accommodating and accepting of foreigners and yet it still made me long to go to Japan.
Profile Image for Louise.
1,631 reviews285 followers
May 5, 2013
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 crowded cities there are big rural areas. He takes us to a bull fight (the bulls fight each other), castles, temples, bars, homes, islands, monkey islands, baths, cherry blossom festivals, lunch counters and love and capsule hotels and more. He does not take us to Tokyo, Kyoto or Disneyland.

He introduces the reader to the people he meets. He drinks with salary men, talks with a WWII POW, flirts with women, hitches rides with tradesmen, entrepreneurs, students, mothers and even a lover of Celtic music.

The book now 10 years old is apparently re-issued under a new title: Hitching Rides with Buddha. I wonder if a similar trip in post-bubble Japan would make for significantly different trip. Some writers have suggested the economic changes have wrought large cultural changes.

This is a delightful book. With humor and fun, you get substantive insight into Japan.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 483 reviews

Join the discussion

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.