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Hokkaido Highway Blues Paperback – 5 Jun 2003

54 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 344 pages
  • Publisher: Canongate Books; Main edition (5 Jun. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1841952885
  • ISBN-13: 978-1841952888
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.1 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 58,365 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

There are two common starting points for travelogues. One is a desire to pursue ancestral roots. The other is a drunken bet. Hokkaido Highway Blues is the latter. After too much saké, Canadian travel writer and English teacher Will Ferguson finds himself following the Cherry Blossom Front, the route Japan's celebrated pink sakura follows. It announces spring, flowering in a wave from the southern tip Cape Sata, through Kyushu, Honshu and Hokkaido islands, to Northern extremity Cape Soya.

Zen says that, "To travel is better than to arrive". This is something people Ferguson encounters cannot comprehend. They offer to pay his train fare. People tell him the journey is impossible, since Japanese never pick-up hitchhikers. Naturally, they're wrong. "When you are a hitchhiker, people spill their lives into your lap," Ferguson says, "because the hitchhiker is a stranger, a fleeting guest, a temporary confidant". He meets tens of fascinating characters, from priests to golf enthusiasts. Their stories are used to explore Japanese culture better than a guidebook, from Shinto to sea gods, pachinko to senpai/kohai (teacher/student roles).

Ferguson, also author of The Hitchhikers Guide To Japan, clearly has a deep knowledge and passion for the country. He's an eloquent writer and his monologue is poetic and spiritual (though with plenty of cheap jokes too). It explores the massive and mysterious country beyond Tokyo, a magical fairyland of monkey islands, wild ponies, active volcanoes, hills, golf courses, beaches and gambling towns. --Sarah Champion --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


* A fantastically offbeat odyssey brimming with irony, poetry and insight. Scotsman * Beneath that thick skin lies a poetic soul: he may drink too much, and end up sweaty and alone in sad 'Love Hotels', but he can write about Shintoism, history, nature and architecture with real sensitivity. Hitching allows him to give us a fresh and funny perspective on a nation that can be both mysterious and "beyond surreal". Sunday Times * I enjoyed Hokkaido Highway Blues immensely - Mr Ferguson is a very gifted writer -- Bill Bryson * Loaded with insights and highly original observations, this is overall an outstanding piece of travel writing. That so much of it is side-splittingly funny helps. Insight Japan * A mild stroke of genius ... it's difficult not to warm to his free-wheeling style. It always sounds stupid to describe something as "laugh-out-loud-funny", but parts of his concisely-sectioned travelogue are savagely hilarious. Sunday Herald

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Spider Monkey HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on 11 Jun. 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
`Hokkaido Highway Blues' recounts one Canadian mans (Will Ferguson) journey as he hitchhikes from one end of Japan to the other as he follows the spring cherry blossoms. This starts off in the south and finishes up in the north and rather than exploring Kyoto, Tokyo and the other main cities, the route takes in more out-of-the-way destinations and a great deal of the west coast of Japan. There are some genuinely interesting anecdotes here and some good tales of the uniqueness of Japan and the Japanese, but they are all told with a certain arrogance, almost as if he looks down on the Japanese the whole time. Also to my disappointment he mentions numerous times where he was unnecessarily rude to the Japanese and whilst this may raise a cheap laugh with some readers, it didn't endear me to him at all. Examples of this are where he says he surreptitiously raises a middle finger when having his photo taken by strangers, or throwing a gift of a can of beer at a festival in the bin. There is no need for this behaviour and detracted from the book overall when I read things like this. This is fairly interesting but doesn't offer a deep insight into Japan, this is more a superficial skimming over the surface and is fine if that is what you are after. If you'd like another book of this type, but more personable and endearing overall, then I suggest Josie Dew's two Japanese travelogues which also recount a journey around the country, but without the arrogance or rudeness of Ferguson.

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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Dulwich Guy on 3 Aug. 2004
Format: Paperback
This is not some bland eulogy to Japan (which disappoints some reviewers); instead, this book is a warts-and-all travelogue that any serious expat who has lived in Japan will readily be able to identify with. The author perfectly represents (through his writing) the love/hate relationship that most people who stay in Japan for any length of time do end up having. He has a great eye for detail and his writing is both insightful and witty; his style is also highly readable and there is no shortage of 'laugh out loud' moments.
This is not a 'Frommers guide' for the well-heeled tourist, it's written by a hitchhiker! So reviewers moaning that the author has a negative attitude to Japan are completely missing the point and should re-read the preface (i.e. you are told quite clearly that it's irreverent and that this is not some dull, politically correct travel guide)! If you want something anodyne, go to a travel agent and get yourself a glossy brochure instead!
At times self-deprecating and always funny, this is a great read and will really help the reader to get 'under the skin' of Japanese society, moving beyond the usual clichés. It is also a perfect primer for would-be English teachers to read before they go out! (I wish I'd read it before I went!) And even if you don't know anything about Japan and don't plan to visit, it's a very engaging travelogue in its own right. If you liked Lost in Translation, you will also love this book!
Highly recommended.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 28 Oct. 2004
Format: Paperback
Hokkaido Highway isn't your cliched romatic view of Japan or then again any other country but an honest view from a man who clearly loves Japan for it's good and it's bad.
Some people see his negative aspects of this country as "pokes" but I believe this is just the authors blatant honesty something that some people can only see as negative due to their pure adoration for Japan.
This is a perfect book for the pure lover of Japan or just someone who fancies a interesting insight into a new country with plenty of laughs, perfect holiday literature.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By elephvant on 9 Aug. 2014
Format: Paperback
Will Ferguson follows the cherry blossom front as it moves south to north through Japan. He mostly stays away from the major cities - Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto - and travels the whole way by hitchhiking.

Ferguson is an interesting guide, although as other reviewers have noted he can also be an arrogant one. He doesn't shy away from revealing the uglier thimgs he sees on his journey, but nor does he dwell on them overly much. Some of his insights are original and well thought out, but others seem more snappy and irritated.

What makes this book a good read, however, is the journey itself. Ferguson travels through areas and in a style that most visitors to Japan would never witness. He meets a host of interesting people (most of whom he seems rather ungrateful to), and visits some very unusual and out of the way locations. He also obviously knows his stuff when it comes to history and local knowledge and relays the information in an informal and readable manner.

My only real complaint is the arrogance. It's confusing, to be honest. At the beginning of the book, Ferguson makes a good point about being a foreigner in Japan. Many foreign residents complain they will never 'be Japanese' in the eyes of the locals and that they therefore feel unwelcome. Ferguson counters with the idea that foreigners are very welcome in Japan. As foreigners. It's a good point and one that most gaijin would do well to appreciate. ESL teachers from Canada, the US and Britain can no more "become" Japanese than they could ever "become" French or Brazilian and I've always found it bizarre when they complain about this fact.

Having made this observation early on, however, Ferguson then proceeds to misunderstand it at almost every turn.
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