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Hokkaido Highway Blues: Hitchhiking Japan Paperback – 5 Jun 2003
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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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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!
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