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Hokkaido Highway Blues: Hitchhiking Japan Paperback – 5 Jun 2003

4.3 out of 5 stars 64 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: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (64 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 99,256 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

By Dulwich Guy VINE VOICE 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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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.

Feel free to check out my blog which can be found on my profile page.
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Format: Paperback
The author of this book tries to disguise what is a charming journey of self discovery, in his dry wit and sharp, honest observation. To some extent he succeeds and I get the feeling that many will read the book on comical merit alone. However there is richer content than the (wholly rewarding) humour. The book goes some way to describe Japan in contrast to the way the world depicts it. Before I read this book I was under the concrete impression that all of Japan is like Tokyo - a soul-less metropolis, rife with crime etc etc, but the book reminds us that Japan is a country with a vast, diverse history - and one which clings onto its heritage with desperation and sometimes hypocrisy. I love the authors dry, appropriate (and unfinished) haikus. Anyone with a little knowledge of Japanese society will laugh on every page, at the extreme (and ridiculous) politeness and apologitic nature of the japanese strangers he encounters. I love the authors self-deridation, such as remembering the moment in a bar where a Japanese lady asks him 'how ever did you get so fat!' - a question in Japan that holds no social taboo as it does in the west. Im so glad I bought this book as it has healed my love of Japan.
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Format: Paperback
The previous reviewer MasterChian seems to have summed this book up very well, so Im just here adding my own little opinions for the sake of it. This book is not a must-buy, having been on my wish list for years I finally bought it and was disappointed.
What got on my nerves was Mr Ferguson's negativity towards Japan and its people. Now Im not saying Japan is flawless, like every country in the world there are things to like and dislike depending on your outlook and preferences in life. But clearly Mr Ferguson is very tired of Japan in this book.
There are good bits, but as soon as you find a really enjoyable good chapter it always contains a cynical little poke someplace. Though there are many funny moments in this book, no doubt. I didnt enjoy this book as much as I hoped, looking for more of Japan to feed my addiction of the place, this didnt satisfy me. Infact it left me feeling completely unaffected. The ending sums it up - I thought to myself - is that it ? less about Japan more about Mr Ferguson's nagging disatisfaction with his life.
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