Hokkaido Highway Blues by Will Ferguson

Hokkaido Highway Blues (also known as Hitching Rides with Buddha) is an outstanding hitchhiking travelogue by Will Ferguson detailing his journey the length of Japan, from Cape Sata to Cape Soya, in the early 1990's. Insightful observations delivering cultural and historical information in genuinely funny fashion, this is everything you could ever hope a travelogue to be, with the only caveat that a fair amount of the material is at the adult end of the spectrum.

Having drunken far too much Sapporo beer, Suntory whiskey and sake at the annual Faculty Cheery Blossom Viewing party, Ferguson is inspired by Japan's national obsession and announces that he will follow the Cherry Blossom Front all the way from Kyushu in the south of Japan up to Hokkaido in the north. In a country bigger than Germany, he decides that in order to travel with the Japanese, rather than among them, he will to do this by hitching 3,000 kms of Japan's backroads via its provincial capitals.

What follows is some genuine insights into the Japanese and their way of life as seen through the eyes of a gaijin who spent five years living in Japan teaching English before marrying a Japanese-national. Pointing out that even he can't begin to understand the contradictions of Japan, Ferguson then delights in illustrating the myriad of Japanese idiosyncrasies, mercilessly poking fun at them in a fashion that will leave you in stitches. But beyond this, there are plenty more layers to Hokkaido Highway Blues.

Ferguson takes in some of the amazing sites along his journey such as stopping off at pilgramage sites and temples on Shodo Island and including side trips to The Bridge of Heaven and Sodo Island to name just a few. In various states of disrepair the self-confessed travel weasel also manages to cadge lifts whilst on a bike, spend nights in capsule and love hotels and continue to put his liver through its paces while drinking with Osaka truck drives or anyone else that might buy him a beer. Interspersed amongst all of this, there are also times of solemnity, such as when discussing the burakumin caste system and the impact of wars on the psyche of the Japanese. 

Cycnical without sneering, like a great sour lolly, Hokkaido Highway Blues manages to inform and educate on a wide range of topics in an effortlessly coherent and hiliarious fashion. The 1998 abridged version that I read, ran some 90 pages shorter than the originally published book and Ferguson ensures that every single one of its 344 pages count.

Put alongside the previously reviewed Beauty Tips From Moose Jaw, Hokkaido Highway Blues has deepened our man-crush on Ferguson and confirmed his place in the top echelon of travel writers plying their trade today. So, if you’re looking for an exceptionally funny travelogue that will have you feeling cherry (excuse the spelling) for days afterwards, make sure you hitch a ride with Hokkaido Highway Blues.

5 stars out of 5

Credit: Banner photo by Lisa Borbély