Hokkaido Highway Blues: Hitchhiking Japan
By Will Ferguson
Cape Sata, the southernmost point in Japan, and Cape Soya, its uppermost point, form the bookends of Will Ferguson’s epic journey across Japan. His goal is to follow Japan’s legendary cherry blossoms as they peak in successive waves across the landscape, from the subtropical south to the frigid north.
Through his travels we learn why the meat industry in Japan is handled by a segregated underclass. We experience sake-infused blossom gazing soirées and a stay in a love hotel. With each stop on the journey, we learn about the history, religions, customs as well as nuances of contemporary life.
Along the way the author experiences miscommunication, stereotypes, constantly mistaken for someone else (an American Mormon missionary, a Brazilian soccer star, a Russian sailor), the Canadian author always stands out, is always pegged as a gaijin (foreigner), for better or worse.
People give him rides to practice speaking English. People give him rides out of pity. Out of mistaken identity. He survives mandatory karaoke with inebriated salarymen. He sleeps in monasteries and chimes bells with monks. He endures heart-wrenching stories from World War II veterans.
An enduring theme though the book is the way that the author, even after living for several years in Japan, is always a curiosity, a novelty, a source of entertainment, but never a peer. And it’s a story of a long-isolated nation wrestling to come to terms with its place in an open world.
Hokkaido Highway Blues is an honest book. Neither naively sentimental nor excessively critical, it paints a true, balanced picture of a complex society. I’ve always wanted to visit Japan. When I finally do, Hokkaido Highway Blues will be my guidebook.
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