HOKKAIDO HIGHWAY BLUES: Hitchhiking Japan by Will Ferguson


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Ferguson's (Why I Hate Canadians, not reviewed) hip, take-no-prisoners hitchhiking commentary on Japan is beveled by a steady infusion of affection and drollery. Ferguson, while teaching English in Japan, decides (or has decided for him, playing well the role of folly-prone victim) to follow the cherry blossom front as it advances up- islands. He will do this with his thumb: hitchhiking ""became a way inside, The car is an extension of the home, but without any of the prescribed formalities that plague Japan."" Thus, he can slip under the defenses of the Japanese, to travel with them, not aloof from them. What follows is a journey captured in a profusion of snapshot chapters, a swarming miscellany of incidents and observations that testify to Japan's complexity, as well as to Ferguson's crackerjack exegetic skills and wicked humor. It hardly comes as news (and Ferguson doesn't treat it as such) that Japan is in flux--its faceless salaryman is as ubiquitous as the gates known as torii, and the rural and traditional rub shoulders with the modern (gas stations and appliance stores)--but Ferguson lends this shifting an unexpected piquancy. Unexpected because he is primarily an attitudinarian with an eviscerating sense of humor. Most often the saltiness quickly turns gentling, Ferguson aware that he is ""a sweaty bull in a forest of deer,"" but if he's up against the pompous or the ultranationalist, he will gladly loose his attack into a thorough disemboweling. This type of wit can only fly when it's underscored by a brimming intelligence, and fortunately Ferguson has that too--nuanced and original and big-hearted. It's evident when he considers the glories of the Japanese house roof, the degeneracy of the Kojima monkeys, or any of his excellent tales from the table, there with his friend ""shochu, a form of alcohol so pure it shows up on some Periodic Tables."" Ferguson is a delightful thumb-tripping companion, yeasty and game and nobody's fool.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1998
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Soho