EPS Review #3 - Hokkaido Highway Blues

Will Ferguson hitchhikes the length of Japan, following the "Flower Front" of cherry blossoms, in 433 pages. This must have been fun to do, and is fun to read. In my experience, as Mr Ferguson's, hitchhiking is absurdly easy in Japan, where people will go hours out of their way to take you where you are going. We even covered some of the same routes: Shodo island, for example. I remember being given a ride there by an athletic-shop owner, who required me to spend some time in his shop as a living advertisement. Mr F did better, finding a widower who had written a guide to the whole island, a man who built a seaplane from scratch, and a priest with a musical slate sculpture and whose dad had carved a cave behind their temple, convinced a real one lay deeper within the rock. He even passed through a burakumin village. I didn't know they existed, and never saw one to my knowledge, so I have to credit the author for covering some hoary "Japan is Hypocritical" subjects (burakumin, koreans, the self-defense force, etc.) in a slightly new way, and often a funny way, so that I didn't mind much. Also, the chapters are short! And I said funny, right? I laughed out loud at several points, which is a great thing to be able to do on your commute, when the person next to you is hogging the seat and making revolting noises. I loved the "bull sumo" in Shikoku. Some prose examples:

When I told Koba-chan and Hisao that I was following the cherry blossoms across Japan, they didn't call me sissy boy and give me a wedgie or a head-lock noogie. "Cherry blossoms," they said. "Good idea." These two ruffians.. took my quest for flowers very seriously.

They [ salarymen ] were all over me like ugly on a moose.

I also cracked up when he choked on a cherry blossom at a hanami party in Tohoku. And I liked it when he told some children (he is a bit beefy) that he was really a tanuki ("Is it true, dad?" ).

The heroes are the eccentric characters he met all over the place. Too bad his contact with them was necessarily brief. He could also have been a bit more scholarly (perhaps the book would have been less funny, though). I still have Alan Booth's "Looking for the Lost", which will be an interesting contrast. Booth wrote "The Roads to Sata" about walking the length of Japan. This has apparently become a classic. I read it a long time ago, but all I remember is a scene where he is walking to an inn one evening, and is terrified of being attacked by wild boars...

Oh, and have editors been completely replaced by spell-checkers? I have noticed this with several recent books. Grrr.

David wrote: Thanks for the review. My experience of hh in Japan is indeed that it is not only fun, but often the only reasonable way to get between two points. I never hesitate, most recently recovering from missed trains around Mt. Aso with hh that led to significant drunkenness with the remnants of Aum on Shikoku. And of course anything to do with sakura attracts sym/empathy in Japan. BB. Bull Sumo is an Okinawa specialty.

Andy wrote: I wonder if one wandered through the US if one would find people engaged in simlarly unique life pursuits? Think of the PC bruha and lawsuits if some American GNC owner had a Japanese guy stand in the window advertising fish oil.... Perhaps those kids should have had the author play a few beats on his scrotum to verify his tanukiness. Sounds like a fun book.

I wrote: I guess you would, and maybe there are such books, if the hitchhiker did not end up dead! Did you read "Into The Wild"?

In fact, Ferguson does rant about exactly this kind of racism in Japan, which I just learned to accept, even enjoy, while I was there ( "Yes, sure, we all have guns in the US" ). Ferguson's school wanted him to teach a "survival English" course with phrases like "please don't shoot", "here is my wallet" etc. He refused. I would have done it, who cares...