Tuesday, August 21, 2007

'Hitching Rides with Buddha: A Journey Across Japan'

Hitching Rides with Buddhaby Will Ferguson
Non-Fiction/Travel/Japan, 1998/2005
Vintage Canada, trade pb, 407 p.
As a young English teacher in Japan, Canadian humorist Will Ferguson set out on a journey like no other: his goal was to become the first person in recorded history to follow the cherry blossoms as they sweep from one end of Japan to the other. Hitchhiking all the way, and relying on the kindness of weird and wonderful strangers, his journey was full of misadventure and revelation, and the result is a real treat for Ferguson fans: a book that may just be one of the funniest and most illuminating ever written about Japan.
“Nowhere on earth does spring arrive as dramatically as it does in Japan. When the cherry blossoms hit, they hit like a hurricane. Gnarled cherry trees, ignored for most of the year, burst into bloom like fountains turned suddenly on.”

What a fun, informative read! He really captured the love-hate relationship that many gaijin (foreigners) have with Japan and its countless contradictions. There were plenty of situations that I could relate to and his dry sense of humour and observations had me often laughing out loud. Well-researched, I also learned about some customs and places that I wasn’t familiar with. I would definitely recommend Hitching Rides with Buddha to anyone who is interested in Japan or has spent any time there.

A couple of favourite quotes:
“If God had wanted me to learn kanji, He would have given me a bigger brain.”

“I speak Japanese the way a bear dances. It’s not that the bear dances well that impresses people, it’s the fact that the bear dances at all.”
Note on this edition:
This book was previously published in the US and the UK under the title Hokkaido Highway Blues, along with an abridged British pocketbook version. The full version has been restored for the Canadian edition, along with the title I always wanted: Hitching Rides with Buddha. (That title was nixed by the American publisher on the complaint that it sounded too religious. Sigh.) - Will Ferguson

My Rating: 4/5
(Book 34 for 2007, Non-Fiction Five Challenge - Book 3, O'Canada Challenge - Book 3)

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  1. This looks like a great book, and I love the quotes. I'll have to search out the Canadian version. And it sounds like just one more example of the shallowness of American publishers. Have more faith in your readers, please!

  2. Now if I'd seen that title, I never would have guessed that this is what the book is about.

    I've read lots of books where people try to describe a foreign culture from their own perspective and I rather like them, but I've never read one about Japan, so I think I'll give this one a try. Thanks for the recommendation.

  3. OMG I am so getting this! You have NO idea how obsessed I am with cherry blossoms. I used to have a website called Candy Coated Sakura. Mehehe.

  4. This book sounds fantastic! I love books that look at the aspects of culture you might not see in a typical visit! I'll have to pick this up!

  5. his goal was to become the first person in recorded history to follow the cherry blossoms as they sweep from one end of Japan to the other

    What a delightful goal, I feel certain I am going to love this book! And you know, I have "Hokkaido Highway Blues" (bought it at a bulk sale) sitting on my bookshelf, but I hadn't realized it was the same as "Hitching Rides with Buddha", so thank you!

    Have you read his other books? "Bastards and Boneheads", "Why I hate Canadians" "How to be a Canadian"? Hilarious, all of them!

  6. This does sound delightful! I will have to look for it. Great review!

  7. I would love to read this book. About learning Kanji-brain ratio, I think he is right! :-)
    Kanji is the cause why I always have a heavy feeling around my head. Brain size increased tremendously after university stint. lol.

  8. This book sounds fantastic!! I'm going to have to see if I can find it!

    I just wanted to let you know, I received my book today!! Thank you so much! I'm really looking forward to reading it!

  9. Nyssaneala,
    What publishers deem necessary to change always amuses/annoys me!!

    You're welcome. I hope you enjoy it if you get it.

    I do have to warn you that he only mentions the cherry blossoms sometimes. They are the purpose of the trip but it's all the various encounters while hitchhiking that make up most of the book. Still a fun read though.

    I'd say he definitely touches on aspects of Japanese people and culture that a tourist wouldn't pick up.

  10. Lotus,
    This is actually my first book of his. I have 'HappinessTM' and will definitely be looking out for more.
    Hope you enjoy it when you get to it.

    Literary Feline,
    Thanks. It got a lot of chuckles out of me!

    LOL! My knowledge of kanji is pretty pitiful so his quote rings very true for me!

    I'm glad I finally got around to reading it!

    I'm so glad your book arrived. Happy reading! :)


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