Hitching Rides with Buddha

Travels in Search of Japan

Publisher: Vintage Canada
Originally published as Hokkaido Highway Blues, with limited distribution in Canada, Will Ferguson’s classic book about Japan, for all fans of the bestselling Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw.

With the same fervour they have for outlandish game shows and tiny gadgets, the Japanese go nuts each spring when the cherry blossoms sweep from island to island towards the country’s northerly tip. Will Ferguson was celebrating the event in the standard fashion. And after way too much sake he announced he would be the first person in recorded history to follow the blossom’s progress end to end. To make it a challenge worth doing, he’d hitchhike all the way: relying on the kindness of some very weird and wonderful strangers.

Mixing his penchant for biting observation with wicked humour, Ferguson starts at the southernmost tip of Cape Sata and heads north for distant Hokkaido. Whether he is doing the forbidden and not knowing it, or holding "conversations by non sequitur," it is a journey full of misadventures and revelations. The resulting travelogue is one of the funniest and most illuminating books ever written about Japan.

To make matters worse, I decided to hitchhike. Striking a heroic stance, I declared my intention to my Japanese friends to become the first person ever to hitchhike the length of Japan, end-to-end, cape-to-cape, sea-to-sea. This did not impress them as much as I had hoped.

“Why would you want to do that?” they asked, genuinely puzzled. “There is no reason to hitchhike. That’s why we built the Bullet Train.”

Others worried about my safety. “But,” I would argue, “Japan is a very safe country, is it not?”

“Oh, yes. Very safe. Safest in the world.”

“So why shouldn’t I hitchhike?”

“Because Japan is dangerous.”

And so on.

Now, I will admit that mooching rides across Japan is not a major achievement — I mean, it’s not like I paddled up the Amazon or discovered insulin or anything — but I am the first person ever to do this, so allow me my hubris.

When I left my home in Minamata City aboard a southbound train, I felt suitably bold with my backpack and muscular thumb.

“I’m going to hitchhike the length of Japan,” I told the man beside me.

He smiled and nodded.

“I’m going to follow the cherry blossoms.”

He nodded.

“All the way to Russia,” I said.

He smiled again, and soon after changed seats.
—from Hitching Rides with Buddha

From the Hardcover edition.


Note on the Canadian Edition

This book was published in the US and the UK under the title Hokkaido Highway Blues. An abridged British pocketbook version was also released. The full version has been restored for the Canadian edition, along with the title I always wanted: Hitching Rides with Buddha. (That title...
Read More


Praise for Hitching Rides with Buddha:
“‘I laughed out loud,’ is what book lovers tell each other when they are lucky enough to stumble on an author with a gift for the absurd. Will Ferguson is just such an author. . . In his new book, Hitching Rides with Buddha, Ferguson continues to display a talent for wry self-deprecation and a giddy ability to see the ludicrous in, well, the ludicrous.”
Edmonton Journal

"Throughout his on-the-road adventures he dishes up huge but juicily presented quantities of Japanese religion, history and sociology. He’s also a wickedly witty travel guide, with a knack for dropping absurdist, out-of-left-field remarks that raise a smile or a belly laugh. . . . Hitching Rides with Buddha brims with acerbic humour, informed observations and lively stories. Ferguson is one fine Land of the Rising Star tour guide.”
Winnipeg Free Press

"The road book of the year. . . A warm-hearted account with a generous helping of satire."
The Daily Telegraph

"A mild stroke of genius. . . Savagely hilarious."
Sunday Herald

"You trust both his humour and his insights. . . . An admirable pair of eyes through which to see contemporary Japan."
The Observer

"I enjoyed Hitching Rides with Buddha immensely. Will Ferguson is a very gifted writer."
—Bill Bryson

Praise for Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw:
"Ferguson’s strength does not lie in whether he writes funny or not. His strength is that he writes so well."
Times Colonist (Victoria)

"Yet another masterfully entertaining examination of Canuckishness penned by the Calgary author. . . . Ferguson’s fascination with Canadiana is infectious."
Calgary Herald

"Full of surprises . . . and idiosyncratic charms. . . . Travel writers don’t always get to climb Everest or visit the Taj Mahal, and they can be judged best by what they come up with on a slow day. Ferguson is good when he’s sipping a handful of icy water out of Hudson Bay; he’s better eating pancakes in a Finnish restaurant in Thunder Bay."
National Post

"Lively storytelling . . . Artful descriptions of the Canadian landscape."
The Globe and Mail

"Will Ferguson is a talent. He writes refreshingly, provocatively and eloquently. . . . He looks for the essence and his search brings out some smashingly insightful stuff."
Ottawa Citizen

From the Hardcover edition.