Hitching Rides with Buddha: A Journey Across Japan


410 pages
ISBN 0-676-97698-0
DDC 915.204'49




Reviewed by Larissa Liepins

Larissa Liepins is a reporter in Fort McMurray, Alberta.


Hitching Rides with Buddha follows in a long tradition of Western
Japanophiles writing about their adopted country, but the Canadian
author of Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw and Bastards and Boneheads has
added a quixotic twist: Will Ferguson tells his road stories from the
passenger’s seat.

After living and working in Japan for two years, Ferguson decided to
cover the country, end-to-end, by hitching rides with Japanese drivers.
(The book is only new to Canadians, since it appeared in the United
States and Britain in 1998 under the title Hokkaido Highway Blues.)
Ferguson’s goal was to follow the blossoming of cherry trees from
south to north across four main islands, an appropriate premise in a
country where the short-lived blossoms are redolent with symbolism—and
the parties organized to view them, a great excuse to get drunk.

But what appears at first like an odd way to explore contemporary Japan
is exactly the right way, as Ferguson explains: “The car is an
extension of the home, but without any of the prescribed formalities
that plague Japan. The hitchhiker in Japan slips in under the defenses,
as both a guest and a travel companion. Bumming rides becomes its own
reward, the journey, its own destination.”

Ferguson’s engaging style and often hilarious anecdotes keep the
momentum going, running over many stereotypes along the way. Indeed,
despite their reputation as xenophobes, the Japanese invite Ferguson
into their cars (and homes) over and over, opening up to him to varying

The book is long, but so is Japan: as Ferguson points out, the
3,000-kilometre journey would be the same as a trip from Miami to
Montreal. Yet Ferguson never outstays his welcome—at least, not with
the reader. His changeable tone, ranging from reverent and contemplative
to mocking and ironic, keeps things fresh, and Ferguson weaves enough
history and sociology into his narrative to teach even veterans of the
country something new. As the book comes to an end, the reader feels she
has lost a trusted and likeable travel companion.


Ferguson, Will., “Hitching Rides with Buddha: A Journey Across Japan,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 16, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/14404.