Monday, August 23, 2010
For anyone who enjoys the humor-laced travelogues of British writer Michael Palin or American Bill Bryson, I heartily recommend adding the work of Canadian Will Ferguson to your list. Although this recommendation is based solely on the highly entertaining Hitching Rides with Buddha, I suspect that I will be delving into his other books soon in hopes they are as good as this effort. Ferguson, who taught English in Japan and is workably fluent in Japanese, decides to hitchhike from the southern end of the island(s) country to its northern –most point, roughly corresponding with the seasonal flowering of the sakura (cherry trees). Largely comprised of small vignettes covering successive rides or stays in different locations, Ferguson deftly lays bare (nay---punctures) many of the myths and attitudes held by Japanese about their country, people, and standing in the world, as well as their fascination/disgust/fear of the outside world, especially America. What emerges is a land of diversity; of people with enormous generosity, friendliness, wonder, balanced by narrow-mindedness, racist-thinking, and over-inflated egos. No doubt there will be some in Japan who will call for his passport to be permanently confiscated and his carcass banned from reentry (what would he care! He stole his wife from them already) because of his often less-than-flattering portrayal, but it seems to me that he has a great deal of affection and respect for the people, even while puncturing their contradictions and egomanias. The Japanese come off often as something akin to enthusiastic, cautious, conformist plowhorses with their blinders firmly affixed. While the author has penned standard travel-guide material, this account will keep you laughing, while at the same time open your eyes to a wonderful and contradictory nation.