Thursday, January 7, 2010

Hokkaido Highway Blues

A few months ago my good friend Dan Gotlieb read Will Ferguson's "Hokkaido Highway Blues" while traveling around Japan. After reading the book, Dan ordered it for me online and had it delivered to my Koryama apartment. When the book arrived I was in the midst of reading "The Satanic Versus" and decided to hold off on "Hokkaido Highway Blues" until I was traveling around Japan myself. It was a wise decision.

I read "Hokkaido Highway Blues" as I left Koryama and traveled around the main Japanese island. As I turned each page of the book I felt like the kid in "The Neverending Story." I can't tell you how many times I would be somewhere and would simultaneously be reading about the author in the same place. Even more than our similar geography, Ferguson often seemed to be noticing and commenting on elements of Japanese culture that I was experiencing.

I don't often make many "must read" claims but this is a "must read" book if you've spent any amount of time in Japan. I think to fully appreciate the book you need to have lived in Japan. I'm not claiming to know everything since I was only there for three months but there are some things that you can't see/taste/hear/feel without really digging down into the society. Again, I was there just three months. Ferguson was there for years.

All of that said, let me put a disclaimer on the book: As much as I enjoyed it, I personally think the author comes off as a Grade A prick. There were many moments when I cringed and thought to myself, "I hate expats like him." I'm hoping that Ferguson took some artistic liberties with his retelling of conversations because there were definitely a handful that struck me as him being a total a-hole. To his credit though, usually it is hard to enjoy a book if you don't like the protagonist. I didn't really like Ferguson but I still liked the book.