Hitching Rides with Buddha by Will Ferguson
*Note- Gaijin is Japanese for “foreigner”
Interrupting the sweet revelries of adolescent Japanese boys and girls, who write poems and ponder koans under the first blossoms of the sakura, is Will Ferguson, a lumbering, cacophonous caricature of the feared gaijin.
Will arrives in Japan with a decent grasp on Japanese to teach eager high-schoolers English. In between bereaving their utter incomprehensibility between “L” and “R”, and his stunning lack of ping-pong prowess, Will goes on a spectacular journey from the southern reaches of Japan to the frosty North on a quest to watch the cherry trees unfurl their blossoms from their first pollination in the South, to their brave stand in the bitter North.
To make this journey unique, most people would consider conveyances such as bicycles, motorcycles, boats, or their own intrepid feet. Not Will. To the derision of his fellow teachers, he decides to set out on his quest by hitchhiking. Apparently, the Japanese are terrified of hitchhikers (and gaijin as a whole) which created some lively interactions between the lanky gaijin and his hosts.
Mr. Ferguson does an excellent job of providing snippets of insight into Japanese culture. He laments on how he will always be viewed as foreign no matter how long the length of his tenure, a feeling that many expats have echoed in their inability to fully ingratiate into Japanese society. He spends considerable time detailing the incredible lengths people go to host him in their homes, many of whom are WWII survivors and remember vividly the destruction Americans wreaked on their island nation.
Like all wanderers, Will’s journey is full of introspection and cultural anecdotes, but his is wrought with a humor and humility that I have rarely encountered.