By Kate Foote
The late Hunter S. Thomspon’s illustrious Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas outlined a fanciful, narcotic-induced road trip. While a veritable cornucopia of drugs spurned Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo along their journey, Calgarian author Will Ferguson’s epic journey across Japan was instead fueled by sake and a drive to follow the blossoming cherry trees from Southern to Northern Japan. Although cherry blossoms and Sake have rarely been impetus to inspire Gonzo Journalism-style expeditions, inebriation was still a key factor in Ferguson’s expedition , as the japanese celebrate the arrival of the blossoms with sake -soaked ceremonies. Somehow Ferguson was able to draw his experiences together to write Hokkaido Highway Blues: A Hitchiker’s Guide to Japan. He will be reading excerpts from the book at this year’s Wordfest.
“Every time I’d show up in a village they’d be having a festival, and because I was a foreigner, they would treat me like an honoured guest and would provide me with sake,” recounts Ferguson. “I thought it would be this poetic journey where I’d write Haikus and learn about life, but it ended up being just like an extended pub-crawl because I was drunk half the time.”
Ferguson traveled to Japan with the Japan Exchange Teachers program, a branch of the Japanese Board of Education, to teach conversational English in a small village. While private companies also offer similar programs, Ferguson recommends the government-supported program for those interested.
“[JET] certainly pampers you,” he explains. “You’re treated as part of the bureaucracy. You don’t just work for the school, you’re part of the faculty. The pay is very good there too. With private companies, you just do your class and then get out.”
Despite the excitement of experiencing another country, international travel is not without certain frustrations–more specifically, language barriers. As outlined in his book, Ferguson’s travels were armed with a decidedly limited arsenal of Japanese, most of which seemed to revolve around drinking and the weather.
“I knew samurai and sake–basically just a spattering of words,” Ferguson jokes. “I also knew the lyrics to Domo Arigoto, Mr. Roboto. I’d be getting into a taxi and say Domo Arigoto, Mr. Roboto.”
Hokaido Highway Blues is being re-released, offering the local author the perfect opportunity to appear in his local literary festival. Having appeared in 2002 with Preston Manning, Ferguson is no stranger to Calgary’s premier writing festival.
“It helps to bring readers and writers together,” he says. “It’s definitely one of the preeminent literary events in Canada. It’s up there with Toronto’s Harbour Front and Vancouver’s Writers Festival.”
However, being a Calgarian, Ferguson misses out on travel perks provided by the other Canadian writers’ festivals.
“I’m a cheap date,” he admits. “I live in Calgary they don’t have to fly me in and put me up at the Palliser. I take the C-train they just have to reimburse me for the C-train ticket.”‘