Title: A Beginner’s Guide to Japan: Observations and Provocations
Author: Pico Iyer
Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
Genre: Travel, Nonfiction
Everything that Pico Iyer writes has this quality of sublimity to it. It uplifts you in the true sense of the word and that’s what was needed in such times, as I picked up this book on observations and provocations on Japan by an author who should definitely be read more.
A Beginner’s Guide to Japan is Pico Iyer’s in a way tribute to the country, after living there for almost thirty-two years and counting. It is as playful as profound a book on the customs, traditions, and brief yet arresting glimpses into Japanese culture.
Iyer describes how the Japanese live in Japan, and how different the rest of the world is from them. From simple things such as greeting someone to nudity not being a taboo but being asked to express one’s feelings is rather offensive. The book is also a bundle of contradictions, given the country that is being spoken about – but the Japanese seem to enjoy their contradictions and things done or said for convenience.
I loved the outsider view that Pico Iyer gives the readers. He doesn’t claim to be an insider, even though he has married a Japanese, and has lived there for the time that he has. Yet, he looks at the country and its people from a certain distance, never wanting to be one of them, happy to be observing from the margins.
A Beginner’s Guide to Japan is a perfect book to understand the country and its people. Pico Iyer gives us a next to complete picture of its hypocrisy and magic, the honesty and the precision, its food, and manners, and somehow even the pointless obsession with perfection at times seems alright. Japan is not a country to so easily be put in words and yet Pico Iyer tries hard and the result is a wondrous book – neatly classified, never losing its sense of humour and evocativeness of language.