web site hit counter A Beginner's Guide to Japan: Observations and Provocations - Ebooks PDF Online
Hot Best Seller

A Beginner's Guide to Japan: Observations and Provocations

Availability: Ready to download

From the acclaimed author of The Art of Stillness--one of our most engaging and discerning travel writers--a unique, indispensable guide to the enigma of contemporary Japan. After thirty-two years in Japan, Pico Iyer can use everything from anime to Oscar Wilde to show how his adopted home is both hauntingly familiar and the strangest place on earth. "Arguably the world's g From the acclaimed author of The Art of Stillness--one of our most engaging and discerning travel writers--a unique, indispensable guide to the enigma of contemporary Japan. After thirty-two years in Japan, Pico Iyer can use everything from anime to Oscar Wilde to show how his adopted home is both hauntingly familiar and the strangest place on earth. "Arguably the world's greatest living travel writer" (Outside). He draws on readings, reflections, and conversations with Japanese friends to illuminate an unknown place for newcomers, and to give longtime residents a look at their home through fresh eyes. A Beginner's Guide to Japan is a playful and profound guidebook full of surprising, brief, incisive glimpses into Japanese culture. Iyer's adventures and observations as he travels from a meditation-hall to a love-hotel, from West Point to Kyoto Station, make for a constantly surprising series of provocations guaranteed to pique the interest and curiosity of those who don't know Japan, and to remind those who do of the wide range of fascinations the country and culture contain.


Compare

From the acclaimed author of The Art of Stillness--one of our most engaging and discerning travel writers--a unique, indispensable guide to the enigma of contemporary Japan. After thirty-two years in Japan, Pico Iyer can use everything from anime to Oscar Wilde to show how his adopted home is both hauntingly familiar and the strangest place on earth. "Arguably the world's g From the acclaimed author of The Art of Stillness--one of our most engaging and discerning travel writers--a unique, indispensable guide to the enigma of contemporary Japan. After thirty-two years in Japan, Pico Iyer can use everything from anime to Oscar Wilde to show how his adopted home is both hauntingly familiar and the strangest place on earth. "Arguably the world's greatest living travel writer" (Outside). He draws on readings, reflections, and conversations with Japanese friends to illuminate an unknown place for newcomers, and to give longtime residents a look at their home through fresh eyes. A Beginner's Guide to Japan is a playful and profound guidebook full of surprising, brief, incisive glimpses into Japanese culture. Iyer's adventures and observations as he travels from a meditation-hall to a love-hotel, from West Point to Kyoto Station, make for a constantly surprising series of provocations guaranteed to pique the interest and curiosity of those who don't know Japan, and to remind those who do of the wide range of fascinations the country and culture contain.

30 review for A Beginner's Guide to Japan: Observations and Provocations

  1. 5 out of 5

    Janet

    Darn you Pico Iyer! I have three other books going, but this is so tantalizing, bite sized insights into Japanese culture, the little moments that reveal so much--it's completely jumped the queue. >>>>>>>>>>>>> This irresistible little book will be the perfect gift for every lover of Japan, presented here in little mots that are perfect encapsulations of Japanese moments, attitudes, surprises and contradictions. A book you can open anywhere for a burst of insight. Iyer has lived in Japan for 30 ye Darn you Pico Iyer! I have three other books going, but this is so tantalizing, bite sized insights into Japanese culture, the little moments that reveal so much--it's completely jumped the queue. >>>>>>>>>>>>> This irresistible little book will be the perfect gift for every lover of Japan, presented here in little mots that are perfect encapsulations of Japanese moments, attitudes, surprises and contradictions. A book you can open anywhere for a burst of insight. Iyer has lived in Japan for 30 years, and still considers himself a 'beginner', speaking Japanese "like a 2 year old girl" (even the word "I" is gendered, and he learned his Japanese from his wife) But it is in that very bifocal view, the insider/outsider observer, that makes all Iyer's travel work so good, and this book in particular benefits from the cultural surprises. The format--the tiny insights that are one step from haiku--already signals the reader that this is not going to be a standard cultural travelogue, but tiny fragments or pictures of the Japanese way of life as it strikes the foreigner. The way a garden is cultivated and used. "In Europe a garden is something you enter, walk around in and leave behind; in Kyoto, a garden is more like something that enters you, inviting you to become as silent and well swept as everything around you." "A garden is therefore observed as a ceremony might be." The aphoristic layout encourages Iyer to spread his net wide--we have Zen, we have the Japanese attitude towards choice (that it's wearying, that peace comes from the relief from choice. Most Japanese restaurants, he points out, have a prix fixe menu), we have the adherence to hierarchy and the importance placed on uniformity and harmony. The acceptance of one's place and the absence of a philanthropic tradition. The preference for problem-solving in physical reality over innovation and big abstract ideas. The how more important than the why. "Japanese "indifference to the Mystery of the Universe," my cousin's great-grandfather was wse enough to add, "is that which enables them to give more time and to spend more energy on the solution of the problems near at hand." "When he gives lectures in the West, I heard the Dalai Lama say in Japan, the audiences tunes out the minute he starts speaking about ritual and comes to life as soon as he speaks about philosophy; in Japan, the formula is reversed." "A Japanese psychiatrist asked every prospective patient to keep a daily journal. He consented to see each one only after all her sentences were devoted to the world outside her." was one of the little entries. Like so many others, it set me moving in a new direction. What would that be like, that a world in which we subtracted ourselves would be seen as the beginning of healing? Iyer considers the Japanese attitude toward emptiness--in the garden, in the teahouse, in Zen... agains the backdrop of the population density and the cramped quarters in which the Japanese live. "Emptiness in Japan becomes the luxury that grandeur is in the West." The importance is the inner life. Four days of a trip can yield forty years of memories. It's about what enters. "A night of love is less important than the way we anticipate it, the words with which we communicate it. What we do with our feelings last longer than the feelings themselves." He describes a host's white kimono, revealed to be extensively embroidered--on the inside. Haunting glimpses of a culture whose mystery is this internality: "A perfect date in Japan involves accompanying a loved one to a movie, watching the film together in silence and then, on the way home, takin pains not to talk about it." The very format allows for the emptiness that is essential to this world view.

  2. 5 out of 5

    David Wineberg

    Japan is traditionally called mysterious, inscrutable, and stoic. It prefers total isolation to dealing with the rest of the world (It used to destroy ships and cargo and execute those onboard upon arrival). Now Pico Iyer, who has lived there for 32 years tells us the how and why. In A Beginners’ Guide To Japan, a short book of even shorter anecdotes (often one-liners) he describes living in Japan as the Japanese do, and how very different that can be from the rest of the world. The basic theme i Japan is traditionally called mysterious, inscrutable, and stoic. It prefers total isolation to dealing with the rest of the world (It used to destroy ships and cargo and execute those onboard upon arrival). Now Pico Iyer, who has lived there for 32 years tells us the how and why. In A Beginners’ Guide To Japan, a short book of even shorter anecdotes (often one-liners) he describes living in Japan as the Japanese do, and how very different that can be from the rest of the world. The basic theme is keeping personal (self) control. This means not standing out. It means women dressing to not be noticed, never showing hurt, or emotion, and keeping civil for the common good. Nudity is not taboo, but asking people to express feelings is offensive. Iyer says passengers routinely sleep with their heads on strangers’ shoulders on Japanese trains, and the leaned-upon agree not to flinch. A sign of trust—of community, perhaps—but also a reminder that what constitutes public and what constitutes private is something subtler than homes and walls. There is an emphasis on cleanliness, honesty and harmony: “Keeping up appearances, my neighbors might reply, is not the same as denying what’s beneath. It’s simply a way of placing the needs of the whole before those of the self.” There is a lot of contradiction in Japan, and therefore throughout the book. The Japanese have adopted it and value it. The book cites Oscar Wilde numerous times. He was famous for pithy contradictions that made fun of human society, habits and morals. In Japan, this is not for laughter, it is for satisfaction of the Japanese way. Iyer cites the first time an American, Bobby Valentine, was brought over to manage a professional Japanese team, in 1995. He was fired after leading his hapless squad to a stunning second-place finish, because, a team spokesman announced, “of his emphasis on winning.” Iyer has learned not to fit in or pretend he is Japanese. He needs to be accepted as an exception who nonetheless respects Japanese ways. He found that friends will come over, sit in the garden with him and say nothing. Total silence makes for a satisfying visit in Japan. Temples guide the eye toward a peaceful opening in the roof, where nothing is going on. Gardens are not spectacles, they are oases. The silence and the separation and the holding it all in also breed unusual workarounds for human needs: “The company Family Romance employs fourteen hundred actors to pretend to be family members for clients who are going through hard times. Its boss has acted as a husband to one hundred women, and as a young girl’s father for months on end; one of his workers played a wife to one man for seven years. Another such company, Support One, sends actors to offer apologies on a client’s behalf, to pretend to be a betrayed wife, to act as an inconsolable friend.” A Beginners’ Guide To Japan is not comprehensive; it is instead whimsical. It is Iyer’s almost childlike fascination with and appreciation of a totally different society. In true Japanese fashion, no one should take offense; none is intended. David Wineberg

  3. 4 out of 5

    David J

    I hope to make it to Japan one day, and even though I’m fairly well-versed in Japanese cinema and have a general gist of Japanese culture, I could obviously still learn a thing or two in preparation for my travels. I thought Pico Iyer’s “beginner’s guide” might be a good place to start, but I unfortunately found that to be far from the truth. My biggest problem is how the book offers its information. The vast majority of the content is in bullet-point format (usually just one or two sentences eac I hope to make it to Japan one day, and even though I’m fairly well-versed in Japanese cinema and have a general gist of Japanese culture, I could obviously still learn a thing or two in preparation for my travels. I thought Pico Iyer’s “beginner’s guide” might be a good place to start, but I unfortunately found that to be far from the truth. My biggest problem is how the book offers its information. The vast majority of the content is in bullet-point format (usually just one or two sentences each), which means that information is either severely condensed or altogether missing. Most of the information that is present *does* focus on Iyer’s observations and provocations, but they’re personal and highly specific and they don’t translate well to a general understanding of Japanese culture. Iyer frequently name drops Japanese authors, filmmakers, and historical events too, which would undoubtedly make it difficult for a beginner to understand and connect the dots. These little quips also aren’t that enjoyable to read—I guess bullet-point lists just don’t do it for me. We do get small essays at the end of each section, and those I did enjoy for the most part, but I still think that an actual beginner would be lost. There is information in this slim book, but it’s buried underneath personal memories, and the reader has to extract what they can from Iyer’s lists. If you want an introduction to Japanese culture, this ain’t the book. I found this to be more of a disappointing chore than anything else.

  4. 4 out of 5

    happy

    This is a very short (just over 200 pgs) and physically small (it will fit in a shirt pocket) book. It is the observations of a journalist who has lived in Japan for more than 30 yrs and is married to a native. It is written in a bullet point format with some of the observations only a sentence or two while others take two or three pages. The observations are organized by topic and the author uses Japanese novelists and other cultural figures in making and explaining some of those observations. This is a very short (just over 200 pgs) and physically small (it will fit in a shirt pocket) book. It is the observations of a journalist who has lived in Japan for more than 30 yrs and is married to a native. It is written in a bullet point format with some of the observations only a sentence or two while others take two or three pages. The observations are organized by topic and the author uses Japanese novelists and other cultural figures in making and explaining some of those observations. The bullet point format makes it difficult to just sit down and read this book. In spite this I finished it in 2 days. Surprising, to me at least. the author claims in spite of having lived there more that 30 yrs, not to speak Japanese. I lived in Japan for a couple of yrs in the late '70s I found my self nodding in agreement, thinking I didn't know that but it makes sense or wondering just where that came from while reading his observations. Because of the style, it was only a 3+ star read for me, but I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in Japan or Japanese society

  5. 5 out of 5

    Maria

    Iyer has lived in Japan for 32 years and these are random observations and quotes about Japan. Things to delight and frustrate. Why I started this book: Short, sweet and about Japan... I couldn't say no. Why I finished it: Tiny tidbits of things that stop and make you think about Japan. Some will make you smile and some will make you pull your hair out. Japan is country of hospitality and hostility, honesty and hypocrisy, stunning precision and wabi-sabi, purposeful imperfections. It is a country Iyer has lived in Japan for 32 years and these are random observations and quotes about Japan. Things to delight and frustrate. Why I started this book: Short, sweet and about Japan... I couldn't say no. Why I finished it: Tiny tidbits of things that stop and make you think about Japan. Some will make you smile and some will make you pull your hair out. Japan is country of hospitality and hostility, honesty and hypocrisy, stunning precision and wabi-sabi, purposeful imperfections. It is a country that can still feel strange and surprising after 32 years.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

    It's hard to conclude anything about any one person, let alone an entire culture, from a single snapshot. But how about 50 snapshots? Or 500? Pico Iyer gives us a panoramic collage of Japanese culture in freeze frame format, and strangely enough, it works. Some of these pictures are beautiful, others are bizarre, and I take the lack of consistency to be a sign of authenticity. The anecdotal nature of Iyer's approach is provocative, as the title suggests, but it isn't sensational. Iyer still sees It's hard to conclude anything about any one person, let alone an entire culture, from a single snapshot. But how about 50 snapshots? Or 500? Pico Iyer gives us a panoramic collage of Japanese culture in freeze frame format, and strangely enough, it works. Some of these pictures are beautiful, others are bizarre, and I take the lack of consistency to be a sign of authenticity. The anecdotal nature of Iyer's approach is provocative, as the title suggests, but it isn't sensational. Iyer still sees Japan as a foreigner might, as a tourist even, despite his decades of living in the country, but that's precisely his point. It's impossible for a non-Japanese person not to be an outsider in Japan. And that's not necessarily a bad thing.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Penny

    I hadn't heard of this author, when I stumbled upon this book in the travel section of my local library. I was so intrigued by the format and the few brief passages I read that I checked it out. I'm glad I did. I now have a new author to follow, an author whose TED talks I have started watching. I have long been fascinated by Japan, its culture, history, and arts. Having lived there as a child, I felt a deep homesickness for the country when my family returned to the States. That prompted me as a I hadn't heard of this author, when I stumbled upon this book in the travel section of my local library. I was so intrigued by the format and the few brief passages I read that I checked it out. I'm glad I did. I now have a new author to follow, an author whose TED talks I have started watching. I have long been fascinated by Japan, its culture, history, and arts. Having lived there as a child, I felt a deep homesickness for the country when my family returned to the States. That prompted me as a young adult to read some of the classic works of Japanese fiction and poetry, to fall in love with Japanese cinema, and to read works about the country written by Westerners, most notably Benedict's The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, which to my mind captured much of what makes the Japanese so different from Americans. A Beginner's Guide to Japan is this century's extension of that ground-breaking work, although it is nothing like it in style. The subtitle, "Observations and Provocations," is a fit description of what transpires in these pages. Iyer, an Indian American, married to a Japanese woman and a 30 plus year resident of Kyoto, is a travel writer, but this is not a travel guide. Rather it's a deep dive into some of the aspects of Japanese culture that foreigners don't easily understand. The style is pithy, the narrative, such as it is, carried forward primarily with short epigrammatic, sometime enigmatic, passages, and occasionally longer stories that frame each section, e.g., "On the Streets," "At the Counter," "In the Temple," etc. It is a brilliant tour de force, replete with references to the great Japanese writers from Lady Murasaki to Yukio Mishima, but there are a fair number of references to Oscar Wilde and Classical writers, as well. Iyer draws from his community in Kyoto and from the perspectives and actions of his Japanese friends, references films, including Lost in Translation, which he contends perfectly captures the Japanese ethos (dead on, and one of the reasons this is my favorite film), and Japanese history and custom. It is the work of an agile and subtle mind, a mind that has a lifetime of experiences to draw from to foster a deeper understanding in his reader of what makes Japanese culture unique. I'm getting other books by this author ... don't you love it when you find an author new to you that you want to read everything they've written?

  8. 5 out of 5

    Anika

    I used to love reading Pico Iyer's books. Read him after a long time, and I must say I really liked this unconventional book. It's a collection of notes, thoughts, philosophical musings, observations; there's no narrative, but it feels cohesive despite the odd structure. At times profound, thought-provoking, at others a bit irritating. There are so many nuggets like these: __________ Strangers routinely sleep with their heads on strangers' shoulders on Japanese trains, and the leaned-upon agree no I used to love reading Pico Iyer's books. Read him after a long time, and I must say I really liked this unconventional book. It's a collection of notes, thoughts, philosophical musings, observations; there's no narrative, but it feels cohesive despite the odd structure. At times profound, thought-provoking, at others a bit irritating. There are so many nuggets like these: __________ Strangers routinely sleep with their heads on strangers' shoulders on Japanese trains, and the leaned-upon agree not to flinch. A sign of trust – of community, perhaps – but also a reminder that what constitutes public and what constitutes private is something subtler than homes and walls. To make oneself up, in a deeper way, is a mark of courtesy. In the face of great suffering, the very English novelist Jane Gardam writes, an English person has to put on a brave face, "a mask slapped on out of consideration, out of a wish not to increase concern and also out of a genetic belief that our feelings are diminished when we show them." When Ansel Adams took pictures of Japanese internees in Californian concentration camps during World War II, his subjects were so determined to offer bright smiles and to project a hopeful confidence to the world that the photographer was criticized for falsifying the truth. _________________ When conflict arises in Japan, it's often because one person wishes to give up her needs as much as another wishes to give up hers. Such duels of self-sacrifice leave everyone stranded in an agony of thwarted self-denial. _________________ Several hours after my wife is made to wait a few minutes at the bank, there's a knock on our door, twenty minutes away by car: the bank manager, here at our distant apartment at 9:00 p.m., to offer an apology and to hand us a small gift in recompense. _________________ In England, I was taught never to take anything seriously, least of all myself. When I moved to America, I was encouraged to take everything seriously, especially myself. In Japan, the people I know don't seem to take themselves very seriously – but only because they take their roles, the parts they have to play in the national pageant, very seriously indeed.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Denise

    Enjoyable and easy to read in bursts. While my kids are studying Japan this gave me some extra reading to enjoy in my down time. The author's presentation is irregular, a paragraph blurb format for most of the book broken up by longer anecdotes every few sections. Knowing the author is British born, living in Japan for 30 years to a native Japanese woman helps shed light on his unique perspective. He has a beautiful love of the country and its people, no doubt encouraged by the love for his wife Enjoyable and easy to read in bursts. While my kids are studying Japan this gave me some extra reading to enjoy in my down time. The author's presentation is irregular, a paragraph blurb format for most of the book broken up by longer anecdotes every few sections. Knowing the author is British born, living in Japan for 30 years to a native Japanese woman helps shed light on his unique perspective. He has a beautiful love of the country and its people, no doubt encouraged by the love for his wife. His observations may be at times uncomfortable, revealing too much or not enough of the Japanese people, but it is enough information to wet the appetite. In fact, "wetting the appetite" is an excellent description of this book. It is an appetizer to further reading on the subject of Japan. It has been sustaining my vigor in teaching my children and I plan to pick up the author's companion book, Autumn Light. I would recommend this to anyone interested in Japan and the mystery of its culture.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jeannette

    Iyer's observations are incisive and provocative. The style of the bit (a smorgasbord of tidbits, linked thematically and roughly) is not my favorite. I would have preferred a more coherent essay form. Iyer's observations are incisive and provocative. The style of the bit (a smorgasbord of tidbits, linked thematically and roughly) is not my favorite. I would have preferred a more coherent essay form.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Jacobs

    It was a fantastic read. You got vignettes about various aspects of Japanese life and I found it quite interesting. Makes me want to visit Japan!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kolumbina

    Great! Loved it!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Megan Rosol

    Breathtaking, beautiful, meditative little anecdotes about living in Japan as an outsider. The feel, the size, the smell, the words of this book were all perfect. I pass the book on to another reader already.

  14. 5 out of 5

    kaylan

    This book looks like it's going to be a great read! I love Japan and I'm going back in a few months, would be amazing to read this book before going! This book looks like it's going to be a great read! I love Japan and I'm going back in a few months, would be amazing to read this book before going!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Helen

    This is a truthful book about the Japanese culture. It was written by a man married to a Japanese woman for many years. He tells both the superficial layers about the culture, plus what is really going on underneath. The book makes me not want to visit the country.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Abhay

    Beautiful. Packs a punch with an evocative and minimalistic style of writing that makes you think deeply and provocatively. Pico Iyer chronicles the “essence” of Japan quite brilliantly! Loved every bit of this book.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Garrett

    Iyer blends Tweet-like aphorisms with small essays to reflect and describe his storied career in Japan and living with his Japanese wife. There is a large literature of books that look to explain Japan, by emphasizing similarities with it and America, or by dispensing dollops of orientalism and casting Japan as the pinnacle of a "mystical East", or simply by writing something like a travelogue. Iyer does cast Japan as the foreign, often ineffable, but without resorting to hackneyed contrasts or Iyer blends Tweet-like aphorisms with small essays to reflect and describe his storied career in Japan and living with his Japanese wife. There is a large literature of books that look to explain Japan, by emphasizing similarities with it and America, or by dispensing dollops of orientalism and casting Japan as the pinnacle of a "mystical East", or simply by writing something like a travelogue. Iyer does cast Japan as the foreign, often ineffable, but without resorting to hackneyed contrasts or stereotypes. That's not easy, and I appreciate the thoughtfulness Iyer employs in capturing some of the feeling many visitors have when taking a trip to Japan for the first time.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Favian

    Pico Iyer perfectly captures a foreigner’s perspective in Japan, taking his readers where no travel guide dares to venture. Japan is a land of contradictions, and Iyer tries to make sense of all the unspoken rules and terms of engagement. It is very relatable for tourists and residents who have to grapple with all the nuances the Japanese culture has to offer.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Indira

    I have been a fan of Pico Iyer’s work for a very long time. This handsome new volume comprises small, smart observations about life in Japan as seen by a globalist and seasoned traveler and resident. On the rare occasion he irritates with opinion, I remember he has exhorted the reader to challenge his views, and that he too is constantly learning. Bravo!

  20. 5 out of 5

    John Owen

    If you are interested in Japan, this is worth a read. Rather than an essay, it is a collection of notes about Japan and its culture. Iyer notices a lot of interesting oddities about Japan and he has extensive experience with the country having lived there for more than 30 years. On the negative side, this is just a collection of notes and is somewhat unsatisfying.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    A collection of observations (not all necessarily about Japan) that confuses more than illuminates. Even the claim that it is a beginner's guide is rather inaccurate, as a beginner trying to get some handle on the country will only be more addled. That's not to say there isn't material in the book that is interesting or worthwhile, but overall it is a mess. I liked many of the insights, but definitely not all, and even some glimpses into his relationship with his wife. Surely there are better bo A collection of observations (not all necessarily about Japan) that confuses more than illuminates. Even the claim that it is a beginner's guide is rather inaccurate, as a beginner trying to get some handle on the country will only be more addled. That's not to say there isn't material in the book that is interesting or worthwhile, but overall it is a mess. I liked many of the insights, but definitely not all, and even some glimpses into his relationship with his wife. Surely there are better books for someone interested in getting to know this admittedly unique culture.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Robert Patterson

    Beautiful contradictory observations on Japan from a long term resident visitor. I only wish Pico Iyer would learn Japanese to penetrate deeper into Japan. Sadly his orientalist/romanticism keep him from wanting to see whats behind the kimono - still beautiful his writing.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Katrina

    I was expecting a guidebook, this is a philosophy book. I should have checked before I checked it out. At least it was a quick read.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sudhir Dalal

    A Beginner’s Guide to Japan is more than a beginner's guide; A compendium of his observations on life letters and culture of Japan as someone born elsewhere and now resident, someone who has married a Japanese to be in a close quarter to observe Japanese life first hand. Pico Iyer mixes quotes from Oscar Wilde to Zen Buddhism and relates it with present day Japan. He writes down his own observations, studies and thoughts and turns them into quotable quotes. Sample: " Stangers routinely sleep with A Beginner’s Guide to Japan is more than a beginner's guide; A compendium of his observations on life letters and culture of Japan as someone born elsewhere and now resident, someone who has married a Japanese to be in a close quarter to observe Japanese life first hand. Pico Iyer mixes quotes from Oscar Wilde to Zen Buddhism and relates it with present day Japan. He writes down his own observations, studies and thoughts and turns them into quotable quotes. Sample: " Stangers routinely sleep with their heads on strangers' shoulders on Japanese trains, and the leaned- upon agree not to flinch. A sign of trust-of community, perhaps- but also a reminder that what constitutes public and what constitutes private is something subtler than homes and walls" or “Departing a Japanese garden, you hope to carry some of its stillness out into the streets; the only thing you need leave behind is yourself" A profound thought. or “In Japan, a son traditionally follows his father into his profession, even if that's the profession of monk or musician. Rather than choosing what he'll be good at, he aims to be good at what's chosen for him" Won't sound strange to an Indian! “The holiest shrine in the land, at Ise, is completely rebuilt every twenty years, and all the twenty-five hundred ceremonial objects and instruments within the shrine are carefully re-created. The wood for the new building come from the trees that are more than three hundred years old, the pillars from trees that have been standing for more than five hundred. Every twenty years, the shrine is made not new again but old" For someone like me who has been to Japan several times such observations are refreshingly true. A book of quotable quotes, each one truly observant and refreshingly compiled. A book to prepare yourself for a rewarding journey and to add your own to from your own experience and observation.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Susan Steed

    I picked this up in the library and ended up getting this out, no idea why. I thought it would be a quick easy read, but has turned out to be one of the most interesting and profound books I’ve found. I kept trying to send quotes out of it to a friend, but without the context and the way the author weaves a narrative and argument together out of what looks like pretty simple statements and generalisations, none of the quotes by themselves make much sense. Also he likens the US military training I picked this up in the library and ended up getting this out, no idea why. I thought it would be a quick easy read, but has turned out to be one of the most interesting and profound books I’ve found. I kept trying to send quotes out of it to a friend, but without the context and the way the author weaves a narrative and argument together out of what looks like pretty simple statements and generalisations, none of the quotes by themselves make much sense. Also he likens the US military training academy West Point, to living in Japan (or to being at an English boarding school) and notes that ‘not everyone is happy to hear a country likened to a military academy; visitors sometimes complain that Japan is “fascistic” and made for war” and that Baden-Powell combined a military ideal with a vision of innocents in creating his Boy Scouts after watching, from afar, Japan’s victory over Russia in 1905. He then goes on to say that “the kids I met at West Point were wide-awake, spirited and unjaded’ in a way he hadn’t seen anywhere else apart from in Japan.” A Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky had similar views on West Point, and said “I realised that nobody at West Point was worried about funding original or being entertaining… and I understood the immense freedom that gave them" Anyway, here are a couple of quotes I like, “When I arrived in Japan, I noticed - and wrote about - how the word for “wrong” was the same as the world for “different.” In truth, of course, it was I who had gotten it wrong, failing to understand the explanation a book had laid out. In effect, I was calling the Japanese wrong simply because they seemed so different." I want to write out so many other quotes from this book, but I’ll need to put so many in as they are all linked and so well curated and put together, y’all just have to read it to see what I mean

  26. 5 out of 5

    Patty

    I call this a ‘beginner’s guide’ not only because it’s aimed at beginners, but mostly because it’s written by one. Being in Japan has taught me to say, ‘I wonder,’ more often than ‘I think.’ The first rule for any foreigner in Japan is not to talk of this-or-that; the second is never to take anything too seriously.” “More important than learning to speak Japanese when you come to Japan is learning to speak silence. My neighbors seem most at home with nonverbal cues, with pauses and the exchange o I call this a ‘beginner’s guide’ not only because it’s aimed at beginners, but mostly because it’s written by one. Being in Japan has taught me to say, ‘I wonder,’ more often than ‘I think.’ The first rule for any foreigner in Japan is not to talk of this-or-that; the second is never to take anything too seriously.” “More important than learning to speak Japanese when you come to Japan is learning to speak silence. My neighbors seem most at home with nonverbal cues, with pauses and the exchange of formulae. What is the virtue of speaking Japanese, Lafcadio Hearn noted, if you cannot think in Japanese?” I have enjoyed Iyer’s writing for years. He is a writer that I wish I had read more frequently. So when I saw this book on the new book shelf at my local public library, I grabbed it. I knew that the combination of Japan (a country I have grown to love) and an excellent writer was going to be a good read. This book was lovely. Iyer admits that he is a beginner even though he has lived in Japan, with a Japanese wife and children for thirty years. During my short stay in Japan, it was clear to me that all non-Japanese would always be beginners in that country. It was good to meet someone who understood that. The book is short essays, sometime just a paragraph. They are linked under headings such as “The Enigmas of Arrival,” “The Apple in the Garden,” and “Spirits from the Past.” The book moves from the public to the private which is how I got to see Japan. I started in Tokyo with millions of people and eventually ended up in Ishinomaki which hosts fewer foreigners. It was an experience of a lifetime and Iyer’s book brought back many lovely memories. I will say that I believe that this book title is a bit deceiving. As I said, all visitors to Japan are beginners. However, if you are looking for a guidebook, don’t start here. Read this book when you return. Nothing I say will do justice to Iyer’s writing. He uses words carefully with inspiration. Although he says his Japanese is poor, I doubt it. The writing in this is lovely. If you have any interest in Japan, you may enjoy this book.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy

    Potent Quotables: Japan has a sharp-edged sense of what can be perfected—gizmos, surfaces, manners—and of what cannot (morals, emotions, families). Thus it’s more nearly perfect on the surface than any country I’ve met, in part because it’s less afflicted by the sense that feelings, relationships or people can ever be made perfect. The kids I met at West Point were wide-awake, spirited and unjaded - un-full of themselves, in fact - in a way I hadn’t encountered anywhere except, perhaps, Japan. “Wha Potent Quotables: Japan has a sharp-edged sense of what can be perfected—gizmos, surfaces, manners—and of what cannot (morals, emotions, families). Thus it’s more nearly perfect on the surface than any country I’ve met, in part because it’s less afflicted by the sense that feelings, relationships or people can ever be made perfect. The kids I met at West Point were wide-awake, spirited and unjaded - un-full of themselves, in fact - in a way I hadn’t encountered anywhere except, perhaps, Japan. “What you have is all you need.” Unknown Freedom doesn’t mean an abundance of choice so much as liberation from the burden of too much choice. It’s simple, as Joji sees it. Japan has left old Japan behind, and not found anything to replace it with. It can’t be modern America, and it can’t be ancestral Nihon. The ability to lead is harder to find in the land of hesitation than the ability to follow. “If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be.” Yogi Berra Tokyo is the future. But everything else in Japan is deep, deep past. The holiest shrine in the land, at Ise, is completely rebuilt every twenty years, and all the twenty-five hundred ceremonial objects and instruments within the shrine are carefully re-created. The wood for the new building comes from trees that are more than three hundred years old, the pillars from trees that have been standing for more than five hundred. Every twenty years, the shrine is made not new again, but old.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Cherie

    This was such a unique and interesting read. It took me quite some time to get used to the writing style - very stream-of-consciousness... almost like reading a chat log. It was also overly verbose and unnecessarily waxing poetic in a lot of areas while equally being painfully sparse in others. There were various references made throughout the book that I couldn’t understand until light was brought to them towards the end of the book. (I still don’t understand what Oscar Wilde has to do with Jap This was such a unique and interesting read. It took me quite some time to get used to the writing style - very stream-of-consciousness... almost like reading a chat log. It was also overly verbose and unnecessarily waxing poetic in a lot of areas while equally being painfully sparse in others. There were various references made throughout the book that I couldn’t understand until light was brought to them towards the end of the book. (I still don’t understand what Oscar Wilde has to do with Japan.) The sentence structures also made me struggle quite a bit - starting a quote, giving a verbose attribution, then completing the quote - resulting in me having to re-read sections multiple times to comprehend them. However, I found the perspective to be highly informed, relatable, and endearing. I’m not sure I would recommend this as any kind of guide to someone interested in traveling to Japan, but it does fill some blank spots in cultural knowledge that outsiders might not be privy to, which I find valuable. It also helps that it’s written by a non-Japanese person, which adds an additional level of “translation,” so to speak, in understanding those cultural quirks. A very quick read. Great for armchair travelers, or those wanting more insight into the quirks of the Japanese culture.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Dan Zukowski

    This may not be the book to read about Japan's culture in preparation for your first tourist visit, but Pico Iyer's observations resonate with me as someone who has worked with a number of large Japanese companies and traveled to and written about the Asian nation. Iyer has lived in Nara, on and off, with his Japanese wife for more than 25 years, never becoming a citizen. Born in England to parents from India, he spends part of each year in California. With "A Beginner's Guide" he takes a differ This may not be the book to read about Japan's culture in preparation for your first tourist visit, but Pico Iyer's observations resonate with me as someone who has worked with a number of large Japanese companies and traveled to and written about the Asian nation. Iyer has lived in Nara, on and off, with his Japanese wife for more than 25 years, never becoming a citizen. Born in England to parents from India, he spends part of each year in California. With "A Beginner's Guide" he takes a different approach from his other non-fiction books -- a format that is less narrative and more bullet point. Much of the book consists of a few lines or short paragraphs spliced between asterisks, these his "observations" and "provocations." It makes for a quick, easy read, but to get the most out of this book requires a bit of the reader's willingness to stop and think at each asterisk. It helps if you've been to Japan or spent time in a Japanese culture. Observations such as"Japan is the land of the bento box" will get a nod of agreement. (I love bento box lunches.) But you might not readily grasp what Iyer means when he writes, "Japan is so good at functioning on its own terms that its people find it ever more challenging to function on the terms of the rest of the world." As an insider who is a perennial outsider, Pico Iyer has a distinct observation platform from which to view this country and from which to let us in on its secrets.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Zhi

    More a collection of snippets about Japan around loosely-linked themes - public and private, past and present, silence and noise, the face and the character of Japan - rather than an anthology of essays (which was what I was expecting at first). It’s rather fitting, and far less filtered through stereotypes or romanticism than I assumed it might, which I take to be because Pico Iyer has actually stayed in Nara for so many years. It wasn’t a very comfortable read, not because of any controversial More a collection of snippets about Japan around loosely-linked themes - public and private, past and present, silence and noise, the face and the character of Japan - rather than an anthology of essays (which was what I was expecting at first). It’s rather fitting, and far less filtered through stereotypes or romanticism than I assumed it might, which I take to be because Pico Iyer has actually stayed in Nara for so many years. It wasn’t a very comfortable read, not because of any controversial content, but because it requires you to read every snippet and think about how it connects to the previous, and to the one after it, and to the chapter at large - at times, I wondered why, why, why, why-) I’m not sure if I appreciated the style, the sincerity, or the observations more; while it definitely isn’t my favourite book this year by far, there was comfort both in reading about a country I know superficially and oddly, in reading about a country I will never truly know. And fitting for a time like this when I’m missing travelling in Japan so much. [3.5 stars!]

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.