The Lady and The Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto by Pico Iyer

The Lady and The Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto
Pico Iyer
(Knopf (distributed by Random House), New York: 1991)

READ: April-June 2007

In the late 1980s, Pico Iyer came to Kyoto for a year, to try his hand at learning more about the Japanese culture. What he learns, and what any person who has spent a significant chunk of time in the country will likely corroborate, is that Japan is a country of contradictions, a country pushing relentlessly into the future while still holding particular ties to many of its traditional cultural and religious roots.

Iyer doesn't learn this by contemplating in front of a Zen rock garden, however. His guide turns out to be the most unlikely person, a petite, 20-something mother of two called Sachiko. She is small and superbly naive, but she dreams big, sharing her thoughts and ideas in her devil-may-care English.

This was quite a lovely book, though I sometimes found it strange and jarring to be reading it while in Japan. I'm not sure why that was. Perhaps it was that the Japan that I was reading about was all too much like the Japan in which I was actually living. While perhaps that seems strange, it isn't. Iyer's Japan is magical and mundane, steeped in culture and completely removed from the outside world at the same time. This is entirely too much like the Japan I know. If you've never been to Japan, Sachiko's character might seem overly precocious and naive, a cute character sketch from the late 1980s, but not possibly a real person...but once you come here, you realize that not much has changed, and people are really like this.

That aside, it was a great read and I recommend it to anyone who has the slightest interest in Japan. It's a nice, little romance, but can also be taken as much more.

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