A Beginner's Guide to Japan: Observations and Provocations (Hardcover)

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Staff Reviews

Japan is one of the most fascinating countries in the world and there’s been a surge in foreign tourists in the past six years, with more to come fueled by next summer’s Tokyo Olympics. This book is a rush of thoughts, factoids, observations, and unsupported convictions. It’s not really a guide but provides an intriguing window into a strange and vibrant country high on many peoples bucket list.

— Carolyn


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.

About the Author

PICO IYER is the author of eight works of nonfiction and two novels. A writer for Time since 1982, he is a frequent contributor to The New York Times, Harper's, The New York Review of Books, the Los Angeles Times, the Financial Times, and many other magazines and newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic and Pacific. He splits his time between Nara, Japan, and the United States.

Praise For…

 “When one of the best-loved travel writers of our time comes out with a  book that is part cheat sheet and part tribute to his home of over 30 years, it’s not an understatement to say that it is a must-read”Elle

“With an elegant, understated manner, Iyer offers poignant reflections on his adopted country and its maddening contradictions and shifting parts . . . Subtle observations [that] reveal a great deal . . . Marvelously nuanced"—Kirkus Reviews

“Stitching together observations, statistics, and personal encounters with meditative precision, Iyer depicts a paradoxical culture that finds communion in silence, passion in solitude, and animation in lifeless objects . . . Candid and wholly absorbing, Iyer’s inventive guidebook is more than a collection of cultural curiosities—it’s a tribute to a nation that prizes social consciousness and sees life in temporality."—Booklist [starred]

“Iyer challenges the Western view of the Japanese as impersonal and robotic . . . Striking observations . . . Iyer's Japan is a captivating, and sometimes maddening portrait of a nation unlike any other . . . This meditative and occasionally cheeky guide to Japan from Pico Iyer will delight Japanophiles and armchair travelers alike.”Shelf Awareness

“Having lived in Japan for decades, the widely traveled and erudite, Oxford-born Iyer presents this lovely pocket compendium of oddities and insights of Japanese life . . . Provocative and elegant, Iyer’s guide succeeds precisely because it doesn’t attempt to be authoritative.”—Publisher’s Weekly [starred]

“Many pleasures to be had . . . Rarely in any writing on Japan is provocation so elegantly and surgically performed . . . A decorous rush of thoughts, observations, unsupported statements, factoids and recollections that ultimately form a shape like paint splashed on the Invisible Man.”Financial Times
“This pleasant read, written with Iyer’s usual flair, gives readers a glimpse into Japanese culture, right from the world of anime to age-old traditions. Drawing on readings, reflections and conversations with locals and neighbours, Iyer’s latest work is a fresh and profound close look at the Land of the Rising Sun.”Verve

“Iyer's observations and provocations are packaged in spare but descriptive prose, so fitting for the minimalist tradition in Japanese art and literature . . . A Beginner's Guide to Japan does not answer the questions a curious traveler might have about the country. Nor does it intend to. Rather, the book creates more questions and curiosities, inviting readers to experience Japan for themselves, and to become immersed in its enigmatic culture.”Pop Matters

“One of the most profound strengths of A Beginner’s Guide to Japan is the way it winds up emphasizing what it is to feel like a beginner as much as it emphasizes Japan itself. Iyer’s assertions about Japan—those provocations—seem to come not from some obscured authorial voice, but from a specific human being who is trying to begin an intimate conversation with his reader. It’s a conversation that requires not only thought, but a capacity for wonder and close attention.”Chapter 16
Product Details
ISBN: 9780451493958
ISBN-10: 0451493958
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: September 3rd, 2019
Pages: 240