Time magazine journalist and author Pico Iyer has lived in Nara (land of the rabid deer) in Japan for the past 30 years. In this book, Iyer follows his instincts to uncover the depths of the Japanese psyche, Japanese soul and character. This is fascinating to me because I am (in case you didn’t know) a little in love with Japan. I don’t know what that makes me? a Nihonophile, perhaps a Japanophile?
Anyway this colourful and vibrant book more than satiated my need for a Japanese culture fix.
Iyer ambles through the maddening contradictions, weird quirks and beautiful elements of Japanese culture in short and pithy paragraphs.
Each chapter moves through themes such as travel, dress, animism, language, role-playing, customer service, love hotels, the culture of obedience. He marvels at all of the vending machines and how inanimate objects are imbued with spirit and life in Japan and how everything – even a local fire brigade will have its own unique mascot.
And about the company called Family Romance which employs 1,400 actors to become family members for hire, for clients going through hard times.
Iyer also sees the troubling side of this kind of supremely cooperative society. It can become exclusive, insular and out of touch with the global community, especially in how it treats women, foreigners and minorities.
Iyer sees a strange similarity in the writing of Oscar Wilde with the Japanese psyche. There are plenty of surprising observations here. It’s guaranteed to make perfect sense if you have been to Japan before, but absolutely zero sense if you haven’t been there yet. I loved this book 5/5*