Stillness and contemplation in Japan.
At Home in Japan with Pico Iyer
Pico Iyer once described himself as “a global village on two legs.” He’s the writing champion of cosmopolitan consciousness who lived awhile inside the Los Angeles airport just to feel the great stream of humanity, displaced like himself, in endless motion. But Pico Iyer, it turns out, wasn’t looking for everywhere. He was looking for a particular welcome for his transcendental self, and when he felt it, in an accidental stop in Tokyo, he changed his life. For about 30 years now, he’s made his base in rural Japan—not trying to speak Japanese because he’d rather think Japanese. The code of his marriage to a Japanese woman is that intimacy is not all you can say but all you don’t need to say.
Pico Iyer is a man of the open road in the age of jetliners. He’s a polymath, a traveler, and an essayist, with as good a claim as any to a universal eye on global culture and consciousness. But there’s a swerve in his new book, Autumn Light. The complexity is still there in his background—Hindu Brahmin parents; a sterling education at Eton, Oxford and Harvard; and his nearly 30-year-marriage to a Japanese wife. But the “movable sensibility,” the diversity in his spirit, is settling down. Autumn Light, in stylized non-fiction, is about adopting Japan as his spiritual home. Japan is his way of deciphering the season of decline. In his 20s, he imagined autumn as the time that teaches us how to die; but that’s winter, as he can see now in his 60s. Autumn is the harder task of learning how to watch everyone you care for die.
Henry David Thoreau