Into the Heart of Japan: Pico Iyer in Conversation with Don George
Pico Iyer’s new book, Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewells is a poignant account of one season of his life in a suburb of Nara, Japan. In addition to vividly evoking a slice of everyday rites in an everyday Japanese town, Autumn Light also presents a resonant rumination on the trials and gifts of growing old, the fervent, fragile fabric of families, and the precious impermanence of life.
On May 20, I had the extraordinary pleasure of talking with Pico onstage at Book Passage in Corte Madera, California, about his beautiful book set in Japan, and about our differing experiences in and appreciations of the country. During the course of an hour, we talked about how we both first fell in love with Japan, and how while the surface of the country has changed in the decades that we have both traveled and lived there, the abiding character and truths of the culture have hardly changed at all.
We talked about the Japanese reverence for the seasons and for the cyclic nature of life, and about the lessons that they—and we—have taken from this. We talked about the intersection of Shinto and Buddhism, and the rituals and riches of Japanese baseball. We talked about the passionate ping-pong group he has joined and the lessons that community has bestowed. And we talked about how it took him 16 years to write this new book, and how the challenge of the book was to get it as lean and compact as he wanted it to be, with “the resonance and clarity of an empty room.”
For me, the evening became a richly layered celebration of Japan, the beauty of the ordinary, and the permanence of love in an impermanent world. And as with every conversation with Pico, I came away awed by his eloquence and the depths of his wisdom, graced with a renewed sense of calm and possibility, and suffused with gratitude for the human journey we all travel on, wherever we may be. I hope our conversation will touch you, too.
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If you’re interested in seeing the sights of Japan, specifically Shikoku travel with Don George, consider GeoEx’s Journey Through Ancient Japan or Japan: Tip to Toe. Give us a call to learn more at 888-570-7108.
For a decade, Don George, the beloved and award-winning Editor in Chief of this blog, has been procuring captivating and compelling travel stories for us. He’s traveled widely in and written extensively about Japan, not to mention having lived there for two years. His recent book, The Way of Wanderlust: The Best Travel Writing of Don George, features a heart-opening collection of his own evocative essays and tales from his 40-year career as a travel writer.