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The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto

3.78  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,279 Ratings  ·  132 Reviews
When Pico Iyer decided to go to Kyoto and live in a monastery, he did so to learn about Zen Buddhism from the inside, to get to know Kyoto, one of the loveliest old cities in the world, and to find out something about Japanese culture today -- not the world of businessmen and production lines, but the traditional world of changing seasons and the silence of temples, of the ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published October 27th 1992 by Vintage (first published 1991)
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Apr 19, 2008 Justin rated it it was amazing
I may be biased because I am actually interested in living in Japan at some point, but I feel like Pico Iyer's The Lady and the Monk is a mostly forgotten classic in the vein of travel writing. I had never even heard of it before chancing across it while perusing writings about Japan at Powell's. I picked it up because I had just applied for a teaching position in Japan (which I was subsequently denied) and wanted to read different accounts of life over there. What I discovered was a combination ...more
Jun 22, 2011 James rated it it was amazing
Pico's ever-mirthful mom was my first Sanskrit teacher, from whom he inherited his bemused eyes and a certain lilt of the voice. So, I was destined, perhaps, to read all his works. However, the primary reason I read this book is because, like Pico, I too became serious about a Japanese woman.

Yet, like Pico, I had, in the course of my studies of Japanese classics, become filled with many romanticized and (to contemporary Japanese tastes) quaint images and assumptions concerning Japan.
Like Pico,
Feb 16, 2014 Lindz rated it it was amazing
“Her feelings were so strong, and her opportunities for releasing them so limited, that they came out in torrents, poured into the unlikeliest of vessels. One of them was me.”

Pico Iyer had long had a fascination with Japan and their culture. In the mid 80's he set out to live for a year in a monastery, exploring Zen Buddhism and the culture of Kyoto. But then he met Sachiko. To this housewife with two busy children and a distant husband, Pico appeared exotic and full of freedom - and little by
Oct 23, 2014 Sookie rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, religion
There is lucidity in Iyer's writing that flows with onset of autumn in Kyoto. At places the prose is poetic and draws you in. Iyer hasn't held back his perception of the place and his philosophy. His self deprecation cannot be pitied for long as it morphs to thinly veiled racism. Its a journey where his thought process changes progressively as Japan stops being an illusion.

To an extent this non-fiction further motivated me to check out Japan and the beauty it has to offer. Yes, Iyer goes for a c
Marilyn Maya
May 25, 2012 Marilyn Maya rated it it was amazing

I'm a bit in love with Pico Iyer

I stayed up all night reading the Lady and the Monk. This is the second book I have read by Pico Iyer, the other being Video nights in Katmandu. I teach Japanese woman in Hawaii, and I can attest that Sachiko is real. Her constant tears brought me back to encounters with my Japanese friends. When the Japanese mask is removed, there is alot of repressed emotion and longing there. I am going to reread this book again. A first reading is never enough to digest Pico
Jan 31, 2015 Eleanor rated it really liked it
I picked up a paperback copy of "The Lady and the Monk" at Bart's Books, the mostly outdoor bookstore in Ojai, California. It was a last-minute pick. Since I was planning a trip to Japan, I grabbed it on my way out without having heard of it.

I read most of it upon returning to San Francisco from Japan. Non-fiction, and more mood, than plot-driven, it is a lyrical description of a western reaction to being immersed in Kyoto and of the author's relationship with a married Japanese woman. I enjoyed
Sally Boyer
Aug 28, 2014 Sally Boyer rated it really liked it
True story of how Pico met his wife in Japan. Filled with lots of funny observations. The following are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

From when Pico answers the casting call:
"All of us got up, and I cast an eye over my rivals: an aging Brit, who had recently starred in another sexploitation movie, thanks to an earlier Tsukimoto casting call; a phlegmatic, tanuki-bellied Israeli with a walrus mustache and a look of deepest sorrow; a sour, balding American in a green down jacket, who lo
Feb 23, 2015 Brooke rated it it was ok
Shelves: japan
A friend I greatly respect recommended this book as one of his favorites. He loaned his book to me with the knowledge that many friends never return it. He dutifully goes out to replace the copy, happy he has shared it with them. Perhaps it is because I am entangled in Japanese culture through my husband, but I did not like Iyer's descriptions of Japan. His complete absence from the narrative left a gaping hole in his constant, and haphazard, observations of Japan. The story zig-zagged in an inc ...more
Elizabeth A
May 31, 2016 Elizabeth A rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I'm a fan of the author, but this slow travelogue is not working for me at the moment. About 20% done, I find myself reluctant to pick it back up, so I'll shelf it on my DNF pile, fully expecting that I'll revisit it some day in the future when I'm more in the mood for a meditative reflection of life in Japan.
Rhonda Hankins
Jul 04, 2011 Rhonda Hankins rated it did not like it
if i tell you that this book convinced me to never ever pick up another "travel" book again, would you get an idea what i thought of it?
Jan 05, 2012 A rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction
I read this shortly after I started dating my boyfriend, because he was writing a paper that needed to reference it. I had actually just read Sei Shongon's Pillow Book, and the comparison that the author made internal to his book was completely terrible. Awful, totally missed the point, and may not have even read the treasured classic. Perhaps the cliff-notes. Total disregard for the nuances of the history and culture around him.

What I drew from this book was that the author may in fact be a ter
Kamsin Kaneko
Oct 27, 2011 Kamsin Kaneko rated it liked it
I have a dreadful habit of starting books never to get around to finishing them, but decided to finish all the books I have started this year before Jan 1st rolls by, which is why I picked up this book again.

Having put it aside for a couple of months I found it more enjoyable when picking up the second half of the story, but it still left a lot wanting. My older brother (who is the person who first suggested I go to Japan to work) has read it and apparently been to see the monk written about ea
Andrew Dale
Jun 26, 2013 Andrew Dale rated it really liked it
The Lady and the Monk is an enjoyable, well-written discussion of the author's time in Kyoto, most of which centers around the Zen Buddhist scene and his ambiguous relationship with a married Japanese woman named Sachiko.

As a longtime foreign resident of Asia I found many familiar themes in his stories, many of which center around how it feels to be out of place and the types of relationships one forms in those situations.

The digressions into Buddhism and the character sketches of the monks and
Feb 20, 2013 S. rated it liked it
Shelves: red-queen, cheshire
it's generally understood in Japan-specialist circles that books on Japan, and indeed Japanese authored fiction, generally fall into two categories: the books on the illusion of Japan (1) or the books on the gritty reality (2). it's considered a mark of taste to prefer the latter; you are 'daring,' 'hard,' 'tough,' perhaps 'manic,' 'mean,' 'cool,' or 'strict' to find, review, read, enjoy the underbelly stories; the stories about criminals, drug-use, beatings, the underclass, the poor, the weak, ...more
Jan 04, 2013 Steven rated it really liked it
This is terrific on the East meets West stuff -- we are so alike and so different at the same time. But I really wanted to smack Pico Iyer upside the head. His relationship with the woman in the story is not very, well, smart. If he admitted that from outset -- and he very well knew it -- that would have been fine. Not all matters of the heart are within our conscious control. But he just keeps blundering around like some doofy elephant when its obvious from the first page this woman is giving h ...more
Oct 14, 2009 Angela rated it liked it
Shelves: travel
Pico Iyer has painted a picture so romantic and moving I fought daily not to book the next flight to Kyoto. What wonderful control of the language! He moves us in and out of streams of consciousness, in and out of mysterious streets, new relationships and magical swaths of forests and land.

His social commentary on the roles of Japanese women, religious monks expectations and life in Japan is interesting, and readers will find parallels with social norms in the United States, though Pico tends t
Oct 12, 2013 Paul marked it as did-not-finish
Read to about the half-way point, then abandoned, so no star rating.

The quality of the writing here is excellent, and if I had not lived in Japan for three years, and if I were interested in Eastern spirituality and Zen, I would probably have been more interested in Iyer's combination travelogue/memoir. But having lived there, what was once perhaps enticingly mysterious is no longer so to me; this, combined with my utter lack of interest in religion and spirituality, resulted in a fitful, restle
Alexis Allen
May 25, 2014 Alexis Allen rated it it was amazing
I plan to visit Kyoto later this year and picked up this book to glean what I could about its setting, only to find I was far more captivated by the narrator and the people he meets and interacts with. It's difficult, I think, to write about a love affair without descending into exoticism or, at the opposite end, dissecting the subject from a clinical perspective. Iyer does a really great job of balancing and respecting the cultural differences between the East and West, while acknowledging that ...more
Jun 05, 2015 Carolyn rated it really liked it
This is a most picturesque view of Kyoto and covering an entire year in and out of temples and through the lives of women living in the city. Japan is definitely a completely different culture. The people have characteristics that are difficult to understand. Reading makes you want to be there, to sense what the author is feeling. His perception creates a fantasy world of meandering streets, lovely shops, a monks life, and what women experience in their unusual everyday activities. Striving for ...more
Feb 10, 2015 Lisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: japan, memoir
Very ambiguous. The author becomes friends (and we are lead to assume more) with a young Japanese wife and mother of two. Iyer tells the story of her life and their unfolding, odd relationship. Also his impressions of Japan as seen through the theme of "the lady and the monk", which he begins to see everywhere. I liked it a lot, even if I couldn't exactly figure him out.
Narrator: Geoffrey Howard. I didn't enjoy his clipped, monotone style.

Just found out Pico Iyer is a speaker at this year's Virtuoso Travel Week, so I'm on a Pico Iyer kick. I've always really liked his writing, but I struggled to finish this long, rambling book. The narrator's style didn't help; he seemed to have no engagement with the book whatsoever.

The Lady & The Monk is about Pico Iyer's new love affair with the country of Japan. Reading it felt like listening to a friend with a new inf
May 30, 2009 Julia rated it it was amazing
I love Pico Iyer! This book is more autobiographical than most of his - I like the way he balances his usual brilliant travel writing with his own story here. He is one of those great writers who leaves just enough to the imagination to really pique your interest in those details he does divulge.
Apr 20, 2014 Adrien rated it it was amazing
Shelves: travel
Extremely well written but one that has been educated so well like Pico and travels so much has the greatest luck of writing such and awesome book. It is very colorful and detail and anyone interested in Zen and Japan will love this book. I came to this book by a good-friend giving it to me. The girl in the story Sachiko is a stay at home Mom with two kids, and the husband is a good man but hardly available. The lady is always doing house-chores and bringing the kids around, and never stepped ou ...more
May 25, 2015 RustyJ rated it liked it
The closest I have ever got to travel reading is travel guides and travel blogs, having stayed away from this genre since I'd much rather experience a place myself, than through another's eyes. That said, the Lady and the Monk is in my view, not a travel book. Unfortunately, Penguin classifies this as 'Travel'. I only hope the book stores don't stack it in the 'Travel - Japan' section, rubbing shoulders with Lonely Planet.


Sadly, many readers on book review fora have made the mistake of p
Apr 12, 2016 Tirath rated it really liked it
I like his writing. The book is a lesson in Japanese culture - wonder how much has changed since 1991...
It does not reveal too much about his personal relation with Sachiko, but is an excellent glimpse into the Japan of 1991

Who is an outsider to ridicule my home or my ways?
If you dont dream, there are no problems
Are / were the women of Japan too restricted and is that one of the reasons for singledom now?
Is Japan one of the more honest countries, in that it always keeps an outsider as
Sep 01, 2015 JC rated it really liked it
A well told tale of a man who has travelled and lived in Japan. Cultural interest is key for enjoying this book as it can be quite slow-paced at times, but the depicted accounts of the events that goes on in Japan and the lifestyle of the people makes this definitely worth a read.

The author provides a first had account of what it is like to be a foreigner in Japan such as how people will treat you as well as how different the east is compared to the west. His accounts range from how the structur
Divya Agrawal
Nov 14, 2015 Divya Agrawal rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel
Often travel writing runs the risk of cliches. But, never with Pico Iyer. His sharp observations over a year long stay spanning four seasons, he weaves cultural observations alongside beautiful narratives of his relationship with Sachiko. As the seasons advance, so does their bond and its poignant subtleties. Crisp, honest and mesmerising. Pico Iyer is not just a travel writer but also a story teller with a planner's vein running through. For Kyoto beyond the usual - Geishas, tea ceremony and ch ...more
May 18, 2013 Abby rated it did not like it
Shelves: memoirs, 2013-reads
This book is pure drivel.
May 27, 2016 Michelle rated it it was ok
On Audiobook. I was really looking forward to this one. I have always been interested in Japan and its culture and landscape, and the "monk" mentioned in the title made me think it might have to do with aspects of Zen Buddhism as well. Not only that, but I love most travel writing and having heard of this author I'd wanted to read something by him for quite some time. Alas, the book could not hold my attention. It is very descriptive, filled with melancholy commentary on the landscape. It is pri ...more
Burcu Basar
Feb 21, 2016 Burcu Basar rated it liked it
First half of this book did not interest me as much as its second half as it felt like it was going to focus on the classical Western man and Asian women relationship. However, in the second half of the book, the author started making some very interesting and brave remarks both about the Western view of Japan, what Westerners take out of it and also offered an honest look into Japanese culture (going beyond cliche remarks). I read during my last trip to Kyoto and it was sure a good travel readi ...more
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Pico Iyer is a British-born essayist and novelist of Indian descent. As an acclaimed travel writer, he began his career documenting a neglected aspect of travel -- the sometimes surreal disconnect between local tradition and imported global pop culture. Since then, he has written ten books, exploring also the cultural consequences of isolation, whether writing about the exiled spiritual leaders of ...more
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“None of the things in life - like love or faith - was arrived at by thinking; indeed, one could almost define the things that mattered as the ones that came as suddenly as thunder.” 12 likes
“If you are not happy, act the happy man. Happiness will come later. If you are in despair, act as though you believe. Faith will come afterwards.” 6 likes
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