The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto
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The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto

3.76 of 5 stars 3.76  ·  rating details  ·  924 ratings  ·  107 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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Justin
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
Lindz
“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...more
James
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,...more
Rhonda Hankins
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?
A
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...more
Kamsin Kaneko
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...more
Michael
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
Brooke
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
Jim
An interesting foray into Japanese culture, largely displayed around a flirtation/friendship between the author (an American on Indian descent) and a young married Japanese mother with traditional training but a burning desire to experience more of the world than the domestic life she was trapped in. More straightforward narration than I usually like in my travel reading, much less humorous. But many good insights and observations. I think anyone interested in Japanese culture will find it worth...more
Steven
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
Angela
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...more
Paul
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...more
Alexis Allen
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
Lisa
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.
Betsy
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...more
Julia
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.
Adrien
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
Abby
This book is pure drivel.
Sally Boyer
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...more
Manu Prasad
In the autumn of 1987, Pico Iyer begins his journey into Japan, one that would last a full cycle of seasons. Depending on the prism you choose to see it through, the book could be many things.

It could be a travelogue, though quite different from any I have read yet, and yet one that not only dispels any 'second-hand' notions (eg. the Japanese' take on Kurosawa was surprising) but also captures the nuances of a place unknown to me, in a very sensitive manner.

It could be the journey and yearning...more
Artur Coelho
É curioso ler neste livro como um indiano de origem britânica e com um pé nos estados unidos sucumbe ao mais clássico vício europeu do orientalismo sensual. Iyer descreve neste livro as suas experiências de um ano de vida no Japão, em busca do espírito tradicional, algum budismo e conhecimento sobre a mentalidade zen. A lição que aprende é outra: a de que raramente encontramos o que procuramos, e descobrimos o que não pretendemos. Ao longo de um ano em Kyoto, o que sobressai é a curiosa relação...more
Jamie
It's more like 2.5 stars.
So this is the first time I’ve read a novel by Pico Iyer. Many years ago I read his short but insightful essay “Why we travel” and I’ve always wanted to read one of his novels since then.
As far as his writing goes, this novel did not disappoint. He’s the “stop and smell the roses” type of writer, where if you have the patience to read carefully and sometimes more than once, you can easily get lost in a sense of wonder and curiosity because of his ability to pack in so...more
Veronica
Dec 13, 2009 Veronica rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Veronica by: Steve
Shelves: travel, non-fiction
I can count on the fingers of one hand what I know about Japan. "Just-in-time" manufacturing methods. Wartime atrocities. Amélie Nothomb's rapid descent from office lady to toilet cleaner in Stupeur Et Tremblements.

All of those are difficult to reconcile with this book. Pico Iyer has both a foreigner's detachment and a lover's involvement as he records in this book the year he spent in Kyoto and his relationship with sad mother of two Sachiko. I still can't say I understand Japanese culture; his...more
Robyn
I've been wanting to read this for several years and finally did this last week. Although I've been living in Japan for a few months (leaving soon; will return in the spring), I have not been to Kyoto. There were a few aspects of this book that were not satisfactory to me, but it did pique my interest in going to Kyoto, in fact making it more of a priority than it already is. This pushed my rating for the book from a 3 to a 4.
I got a little bored with the semi-schmaltz and the passiveness of th...more
Marilyn Maya





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...more
Andrew Dale
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...more
Ramya
Loved the manner, pace, and perspective of this travelogue of a year spent in Kyoto by this wandering writer. He is so open about his colored perceptions conditioned by his childhood as well as changing perspectives and prejudices based on his recent travels and despite being well traveled enough to make generalizations about people based on their nationality he doesn't! He is a layman Joseph Campbell who zen like "holds up a mirror" to Japan & the Japanese in the 1980s during his stay, and...more
Georgie Mathew
A week after reading "Rumi: Selected Poems", I got my hands on this book. I think it was the appropriate buildup to this book touted as one of the travelogues to read before you die in many lists online. Fair warning:In my opinion, this book will appeal fairly well only to the romantically inclined.

The initial few chapters flew by me with their speed and confusion, just like the first days of entering a strange country. The author was brilliantly gone through the stages of being a foreigner to t...more
Kim Tong Lim
If you want to read about Kyoto from a writer who stayed for a year spanning four seasons, you can with this elegantly written travel book by Pico Iyer. Kyoto was the hub of civilisation since the eighth century, rich in Japanese culture, architecture that offers many Zen gardens, temples and shrines.

Pico Iyer lived life like the locals and gained first hand encounters with various people he met while on his stay. By deep association with them, he got to appreciate subtle cultural mores of beha...more
Jean
This book isn't for everyone. Some people's cultural sensibilities may be ruffled by Pico Iyer's broad observations about Japanese culture, others may think his commentary on Zen isn't penetrating enough, or they may find the book's central relationship morally iffy, etc. etc. But when a book is written with this much intimacy, going to what seems like the deepest corners of both the mind and the heart, it can't possible hit that same note of resonance for every reader. But it's precisely this s...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
More about Pico Iyer...
Video Night in Kathmandu: And Other Reports from the Not-So-Far East Falling Off the Map: Some Lonely Places of The World The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama The Global Soul: Jet Lag, Shopping Malls, and the Search for Home Sun After Dark: Flights Into the Foreign

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