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The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  1,693 ratings  ·  184 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 1992 by Vintage (first published 1991)
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3.78  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,693 ratings  ·  184 reviews

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Jan 18, 2008 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
Marilyn Maya
May 25, 2012 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
Jun 22, 2011 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,
Kamsin Kaneko
Jun 16, 2011 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
Sep 06, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Feb 15, 2014 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
Andrew Dale
Jun 26, 2013 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
Jan 05, 2009 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
John Owen
Jul 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
I read this to get some insight on Kyoto which I will be visiting soon. This is an autobiographical story about the author's year in Kyoto and his relationship with a woman there. He talks a lot about woman's place in Japanese society. This is, of course, only one person's opinion but it is worth reading and provides insight that you may not find elsewhere.

It is very well written and makes many references to poems, paintings, and literature -- most of which I was familiar with -- but not all.

Elizabeth A
Jun 27, 2015 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.
Jan 17, 2011 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?
Feb 20, 2013 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
Sally Boyer
Jun 29, 2014 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
Jul 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: review
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
Jun 05, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: japan, biography
I had to bail out on this one. I feel as though every other memoir-in-Japan that I've read was very approachable. This particular author comes off as a pretentious name-dropper, and I wish he had spent more time reflecting on Kyoto.

Also, as the book progresses, you see the trajectory of his relationship with the married mother of two kids, and you start to feel this unease that he's horning in on someone's marriage. After checking his biography, you see how THAT turned out. Of course, I didn't F
Jan 05, 2012 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
Jan 31, 2015 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
Sep 29, 2009 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
Aug 13, 2012 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
Apr 18, 2013 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
Viki Holmes
May 11, 2018 rated it liked it
I'm finding it so hard to give a rating to this book. It made me so angry. It's well-written, it's evocative, it makes me really excited about my upcoming move to Japan, I find myself completely frustrated by the disingenuous, dry narration, and by its more than slightly patronising representation of The Lady. It's such a problematic read for me, which is not to gainsay its quality. And it certainly got me thinking - and talking - about it for days after I'd finished it, which I guess is a sign ...more
Feb 17, 2018 rated it did not like it
I am not here for Pico Iyer’s sexist imperialist writing, his judgments and appropriations of Japan and it’s people, or his part in having an affair with a married woman, and emotionally cheating with her while at the same time neglecting her feelings and being absolute garbage in his handling of women in general. I hate this book and all that it entails. If you want a better idea of Japan’s scenery and culture, I would recommend looking elsewhere.
Nov 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, travel
I loved this book.Having once been an avid reader of Time magazine,Pico Iyer's name was familiar to me but I didn't know he could write so well.This is not a typical travel book.This is a book to be read slowly,and to be savoured,over and over, again and again.It is worth reading for the sheer beauty and elegance of its prose.It is an added bonus that the subject of Pico's musings is the enigmatic Japanese society which I like reading about.
Jan 26, 2010 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.
Vinayak Hegde
Sep 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A beautiful glimpse into Japan and being Japanese through "gaijin" (Foreigner) eyes. Evocatively written, Pico Iyer takes the reader through his stay for 4 seasons in Kyoto, Japan narrating his encounters with a Western Man who has turned into a monastery life and a dreamy mother of two vacillating between the pulls of duties of a wife and mother and her individuality.
Sep 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I haven't finished the book not because it's tiring but it's because I do not want to finish the book .It's such a good book! Good heavens, it's like one of those journeys you embark on which you'd never want to end. That you'd want it to go forever and on! The book a favorite of a life time. And Mr. Iyer an Author-crush of my millennia.
Michele Wucker
Nov 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
I read Lady and the Monk before my first trip to Japan in 2008 and liked it enough that I broke my rule of trying to find new homes for non-work books in hopes of keeping my shelves to a dull roar. I just booked another trip and am glad I kept it because I'm going to give it a re-read.
May 30, 2009 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.
Oct 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very moving memoir of a year in Kyoto.
Mar 22, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2013-reads, memoirs
This book is pure drivel.
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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
“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.” 17 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.” 8 likes
More quotes…