The Lady and The Monk Essay (Book Review)
Updated: Dec 20th, 2018
Pico Iyer was a well accomplished young writer when he wrote this book. His artistic work was well appreciated when he wrote the book entitled “Video Night in Kathmandu” in the year 1988. The setting of this book is Japan and hence, it analyzes the Japanese culture from a foreigner’s point of view.
Iyer was inspired to write this book when he encountered the dynamic Japanese culture in Narita while he was waiting for a connecting flight. Iyer witnessed a completely different scenario from what he expected to be a modern Japanese culture. He was impressed with the way the traditional Japanese cultural practices were westernized and at the same time preserved.
He shares his thoughts on how the Japanese people are still devoted to their traditional practices even though their lifestyles are full of modernity (Iyer 2).
Iyer was intrigued by the Japanese society. Therefore, he decided to come back to Japan and have the first person encounter of the dynamic Japanese culture. The book The Lady and The Monk published in the year 1991 attempts to describe his encounters while in the foreign land of Japan.
Iyer begins his stay in Japan by visiting the Kyoto monastery where he studies Buddhism. While in Kyoto, he meets Sachiko. The latter is a housewife who is impressed by the western culture. They become great friends and end up sharing a lot of information about the differences that exist between their cultures and how their cultures are also related.
Through Sachiko, Iyer learns a lot about the Japanese culture. His interactions with the locals are also impressive. The language barrier does not affect his conduct at all. In fact, most of the people he encounters are very welcoming to him due to his respectful and humble nature. For instance, when he is planning to leave the temple after staying for one week, the monk pleads with him to extend his stay.
The monk acknowledges him as a very respectful foreigner he has never met. Even though he describes himself as a simple person who prefers living alone especially in a foreign country, his character attracts multitude of people as revealed in this book (Iyer 7). This offers him various opportunities to learn Japanese culture from diverse perspectives with different individuals.
Sachiko was one of the closest friends that Iyer made in Japan. She was married to a husband who used to work for more than 14 hours per day. She had two children and her roles were basically to take care of the husband and the children. Sachiko and Iyer had very different lifestyles.
For instance, Iyer had never stayed in one place for a long time. He had been travelling around the world. On the other hand, Sachiko had never left Japan. Most of her time was spent in the house taking care of the normal house chores. Through his friendship with Sachiko Iyer learned the complexities of the modern lifestyle in Japan. Iyer influenced Sachiko to develop the interest of the outside world. She decided to leave her husband and become an international tour guide.
Iyer offers a detailed analysis of Japan in the book from a foreigner’s point of view. This book displays the Japanese culture in a very interesting manner. It is a very informative source of the Japanese culture for both foreigners and the locals in Japan. It offers a rational discovery of how foreigners perceive Japanese culture. His description of the Buddhist’s temple displays how the same is perceived by the locals.
The temples are presented as dark and thus reserved for funeral ceremonies as well as tourist attraction centers (Iyer 25). In addition, he displays the Shinto shrines as more welcoming. They are painted in red and orange colors. They are preferred for festivities such as holydays and weddings. This demonstrates the influence of modernity on traditional religions. Iyer’s narration about his encounters in Japan offers a very different perspective about Japan contrary to what is perceived by most people.
This book offers an insight into how women perceive foreigners. Sachiko repeatedly tells Iyer that she is usually pleased with foreigners. She particularly likes their freedom and how they are free to move around the world. Iyer appreciates that foreigners are a sign of freedom in Japan.
They also open up the minds of the locals to explore myriads of life opportunities (Iyer 61). The interaction between Iyer and Sachiko displays the hidden grief among the Japanese women. Sachiko opens up to a foreigner in regards to tribulations that she is facing in life. This friendship results into a complete change on Sachiko’s lifestyle.
Iyer is intrigued by the Japanese people. Domestically, they are very welcoming and compassionate but they are very unwelcoming to war victims, refugees, and external world demands (Iyer 184). The lack of information on the external happenings in Japan is also pronounced.
The Japanese are presumably delinked from the rest of the world. Universal human rights movements are of less concern in Japan. When Iyer was staying in Japan, he was unable to comprehend why this was the case. This is a very resourceful text on how Japan relates to the external world especially on humanitarian grounds. It can be used as a basis for further studies on the Japanese foreign policies and how the latter has affected the national image.
This book is an interesting piece of literature to read. However, the levels of generalization adopted by Iyer in his analysis tend to weaken his message. He uses the limited information gathered from a few individuals he encountered in Kyoto to describe the Japanese culture.
For example, Iyer assumes that all Japanese people are fascinated by the conduct of the foreigners as a result of the welcoming spirit he witnessed among the residents of Kyoto (Iyer 78). Kyoto is one of the most conservative cities in Japan. Its uniqueness limits its use as a face of Japan. As much as he manages to describe the Japanese culture from his encounters while in Kyoto, perspectives from other cities could enrich the view on how modernity has been fussed with traditions in Japan.
Towards the end of the book, Iyer describes how he has influenced Sachiko to explore the outside world. Sachiko ends up abandoning her marriage to become an international tour guide. This shows how external forces can help the women break from the suppressive traditions and realize their dreams. In addition, the power of westernization is displayed since Sachiko abandons her traditional obligation as a mother and wife.
In summing up, this book is enjoyable as much as the encounters are narrated from the author’s experiences only. A strong message of women’s oppression by tradition is displayed. The book makes the reader to be interested in learning more about the author.
Iyer, Pico. The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto. New York, NY: Vintage, 1991. Print.
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