Pico Iyer is a Distinguished Presidential Fellow at Chapman University. He is the author of several books, including Video Night in Kathmandu, The Lady and the Monk, and The Global Soul. He is a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books and other publications and his most recent book is The Man Within My Head.


An Unknown America of the Mind

Richard Rodriguez, 2002

Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography

by Richard Rodriguez
It’s exhilarating to come upon a writer whose moves and positions one can’t anticipate. Writing of Las Vegas in his latest book, Richard Rodriguez dilates a little on Noël Coward’s stay in the Nevada desert (the British playwright found the gangsters there “urbane and charming”); he tells us about the …

‘Masters of Doing Nothing at All’

Unknown artist: View of a Road with Wooden Houses on the Hill of Noge, Near Yokohama, circa 1900; from the book Japanese Dream, a collection of late-nineteenth-century hand-tinted photographs by Felice Beato and others. It has just been published by Hatje Cantz.
Japanese literature is often about nothing happening, because Japanese life is, too. There are few emphases in spoken Japanese—the aim is to remain as level, even as neutral, as possible—and in a classic work like The Tale of Genji, as one recent translator has it, “The more intense the emotion, …


Kurosawa’s Japan Revisited

Takashi Shimura as Kanji Watanabe in Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru, 1952

Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru (1952) was the first film I saw after I moved to Japan in 1987. I recall how, whenever I’m asked why I left my secure-seeming life in New York City to move to a small room on the backstreets of Kyoto, I say that I didn’t want to die feeling I’d never lived. Perhaps something in me was already moving toward Ikiru even then. I chose Japan as the place to move to in part because it seemed to be a quietly realistic society inclined to see life within a frame of death.

Empty Cities

Pyongyang, North Korea, September 19, 2013

Any of us could list the differences between the two cities of mirages, Las Vegas and the North Korean capital Pyongyang. The one is a shameless efflorescence of capitalism that is, for its enemies, a glittering symbol of the decadence and emptiness of the West; the other the world’s last by-the-book, state-controlled monument to Stalinist brutality. Yet both cities are products of a mid-twentieth-century spirit that saw what power and profit could be found in constructing mass fantasies ab nihilo

Proust: The Accidental Buddhist

Valencia, Spain, 1933

Many a Tibetan mystic goes on a three-year retreat and comes back with a sense of stillness and attention that suggests great understanding, but most of these monks are masters of silence more than of the written word. The beauty of Proust is that he ventures into the farthest reaches of self-investigation and reflection, but brings his understandings back into language and episodes that anyone can follow.