For a foreign-born writer, it isn't easy to explain Japan. You may rail against its numerous social ills, but outrage alone can turn into shtick. You may delight in what is different from the West — and get pummeled on social media as a dinosaur Orientalist. Many writers then play it safe, writing about all things cute or rattling off facts for Japanophiles — a group prone to claiming ownership, watchful that you get it right.

A Beginner's Guide to Japan: Observations and Provocations, by Pico Iyer.
224 pages