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.

And then there is Pico Iyer, who has made his own genre. Born in England to Indian parents and based in Nara, Japan, for more than three decades, Iyer has published numerous essays and novels, amassing a devoted fan base that, much like his writing, encircles the globe. His new book, a labor of love spanning 16 years and backed up by thousands of pages of notes, is a collection of thoughts titled “A Beginner’s Guide to Japan: Observations and Provocations.”

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