One of the many pleasures to be had from Pico Iyer’s new book on Japan is to picture, at various points, the irritation of the type of readers it will irritate. Rarely in any writing on Japan is provocation so elegantly and surgically performed.

The timing of its appearance plays a big part in that. A Beginner’s Guide to Japan is in the vanguard of an impending slew of books scheduled to publish as the country bids for the world’s attention — first with the Rugby World Cup and then with the Tokyo Olympics next summer.

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