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Stranger in a strange land

Japan can look like a compendium of all the world's cultures. But it is just strange enough to make an eternal outsider feel at home

By Pico Iyer   February 2000

The biggest challenge today is how to make our peace with alienness. The villager in Cambodia (or Tibet or Ethiopia) suddenly runs into visitors from Stuttgart, or Vancouver, or Manchester; the person who has never left north London walks out of his door to find himself surrounded by signs he can’t read and voices he can’t follow. Never in human history have so many been confronted by so much they don’t understand.

My answer to this global swirl is to live in a two-room apartment in rural Japan, in a mock-Californian suburb, none of whose buildings are older than I…

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