A critically acclaimed young writer with a warm eye for the incongruous (Video Night in Kathmandu, 1988) spends a year in Kyoto, intending to both explore ``the private Japan...the emotional Japan'' and live a life of Thoreauvian simplicity. Iyer succeeds in his first goal but not completely in his second as life throws him a curveball in the form of Sachiko, a pretty and wildly enthusiastic woman in her early 30s. The mother of two small children, Sachiko is a typical Japanese housewife married to a usually absent businessman who ``was no more affected by her doings than a big boss might be.'' Everything in Sachiko's world has been preordained--she had no career, she's not allowed to travel--and she yearns with enormous hunger for the freedoms of the West. ``I dream you life-style,'' she says to Iyer in her struggling English on numerous occasions. ``You are bird, you go everywhere....'' Sachiko's passions are ardent and almost unbelievably eclectic--rock music, tea ceremonies, stuffed animals, classical literature--and through her, Iyer learns much about the conflicts and complexities of modern-day Japan. He also learns much that debunks his preconceived notions about the island nation. In between Iyer's increasingly personal meetings with an awakening Sachiko (she eventually leaves her husband to travel as a tour guide), he describes his encounters with Zen Buddhism, Japanese culture, Japanese literature and Americans abroad. His observations in these sections are often astute and light in touch, but they lack some of the energy and refreshing elements of surprise that suffuse the rest of the book. A personal and evocative work filled with much gentle humor, intelligence and insight.