NEWCOMERS TO Japan are said to suffer from gaijin shokku or "outsider person shock". The shock can be greater for a Japanese abroad. One of our Japanese lodgers, a Tokyo policeman, practised karate in our London garden. A police helicopter hovered nearby, apparently concerned to see him chopping in full combat gear. For all the global mobility of the age, Mr Kitano admitted he was lost amid alien signs and habits. "The object of my time in London is not sight-seeing," he resignedly told me, "but home-staying".
Pico Iyer is well placed to investigate our mongrel, mixed-up planet. Born in Oxford of Indian parents, he moved to California as a boy but now lives contentedly in rural Japan as a gaijin. With his accustomed elegance, Iyer writes: "The very notion of home is foreign to me, as the state of foreignness is the closest thing I know to home." A cultural in-betweener, Iyer criss-crosses time lines with ease. He spends as much time in the air (40 days a year) as he does with relations on the ground. The Global Soul contains seven essays on uprootedness and cultural displacement; they offer a perspective on the maligned genre of travel writing.
Literary travel was discredited in the late Eighties by a glut of daft yarns with titles like "Hang-Gliding to Borneo". The authors, desperate to simulate the hardship of Victorian exploration, imposed artificial difficulties on themselves. In contrast, Iyer is interested in the global phenomenon of tourism and the mass uni- culture dominated by Microsoft and McDonald's. He finds a kind of poetry in Coke-colonisation and resort hotels. In his fine essay "The Airport", he turns an ironic eye on the futurist convenience zones of JFK and LAX (in New York and Los Angeles). These airports have discos and dental clinics, peep-shows and shopping malls: all the facilities of the Global Village. …