The Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) is delighted to announce that renowned travel writer and bestselling author, Pico Iyer, will be one of the keynote speakers at the World Adventure Travel Summit to be held in Hokkaido, in Japan, September 11-14, 2023. His plenary closing, “The Land of Wa,” will draw on his 36 years in western Japan and the three books he wrote about land and culture.
This year’s Summit theme – 調和 (Chōwa, or Harmony) – is most often used to describe the collective spirit that drives people to think of others before themselves. Although the word has many meanings, it reminds us to look beyond our small selves and place a greater value on ‘us’, whether in the community or in the natural environment. Iyer’s talk will discuss how harmony unites and uplifts people in his adopted homeland, Japan. Why do Japanese baseball players try not to win? How is Japanese society like a symphony orchestra? And how does this shed light on adventure travel in Hokkaido? As the event’s closing keynote speaker, Iyer will attempt to shed light on how and why Japan is profoundly different from the world most of us know, and invite delegates to bring that inspiration and line of questioning back to them, wherever the world is.
Sharing complex cultural concepts with an international audience is no small feat, but Iyer is uniquely equipped to do so. His work often combines travel and philosophy, whether in his famous and popular work, “The Art of Stillness”, or in his essays describing journeys from Antarctica to North Korea and from Easter Island to Tibet. . He always tries to look beyond the obvious and never hesitates to address the questions that are the basis of being human: how home takes on new meaning in our mobile world, the search for paradise in our imperfect lives, the desire to find what unites us in the midst of so much that divides – ideas that are somehow familiar to us all, but too vast and complex to offer easy answers.
Iyer last spoke at the Summit held in Swakopmund, Namibia from October 26-31, 2013, which was his first meeting with the ATTA community. Reflecting on that experience, he wrote that while he expected to meet a range of outdoor enthusiasts and adventure travelers, he did not expect people with “such boundless energy and warmth. as he later said. “And people with such rigor and such awareness that they are ready to question themselves, to question themselves, to question themselves and to question the very nature of the journey that we love so much , and to tackle at length the difficult job of transforming a simple adventure into something useful, practical and lasting, especially for the people we visit.
Ten years later, the adventure travel community is delighted to welcome him back. “Pico Iyer, in addition to being an incredible travel writer and speaker, is a keen observer of the world at large,” said Shannon Stowell, CEO of ATTA. “Every interaction I’ve had with him, whether listening to the public, reading his books, or communicating directly, I’ve been exposed to a larger and more graceful way of seeing the world. We’re thrilled that he speaks to audiences in the country he has chosen to call home for the past three decades.
Iyer left Midtown Manhattan for Japan in 1987, initially for a year, to see if, as he suspected, he might want to stay. In his 2008 essay, “writing life“, Iyer described this desire to move to a country where “I would do what any other serious foreigner did in Japan at that time, join a Zen temple and study the nature of nothingness. I sat in front of the rockeries and made haiku, with the autumn moon rising above a rustic tea house.
Of course, the reality was a little different from her romantic expectations. He had to grow in the dream he had forged. As he wrote, “In the monastery there was work, cooking, cleaning, raking and scraping. The meditation hours were part of strict military drill that included bowing and scratching, and not sleeping for days. It wasn’t an aesthetic realm at all; it actually looked suspiciously like real life.
As a travel writer, Iyer’s ability to observe and embrace the complexity of the world is what makes his prose so memorable. Throughout his career he has explored some of the world’s most remote and challenging destinations, from Yemen to Haiti, and his writings reflect a deep understanding of the transformative power of travel. Perhaps most notably, he pays as much attention to inner journeys as he does to the travel experience itself – his website even divides his work between “Inner World” and “Outer World”.
In his recent bestseller,The Half-Known Life: In Search of ParadiseIyer draws on forty-eight years of travel, linking the purpose of adventure with the pursuit of happiness to see what kind of paradise can be found in the midst of real life. More a set of reflective parables than a travelogue, “The Half Known Life” takes us from Kashmir to Iran and from Varanasi to Jerusalem to explore our universal desire for a better world and life, amid of ideas and ideologies that too often tear us apart.
Iyer ignores the most obvious heavenly places he knows – from Bali and Tahiti to the Maldives and the Seychelles – Iyer travels to regions known for conflict and even war to see what kind of hope and inspiration can be found even in the most difficult places. “After years of travel, I have begun to wonder what kind of paradise can be found in an increasingly conflicted world – and whether the very search for it might not simply deepen our differences,” he writes.
Through his reflections, Iyer offers a counterpoint to the expectations of paradise. Instead, it highlights the complexity of the human condition and our tenacity when it comes to seeking beauty, light and joy. Paradise is, after all, conceptually not too far removed from utopia, in the sense that both are more of a quest than a final destination.
By inviting readers to deepen their understanding of both heaven and place, Iyer urges humility and reminds us that even in today’s hyperconnected world, we sometimes know less about other cultures than ever before. The desire for certainty and conclusion is always liable to be frustrated. “But the half-known life is where so many of our possibilities lie. In the realm of world affairs, it can be a tragedy that so many of us in our global neighborhood choose to see other places to through screens, reducing our fellow human beings to two dimensions. On a deeper level, however, it is all that is half-known, from love to faith to wonder and terror, that determines the course of our lives.
This thoughtful perspective on the world – and the “global neighborhood” he keeps charting – makes Iyer a natural fit within the ATTA community. The search for paradise, after all, may not be so different from the search for harmony or the search for a broader understanding of the world to better understand ourselves. For many travelers, indoor and outdoor travel work in tandem. We all feel that movement is less important than being moved, seeing sights less valuable than gaining a new perspective. In his TED talk,The art of stillness“, Iyer succinctly summarized what the adventure travel community almost certainly knows to be true:
“One of the first things you learn when traveling is that nowhere is magical unless you can bring the right eyes there.”
About Pico Iyer:
Pico Iyer was born in Oxford, England and educated at Eton, Oxford and Harvard. After writing parts of seven Let’s Go guides to Europe, while teaching Shakespeare and American Romanticism, he became a writer for World Affairs for Time magazine, responsible for covers on all continents and the history of the woman of the year on Cory Aquino. Since 1987 he has been a constant contributor to Time, The New York Times, Harper’s, Conde Nast Traveler, the Financial Times and over 250 other magazines worldwide, while based in Japan and publishing 16 books, translated into 23 languages.
His books cover everything from the 14th Dalai Lama’s journey to globalism, from the Cuban Revolution to Islamic mysticism. They include long-time sellers such as Video Night in Kathmandu, The Lady and the Monk, The Global Soul and The Art of Stillness. He also wrote the introductions to more than 80 other books, as well as liner and program notes for Leonard Cohen, a screenplay for Miramax, and a libretto. On our screens, he’s been in extensive interviews with Oprah Winfrey, Larry King, Krista Tippett, Terry Gross and more, and his four TED interviews have received over 11 million views to date.
Most recently, in 2019, he served as Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton, First Official Writer-in-Residence at Raffles Hotel Singapore and Guest Director of the Telluride Film Festival, while releasing his last two books on Japan in the same year. .