Travel writer Pico Iyer meets a human haiku, who shows him the living, seldom-seen heart of traditional Japan.
An elegant middle-aged man, in a spotless black jacket, came up to me, hand extended, to say hello, and I was startled. My neighbours in Japan tend to be formal and reticent; few of them are eager to take the initiative. And we were simply standing around an art gallery on Kitayama Street in northern Kyoto, 20 years ago, where a handful of us had gathered to see an exhibition of a friend’s pen-and-ink drawings. In the classical sumi-e style, they were deliberately sketchy and full of emptiness; the heart of the paintings was the negative space at their centre, which every viewer could fill in according to his whim or choice.