Imagine you are on a road trip around Japan in the company of Victor Meldrew, except Victor has morphed into Gilbert Silvester, a German academic with an interest in beards. Gilbert's withering observations of Japanese culture had me snorting with laughter, but I was also brought up short by the sheer pathos of the story. An ambiguous ending will not be to every reader's taste, though the poetic beauty of the writing more than compensates.
Gilbert alighted with the secret desire to turn away from everything, he alighted with the fear that this turning away could actually happen, he alighted with the hope of finding something in this dislocation that would open his eyes once and for all about the nature of things. He thought primarily about pines while doing so, he thought almost exclusively about pines. The Japanese pines on their scenic island - were they truly capable of teaching him to see something? And if they were, why couldn't a completely normal pine, like one in the Brandenburg Forest, for instance, not be just as qualified to do so?