The best fiction books set in Japan

The Books I Picked & Why

Norwegian Wood

By Haruki Murakami

Norwegian Wood

Why this book?

I suspect for a lot of people this will be the first fiction by a Japanese author they read. Murakami’s world can be dream-like, sometimes supernatural so, often, you don’t always notice the emotional impact of his stories. Norwegian Wood is one of his more ‘straightforward’ narratives, a timeless depiction of young love and all its agonies.


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Convenience Store Woman

By Sayaka Murata, Ginny Tapley Takemori

Convenience Store Woman

Why this book?

What stays with you long after you read this is the authentic voice of the protagonist, and the compelling attention to detail of her life. Like all the best fiction, Murata-san takes you to an unfamiliar place, and makes it real and relevant.


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The Master of Go

By Yasunari Kawabata

The Master of Go

Why this book?

Sometimes the Nobel committee does get it right. There is a stillness and a rare beauty to this tale of an ageing master of the board game go, fighting a losing battle, literally and figuratively. It manages to say so much about traditional Japanese mores and culture.


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The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

By David Mitchell

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

Why this book?

Mitchell is one of the greatest living English novelists, a virtuoso prose stylist and compelling explorer of ideas. He has often written about Japan, where he once lived. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet evokes a very curious place and time in Japanese history, the late eighteenth century, when the country was mostly closed to the world, apart from Dejima, a tiny man-made island in Nagasaki harbour which served as a quarantined Dutch trading post. I could also add another of his books set in contemporary Japan, ‘number9dream’ - a vivid, violent quest set in the Tokyo underworld.


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Pachinko

By Min Jin Lee

Pachinko

Why this book?

Until I started researching my own book about East Asia, I was quite ignorant about the experience of the Koreans in Japan, the ‘Zainichi’. This heart-rending family saga spanning most of the 20th century gave me greater insight than any history book.


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