The best children’s books about and from Japan

Why am I passionate about this?

My parents were both born and raised in Japan but met in New York and eventually settled in Los Angeles, where I grew up. My first language was Japanese and as a nisei (second generation), I am deeply steeped in my Asian heritage. I am continually inspired by the art and storytelling that originates from Japanese culture and love to incorporate them into my own work.

I wrote...

Little Kunoichi, The Ninja Girl

By Sanae Ishida,

Book cover of Little Kunoichi, The Ninja Girl

What is my book about?

Meet Little Kunoichi, a young ninja in training! On a "super-secret island" in a "super super secret village," Little Kunoichi, is struggling at school. Inspired by tiny Chibi Samurai’s practice and skills, she works harder than ever and makes a friend. Together, they show the power of perseverance, hard work, and cooperation, and they wow the crowd at the Island Festival. Through beautiful watercolor illustrations and a funny and endearing story, Little Kunoichi will capture the imagination of young ninjas-in-training.

The endnotes contain additional information about sumo wrestling, ninja training, and other aspects of Japanese language and culture. More adventures can be found in the Little Kunoichi series with Chibi Samuari Wants a Pet and Ba-chan The Ninja Grandma. And don’t miss the companion baby board books about Little Sumos!

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Kuma-Kuma Chan, the Little Bear

Sanae Ishida Why did I love this book?

These small, sparsely illustrated books are so charming and quirky! At the surface, there seems to be very little going on, but there is a soothing quality to the simple text that allows you to contemplate the little wonders of life. The naïve artwork works so well with the quiet, short musings by Kuma-Kuma chan and the narrator.

By Kazue Takahashi,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Kuma-Kuma Chan, the Little Bear as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This lovingly rendered, meditative book on friendship is sure to find a permanent place on the bedside table

With sparse text and a deceptively simple, beautiful design, Japanese author/illustrator Kazue Takahashi brings to life the world of Kuma-Kuma Chan, which loosely translates from the Japanese as “cute little bear.” Making its first appearance in English, this charming book for preschoolers and readers of all ages poses the question, “How might my friend, a solitary bear, choose to spend his days?” The soft, almost dreamlike illustrations are accompanied by single sentences making it easy for emerging readers to follow along. Daily…

Book cover of My Friends

Sanae Ishida Why did I love this book?

All the books I’m drawn to have striking and beautiful illustrations and this one is no exception. I love the joyful and varied way that friendship is expressed in this board book. I purchased the book when my daughter was still in preschool (she’s in high school now), and the message of finding camaraderie in as many places as possible still resonates deeply.

By Taro Gomi,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked My Friends as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A little girl learns to walk, climb, and study the earth from her friends, most of whom are animals.

Book cover of Kamishibai Man

Sanae Ishida Why did I love this book?

I grew up reading about and experiencing “kamishibai,” which is a Japanese storytelling format using illustration boards. This book by Allen Say gorgeously renders the life of a kamishibai man and what seems like his dying art of sharing stories. I remember trying to make my own kamishibai in elementary school and I’ve been toying with the idea of making one again. The book is a gem!

By Allen Say,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Kamishibai Man as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Kamishibai man used to ride his bicycle into town where he would tell stories to the children and sell them candy, but gradually, fewer and fewer children came running at the sound of his clappers. They were all watching their new televisions instead. Finally, only one boy remained, and he had no money for candy. Years later, the Kamishibai man and his wife made another batch of candy, and he pedaled into town to tell one more story—his own. When he comes out of the reverie of his memories, he looks around to see he is surrounded by familiar…

Book cover of Chirri & Chirra

Sanae Ishida Why did I love this book?

The intricately illustrated picture books are a feast for the eyes and senses! Chirri and Chirra are adorable twins that get into all sorts of shenanigans with all sorts of creatures in a wild assortment of settings. Enchanting details are tucked into the colorful pages and I love to browse through them slowly.

By Kaya Doi, Yuki Kaneko (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Chirri & Chirra as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first book in a completely charming series by a well-known Japanese author and illustrator, Chirri & Chirra introduces two girl characters who go on wonderful adventures together through the natural world. Vibrant, lively, and astonishingly sweet in a pure, unsentimental way, these pages present us with relatable children, small animals, lots of food, atmosphere, and many mysteries.

Born in Tokyo, Japan, Kaya Doi graduated with a degree in design from Tokyo Zokei University. She got her start in picture books by attending the Atosaki Juku Workshop, held at a Tokyo bookshop specializing in picture books. Since then she has…

Book cover of Japanese Children's Favorite Stories

Sanae Ishida Why did I love this book?

As a little kid, I read the Japanese version of these stories and I was delighted when I found the English version to read to my then tiny daughter. “Momo-Taro,” or Peach Boy, is one of my favorite tales from childhood and there are so many others included in the book that I had forgotten about. These classic stories are a wonderful addition to any library!

By Florence Sakade, Yoshisuke Kurosaki (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Japanese Children's Favorite Stories as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

This colorfully illustrated multicultural children's book presents Japanese fairy tales and other folk stories--providing insight into a vibrant literary culture.

For 60 years, generations of English-speaking children around the world have been enchanted by Japanese Children's Favorite Stories--and for good reason. With such titles as "The Toothpick Warriors" and "The Rabbit Who Crossed the Sea," these 20 stories offer age-old lessons in kindness and goodness that are still riveting to children and parents alike. This 60th Anniversary Tuttle edition is proof that good stories never wear out.

In this treasure trove of much-beloved Japanese children's stories, you'll meet charming characters…

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Book cover of The Hummingbird & The Narwhal

Annie Higbee

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What is my book about?

This is the story of two creatures who look alike, but come from completely different worlds.Their unlikely meeting on the horizon begins a journey of kindness, friendship, purpose, and magic!

The Hummingbird & The Narwhal

By Annie Higbee,

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