The best nostalgic books set in Japan

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a British Author who spent two years living and working in Tokyo. I have always had a strong love for the country, and while there I observed and experienced daily life while navigating many hardships and overcoming even more life lessons. Upon reflection, I am able to look back on the things I gleaned with a sense of proud nostalgia. The list of books I have compiled all centre around the same warm and familiar theme of nostalgia—with a heavy focus on life in Japan. 

I wrote...

Because Japan

By Ash Watson,

Book cover of Because Japan

What is my book about?

Because Japan is a truly unabashed account of the less publicised side of life in Tokyo for a 'foreigner'. The book offers a witty, vivid, and honest insight into the daily life of a British Expat over the course of two years. The author narrates stories taken from his "Journal of Firsts" which depict many new events including culture shock, an encounter with the yakuza, and many exciting moments he faced living in this fascinating new world. Through newly learned Japanese phrases, themes of soul-searching, overcoming mental health obstacles, sexual orientation, racial discrimination, are explored with candour. With the addition of a train-based mini-series of hilarious encounters, Because Japan offers a behind-the-scenes insight into the 'real' Japan. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Convenience Store Woman

Ash Watson Why did I love this book?

This book is the epitome of life in Japan. The real, awkward harsh truths that underlay each chapter as the main character tries to navigate a simple life free from judgment, kept me hooked from the first to the last word! The dark humour had me laughing out loud at points as it sparked so many memories of my own time living in Japan. I would recommend this book to anyone wanting a deeper understanding of a non-stereotypical look at Japanese life. 

By Sayaka Murata, Ginny Tapley Takemori (translator),

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Convenience Store Woman as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Meet Keiko.

Keiko is 36 years old. She's never had a boyfriend, and she's been working in the same supermarket for eighteen years.

Keiko's family wishes she'd get a proper job. Her friends wonder why she won't get married.

But Keiko knows what makes her happy, and she's not going to let anyone come between her and her convenience store...

Book cover of The Nakano Thrift Shop

Ash Watson Why did I love this book?

This book is very personal to me as I have so many special memories rummaging and exploring through the shelves at Nakano Broadway during my time living in Japan. Each gossip-themed chapter had me laughing at points as I discovered more about the characters through their habits and charms. This cozy book is one for that nostalgic, Sunday afternoon feeling. 

By Hiromi Kawakami, Allison Markin Powell (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Nakano Thrift Shop as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Among the jumble of paperweights, plates, typewriters and general bric-a-brac in Mr Nakano's thrift store, there are treasures to be found. Each piece carries its own story of love and loss - or so it seems to Hitomi, when she takes a job there working behind the till. Nor are her fellow employees any less curious or weatherworn than the items they sell. There's the store's owner, Mr Nakano, an enigmatic ladies' man with several ex-wives; Sakiko, his sensuous, unreadable lover; his sister, Masayo, an artist whose free-spirited creations mask hidden sorrows. And finally there's Hitomi's fellow employee, Takeo, whose…

Book cover of Before the Coffee Gets Cold

Ash Watson Why did I love this book?

This book is a collection of small, powerful but sentimental stories around serious and personal themes that will tug at your heartstrings. Each story left me wanting more as the characters are forced to wrap up their quick journey into the past before their coffee gets cold. The sense of longing, loss, nostalgia, and community are central themes of this book, and it certainly made me reminisce about people and memories dear to my heart. 

By Toshikazu Kawaguchi,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Before the Coffee Gets Cold as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?




If you could go back in time, who would you want to meet?

In a small back alley of Tokyo, there is a café that has been serving carefully brewed coffee for more than one hundred years. Local legend says that this shop offers something else besides coffee—the chance to travel back in time.

Over the course of one summer, four customers visit the café in the hopes of making that journey. But time travel isn’t so simple, and there are rules that must be followed. Most…

Book cover of The Guest Cat

Ash Watson Why did I love this book?

You cannot get anymore Japanese than a central storyline surrounding the daily life of a stray cat. The attention to detail is my favourite thing about this book as it turns the simple and mundane aspects of daily life into poignant moments to cherish. I really appreciate the translation of this book as it offers a unique side into Japanese life not well known to the west. 

By Takashi Hiraide, Eric Selland (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Guest Cat as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A bestseller in France and winner of Japan's Kiyama Shohei Literary Award, The Guest Cat, by the acclaimed poet Takashi Hiraide, is a subtly moving and exceptionally beautiful novel about the transient nature of life and idiosyncratic but deeply felt ways of living. A couple in their thirties live in a small rented cottage in a quiet part of Tokyo; they work at home, freelance copy-editing; they no longer have very much to say to one another. But one day a cat invites itself into their small kitchen. It leaves, but the next day comes again, and then again and…

Book cover of Sweet Bean Paste

Ash Watson Why did I love this book?

The themes of this book in my opinion are about focusing on the little things in life. What is important to us and how do we make the most of the time we have? This heartwarming story of two unsuspecting friends pack in a big punch and gave me lots to think about upon completion. This is one of the most emotional stories I have read set in Japan and I strongly recommend this book to anyone who wants to see a darker spin on the daily lives of those living in Tokyo.  

By Durian Sukegawa,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Sweet Bean Paste as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'I'm in story heaven with this book.' Cecelia Ahern, author of P.S. I Love You

A charming tale of friendship, love and loneliness in contemporary Japan

Sentaro has failed. He has a criminal record, drinks too much, and his dream of becoming a writer is just a distant memory. With only the blossoming of the cherry trees to mark the passing of time, he spends his days in a tiny confectionery shop selling dorayaki, a type of pancake filled with sweet bean paste.

But everything is about to change.

Into his life comes Tokue, an elderly woman with disfigured hands…

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Book cover of This Animal Body

Meredith Walters

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What is my book about?

Neuroscience PhD student Frankie Conner has finally gotten her life together—she’s determined to discover the cause of her depression and find a cure for herself and everyone like her. But the first day of her program, she meets a group of talking animals who have an urgent message they refuse to share. And while the animals may not have Frankie’s exalted human brain, they know things she doesn’t, like what happened before she was adopted.

To prove she’s sane, Frankie investigates her forgotten past and conducts clandestine experiments. But just when she uncovers the truth, she has to make an…

By Meredith Walters,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked This Animal Body as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Frankie Conner, first-year graduate student at UC Berkeley, is finally getting her life together. After multiple failures and several false starts, she's found her calling: become a neuroscientist, discover the cause of her depression and anxiety, and hopefully find a cure for herself and everyone like her.

But her first day of the program, Frankie meets a mysterious group of talking animals who claim to have an urgent message for her. The problem is, they're not willing to share it. Not yet. Not until she's ready.

While Frankie's new friends may not have her highly evolved, state-of-the-art, exalted human brain,…

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