100 books like Designing Japan

By Kenya Hara,

Here are 100 books that Designing Japan fans have personally recommended if you like Designing Japan. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of The Philosophy of Design: Essays by Sori Yanagi

Naomi Pollock Author Of Japanese Design Since 1945: A Complete Sourcebook

From my list on the best of Japanese product design.

Why am I passionate about this?

Since I came to architecture through classical archeology, writing about design was kind of like coming home. I made the switch to journalism after moving to Tokyo. At that time, Japan’s economy was going strong, boom cranes were everywhere, and the worldwide appetite for information about new construction was robust. An outgrowth of my success documenting architecture, my interest in design was sparked partly by the chairs and teapots created by Japanese architects but also by the superb array of daily-use goods available in Japan. The dearth of information about these items and their designers led me to cover design at various scales. 

Naomi's book list on the best of Japanese product design

Naomi Pollock Why did Naomi love this book?

This was one of the first books I read when I began my research.

Authored by Japan’s most important product designer, this essay collection covers a wide range of topics, including the stories behind some of his most iconic designs. I particularly enjoy Yanagi’s explanation of the Cellulose Tape Table Dispenser whose white, sculptural form swivels. How cool is that?

Happily, when the dispenser was briefly re-released a few years ago by a Japanese office goods manufacturer, I was able to purchase one of my own. It sits on my desk, a source of inspiration.

By Sori Yanagi,

Why should I read it?

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


Book cover of Designing Modern Japan

Naomi Pollock Author Of Japanese Design Since 1945: A Complete Sourcebook

From my list on the best of Japanese product design.

Why am I passionate about this?

Since I came to architecture through classical archeology, writing about design was kind of like coming home. I made the switch to journalism after moving to Tokyo. At that time, Japan’s economy was going strong, boom cranes were everywhere, and the worldwide appetite for information about new construction was robust. An outgrowth of my success documenting architecture, my interest in design was sparked partly by the chairs and teapots created by Japanese architects but also by the superb array of daily-use goods available in Japan. The dearth of information about these items and their designers led me to cover design at various scales. 

Naomi's book list on the best of Japanese product design

Naomi Pollock Why did Naomi love this book?

This is an extremely well-researched book which provides an in-depth look at how the design fields developed and have evolved in Japan.

Though airing on the academic, I find it very readable, and I consult it when I wish to know more about a particular period of Japanese design history. Having scoured the landscape myself, I have great admiration for the author’s ability to ferret out information – there is no central design museum or archive in Japan – and present it cogently.

By Sarah Teasley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Designing Modern Japan as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From Muji to Sony televisions, our lives are surrounded by Japanese design. We think we know it, whether it reflects calming minimalism, avant-garde catwalk fashion or the Kawaii aesthetic populating Tokyo streets. But these stereotypes do not portray the creativity, generosity and sheer hard work that has gone into creating design industries in Japan.
In Designing Modern Japan, Sarah Teasley traces the stories of the people who shaped and shape design in modern Japan. Key to the account is how design was seen as a strategy to help the nation thrive during turbulent times, and for making life better along…


Book cover of Japanese Design: A Survey Since 1950

Naomi Pollock Author Of Japanese Design Since 1945: A Complete Sourcebook

From my list on the best of Japanese product design.

Why am I passionate about this?

Since I came to architecture through classical archeology, writing about design was kind of like coming home. I made the switch to journalism after moving to Tokyo. At that time, Japan’s economy was going strong, boom cranes were everywhere, and the worldwide appetite for information about new construction was robust. An outgrowth of my success documenting architecture, my interest in design was sparked partly by the chairs and teapots created by Japanese architects but also by the superb array of daily-use goods available in Japan. The dearth of information about these items and their designers led me to cover design at various scales. 

Naomi's book list on the best of Japanese product design

Naomi Pollock Why did Naomi love this book?

I first encountered this book many years before I began my own.

It accompanied a marvelous exhibit launched by the Philadelphia Museum of Art which, sadly, I did not see in person. Arranged by decade, the body of the book features individual products from the 1950s to the 1990s.

This reveals the overlap between different design disciplines and the cross-fertilization of ideas. I love the large photos which pull you in and make you want to read the texts. The supporting essays were contributed by many of the most important design luminaries at work in Japan.

By the time I was working on my book, many of them were already gone. 

By Kathryn B. Hiesinger (editor), Felice Fischer (editor),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Shows the evolution of Japanese commercial designs over the last five decades


Book cover of Naoto Fukasawa: Embodiment

Naomi Pollock Author Of Japanese Design Since 1945: A Complete Sourcebook

From my list on the best of Japanese product design.

Why am I passionate about this?

Since I came to architecture through classical archeology, writing about design was kind of like coming home. I made the switch to journalism after moving to Tokyo. At that time, Japan’s economy was going strong, boom cranes were everywhere, and the worldwide appetite for information about new construction was robust. An outgrowth of my success documenting architecture, my interest in design was sparked partly by the chairs and teapots created by Japanese architects but also by the superb array of daily-use goods available in Japan. The dearth of information about these items and their designers led me to cover design at various scales. 

Naomi's book list on the best of Japanese product design

Naomi Pollock Why did Naomi love this book?

Several years ago, when I was living in Tokyo, I needed a blender.

So, I went to MUJI and bought the one they had on offer. It was smaller than a US model, but the components fit together so easily, and the blades did their job so efficiently. I had to marvel. Unsurprisingly, the appliance I purchased was the product of Naoto Fukasawa who has a gift for making ordinary, everyday goods better. They practically intuit the user’s movement. Like my blender, these are things one buys to fulfill a basic need. But then cannot imagine living without them.

Filled with first-person explanations, this book is a window into the mind of one of Japan’s most accomplished designers. 

By Naoto Fukasawa,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A brand new monograph on one of Japan's best-known product designers, featuring more than 100 of his latest works

Naoto Fukasawa's simple, restrained, and user-friendly products have an extraordinarily universal appeal. Featuring more than 100 of his latest designs, including furniture, phones, watches, fashion, luggage, and accessories, Naoto Fukasawa: Embodiment perfectly captures Fukasawa's perspective on the dynamic interplay between people, places, and things.

It places the designer's products into the context of the contemporary design world and offers a first-hand account of Fukasawa's design philosophy.


Book cover of The Women I Think about at Night: Traveling the Paths of My Heroes

Janna Graber Author Of A Pink Suitcase: 22 Tales of Women's Travel

From my list on travel for women.

Why am I passionate about this?

Travel teaches and molds us. It certainly changed my own life. At age 19, I picked up my backpack and schoolbooks and moved from America to Austria. That experience opened my eyes to the world, and I’ve never looked back. Today, I’m a travel journalist, author, and editor at Go World Travel Magazine. I’m always on the lookout for fascinating tales of travel, but I especially appreciate learning from other female adventurers. They continue to inspire me. I hope these books will inspire you, too.

Janna's book list on travel for women

Janna Graber Why did Janna love this book?

Mia Kankimäki’s thoughtful travel memoir explores female adventurers of the past, from Karen Blixen of Out of Africa to Yayoi Kusama, an artist who voluntarily lived in a psychiatric hospital for decades. Kankimäki confronts her own personal demons while considering the challenges these mighty women faced as they journeyed into places unknown.

The Women I Think About at Night is part travel essay, part history lesson, and an all-around enjoyable narrative about female adventures who defied cultural norms to build the lives they wanted.

By Mia Kankimäki, Douglas Robinson (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Women I Think about at Night as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this "thought-provoking blend of history, biography, women's studies, and travelogue" (Library Journal) Mia Kankimaki recounts her enchanting travels in Japan, Kenya, and Italy while retracing the steps of ten remarkable female pioneers from history.

What can a forty-something childless woman do? Bored with her life and feeling stuck, Mia Kankimaki leaves her job, sells her apartment, and decides to travel the world, following the paths of the female explorers and artists from history who have long inspired her. She flies to Tanzania and then to Kenya to see where Karen Blixen-of Out of Africa fame-lived in the 1920s. In…


Book cover of Tokyo Year Zero

Nadine Willems Author Of Ishikawa Sanshiro's Geographical Imagination: Transnational Anarchism and the Reconfiguration of Everyday Life in Early Twentieth-Century Japan

From my list on Japan’s postwar years.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an academic historian in the UK, and before that, I was a journalist in Tokyo, where I lived for twenty years. To me, Japan is one of the most intriguing and sensuous places on earth. I never tire of its smells, sounds, signs, and flavours. The language is mesmerizing. The landscapes are stunning. The culture is endlessly surprising. I research and write about Japan’s past – its transformations, upheavals, and traditions – to make sense of the incredible array of experiences I have encountered while living there. 

Nadine's book list on Japan’s postwar years

Nadine Willems Why did Nadine love this book?

Tokyo Year Zero follows detective Minami on the hunt for a serial killer in the immediate post-war period. It is a haunting and addictive journey inside the underbelly of Japan’s shattered capital city in the glaring light of defeat. There is crime, gang warfare, desolation, corruption, and decay. But Peace is above all a master of language, and his prose – fragmentary, truncated, hallucinatory – produces an idiosyncratic rhythm that mirrors the mental disintegration of a man and the convulsions of an entire city. A novel that will stick to your skin years after reading it.

By David Peace,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Tokyo Year Zero as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Part one of David Peace's 'Tokyo Trilogy', and a stunning literary thriller in its own right, from the bestselling author of GB84 and The Damned Utd.

August 1946. One year on from surrender and Tokyo lies broken and bleeding at the feet of its American victors.

Against this extraordinary historical backdrop, Tokyo Year Zero opens with the discovery of the bodies of two young women in Shiba Park. Against his wishes, Detective Minami is assigned to the case; as he gets drawn ever deeper into these complex and horrific murders, he realises that his own past and secrets are indelibly…


Book cover of Tokyo, Form and Spirit

Jilly Traganou Author Of The Tôkaidô Road: Travelling and Representation in EDO and Meiji Japan

From my list on travel in premodern and modern Japan.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an architect from Greece who traveled to Japan in the 1990s as an exchange student. Visiting Japan in the early 1990s was a transformative experience. It led me to a career at the intersection of Japanese studies and spatial inquiry and expanded my architectural professional background. I did my PhD on the Tokaido road and published it as a book in 2004. Since then I have written several other books on subjects that vary from the Olympic Games to social movements. In the last 16 years, I've taught at Parsons School of Design in New York where I am a professor of architecture and urbanism. My current project is researching the role of space and design in prefigurative political movements.

Jilly's book list on travel in premodern and modern Japan

Jilly Traganou Why did Jilly love this book?

Tokyo, Form and Spirit was the catalogue for an exhibition at the Walker Center in 1986 with contributions of the most important Japanese urban writers of the 1990s: Henry Smith, Kenneth Frampton, Donald Richie, Marc Treib, Chris Fawcett to name but a few. While I never saw the exhibition, the perspective of the authors created a mental scaffolding that shaped my understanding of the transition from the feudal to modern Japan. Henry

Smith is reading the city of Edo through a bipartite scheme characterized by the sky and the water, or how the city was viewed differently from above, as incarnated by the gaze of the samurai and other authorities, and from below, typically by the commoners who enjoyed life across the city’s waterways. He then searches for this structure in today’s Tokyo where the city’s skyline is dominated by wirescape and high-rise edifices, and the water has almost evaded.…

By Mildred S. Brandon, James R. Walker,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Tokyo, Form and Spirit as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Essays discuss the evolution of Tokyo's art and architecture from the seventeenth century to the present and the coexistence of technology and tradition


Book cover of Fodor's Essential Japan

Sneed B. Collard III Author Of First-Time Japan: A Step-By-Step Guide for the Independent Traveler

From my list on travel guides for conquering your Fear of Japan.

Why am I passionate about this?

Although my travels had taken me to Asia numerous times, Japan eluded me until my teen daughter and I spent three weeks there following the country’s re-opening from covid. The trip exceeded all of our expectations, but facing the country’s impenetrable language and complex transportation system felt intimidating. To prepare, I devoured a shelf full of guidebooks. I learned that each has its strengths and weaknesses, but these books and our own adventures greatly informed my decision to write First-Time Japan. I was especially fortunate to collaborate with Japan tour guide Roy Ozaki, who contributed greatly to the book and gave me essential insights into Japan’s people, places, and culture.

Sneed's book list on travel guides for conquering your Fear of Japan

Sneed B. Collard III Why did Sneed love this book?

Like other traditional guidebooks, Essential Japan, aims for almost encyclopedic coverage of its topic, and it successfully manages this without seeming overwhelming—not an easy task judging by other major guidebooks.

In the edition I read, most (but not all) of its “how to” instructions are up to date, but where it really excels is in helping visitors choose what kinds of experiences they would like to have in Japan. For instance, I found its suggested itineraries for Tokyo to be spot-on, and the entire book is rich with recommendations.

Because the book is heavy, I suggest using it to map out your trip itinerary—and then take a lighter reference guide and use online sources for your actual trip.

By Fodor's Travel Guides,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fodor's Essential Japan as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Whether you want to have sushi in a top Tokyo restaurant, visit the shrines of historic Kyoto, or head to the beaches of Okinawa, the local Fodor's travel experts in Japan are here to help! Fodor's Essential Japan guidebook is packed with maps, carefully curated recommendations, and everything else you need to simplify your trip-planning process and make the most of your time. This new edition has been fully redesigned with an easy-to-read layout, fresh information, and beautiful color photos. Fodor's "Essential" guides have been named by Booklist as the Best Travel Guide Series of 2020!

Fodor's Essential Japan travel…


Book cover of Scandal

Peter Tasker Author Of Samurai Boogie

From my list on Tokyo noir: dark deeds in the neon wonderland.

Why am I passionate about this?

Japan has been my home for many decades. I know the world of business and finance inside out, and have an obsessive interest in art, film, and literature. I’ve written several books, fiction and non-fiction, and countless articles on Japan-related subjects, as you can see on my blog. I think I may have actually been Japanese in a previous life…

Peter's book list on Tokyo noir: dark deeds in the neon wonderland

Peter Tasker Why did Peter love this book?

Imagine you are a respected member of the literary establishment, a prize-winning novelist, and, a rare thing in Japan, a devout Christian. A man like the real Shusaku Endo, in fact. Suddenly, rumors start circulating that you have been seen frequently in a raunchy part of town, partying into the wee wee hours with hookers and taking women to love hotels. You catch glimpses of a strange face at various events. It is your own face but wearing a horrible lewd sneer. Who is this person? What is going on? Endo has come up with a taut psychological thriller that explores the deep contradictions of the human heart. As well as being a Christian, Endo is a leading expert on the Marquis de Sade.

By Shusaku Endo, Van C. Gessel,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Suguro is an eminent Catholic novelist who is about to receive a major literary award. When a drunk woman he has never met before approaches him at the award ceremony, claiming she knows him well from his regular visits to Tokyo’s red-light district, he assumes she must surely be mistaken. But with a scurrilous press campaign damaging Suguro’s reputation, his sleazy doppelgänger appears more and more, as if deliberately trying to discredit him. He is sighted touring the love hotels and brothels of Shinjuku; a leering portrait of him appears in an exhibition—and Suguro is forced to undertake a journey…


Book cover of Stranger in the Shogun's City: A Japanese Woman and Her World

Anne Walthall Author Of The Weak Body of a Useless Woman: Matsuo Taseko and the Meiji Restoration

From my list on amazing women during the age of the samurai.

Why am I passionate about this?

When I was studying Japan in graduate school, my advisor once told me that he hoped I wouldn’t pursue research in women’s history, calling it a fad. He was wrong, but it took me well over ten years to figure that out. Thanks to colleagues and friends, I helped build the field of Japanese women’s history in English, especially for the early modern period. As professor emerita at the University of California, Irvine, I remain committed to the possibility of uncovering the lives of yet more amazing women who challenge the stereotypes of docile wife and seductive geisha all too prevalent in fiction set in Japan.

Anne's book list on amazing women during the age of the samurai

Anne Walthall Why did Anne love this book?

The fascinating tale of Tsuneno’s journey from respectable daughter and sister in a family of Buddhist priests to a hand-to-mouth existence in Edo—now Tokyo—could well have been titled “down and out in the city.” And she chose her fate. A fiery, headstrong woman, she endured three marriages that all ended in divorce, and when confronted with the possibility of a fourth, she ran away from her home in the storied snow country region along the Japan Sea to try her luck working as a maid. She detailed her adventures and her demands for money and clothes in letters to her brother, letters that Stanley has used to wonderful effect in recreating not only Tsuneo as an individual but also the world of people on the margin among whom she lived.  

By Amy Stanley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Stranger in the Shogun's City as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

** SHORTLISTED FOR THE BAILLIE GIFFORD PRIZE 2020 **

A vivid, deeply researched work of history that explores the life of an unconventional woman in Edo - now known as Tokyo - and a portrait of a great city on the brink of momentous change

The daughter of a Buddhist priest, Tsuneno was born in 1804 in a rural Japanese village and was expected to live a life much like her mother's. But after three divorces - and with a temperament much too strong-willed for her family's approval - she ran away to make a life for herself in one…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Japan, Kenya, and Tokyo?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Japan, Kenya, and Tokyo.

Japan 496 books
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