100 books like Designing Modern Japan

By Sarah Teasley,

Here are 100 books that Designing Modern Japan fans have personally recommended if you like Designing Modern 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 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 Designing Japan: A Future Built on Aesthetics

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?

A graphic designer by training, Kenya Hara is one of Japan’s most theoretical design thinkers. He steps back and ponders possibility. Especially where the future of Japan is concerned.

Seated in his elegant office in downtown Tokyo, Hara explained to me years ago that Japan once churned out exports but now, as other countries assume that role, Japan must offer something else. In this book he indicates that something else not a physical object. It is the experience of the country’s rich culture, aesthetics, and underlying values.

Living in Tokyo for many years enabled many chances to savor the smell of fresh tatami mats and the toothsomeness of new harvest rice.

Hara’s thoughts resonate with me, but I hope Japan never stops making elegant, user-friendly housewares.

By Kenya Hara,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'Designing Japan' presents renowned designer Kenya Hara's vision of how his industry can support Japan in crafting a future founded on a unique philosophy of beauty as well as crowd-sourced wisdom from around the world. A master collaborator, meticulous organiser, and globally conscious innovator, Hara draws on more than three decades of participations in design work and exhibition curating, as well as deep professional interaction with creators from many fields.

In 'Designing Japan' Hara reveals methods that make publicly accessible aesthetic inquiries of how this island nation will proceed as its population ages, other nations take over manufacturing, and technology…


Book cover of The Unknown Craftsman: A Japanese Insight Into Beauty

Strother Purdy Author Of Doormaking: Materials, Techniques, and Projects for Building Your First Door

From my list on on working with your hands.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a teenager, I worked on cars and motorcycles in my spare time while apprenticing in an architectural millwork shop, paneling the homes of the rich and famous. Thus I discovered the great joys and satisfactions of working with my hands. After a long stint in graduate school, then four years as an editor at Fine Woodworking magazine and for Taunton Press books, I opened a custom design furniture business in 2000. Travel, writing, and reading are aligned passions, and I’ve lived, taught English, and woodworking here and abroad in France, Slovakia, India, and Japan.

Strother's book list on on working with your hands

Strother Purdy Why did Strother love this book?

They say that travel opens the mind in ways that staying home doesn’t. Books can take you places you can’t otherwise go. So with Yanagi, I got to visit the mind of an early 20th-century Japanese craft connoisseur who looked at thousand-year-old (plain and unassuming) tea bowls and wondered why they’re utterly beautiful and treasured (the best fetch huge sums at auctions–$25million recently for one). Yanagi’s exploration of how the hands of craftsmen can unknowingly and unintentionally create objects of great beauty was both fascinating as it was challenging. It made my shop work a hundred times more enjoyable.

By Soetsu Yanagi,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Unknown Craftsman as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

craftsman working in a set tradition for a lifetime? What is the value of handwork? Why should even the roughly lacquered rice bowl of a Japanese farmer be thought beautiful? The late Soetsu Yanagi was the first to fully explore the traditional Japanese appreciation for objects born, not made.' Mr. Yanagi sees folk art as a manifestation of the essential world from which art, philosophy, and religion arise and in which the barriers between them disappear. The implications of the author's ideas are both far-reaching and practical. Soetsu Yanagi is often'


Book cover of Japanese Gardening: A Practical Guide to Creating a Japanese-Style Garden with 700 Step-By-Step Photographs

Robert Pavlis Author Of Garden Myths: Book 1

From my list on practical gardening.

Why am I passionate about this?

I love gardening and learning about unusual plants but I find that many gardening books don’t provide a lot of useful advice. I grow over 3,000 different types of plants and have a background in chemistry and biochemisty. I teach gardening to new gardeners and garden design to more experienced gardeners. My students want to learn practical things like solving pest problems and growing plants with more flowers. I am always on the lookout for books that provide them with hands-on practical advice they can use right away. 

Robert's book list on practical gardening

Robert Pavlis Why did Robert love this book?

My favorite garden style is the Japanese garden. It is a simple refined style that is so peaceful and over the years I have learned that you don’t need to turn the whole yard into a Japanese garden. What I do now is use elements of this style in various parts of the garden. The book, Japanese Gardening, will provide you with great insight into various styles of Japanese gardening and make it easy for you to do the same. Add a Japanese walkway into a normal garden and make it special. Or use some of the minimalistic plants to add a calming feeling. This book will give you many great ideas.

By Charles Chesshire,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This inspiring book offers expert information on how to create the perfect Japanese-style garden in any location, large or small. It presents the history of Japanese gardens and the principles underlying them. Sections on the five classic Japanese garden styles (pond gardens, dry gardens, tea gardens, stroll gardens and courtyard gardens) explain their key characteristics with practical tips on how to achieve them. Fifteen projects for creating complete Japanese gardens follows, with clear explanations, illustrations and gorgeous photography. A plant directory then details the various types of plants with advice on flowering habits and hardiness, while the final section outlines…


Book cover of Sakuteiki: Visions of the Japanese Garden: A Modern Translation of Japan's Gardening Classic

Mira Locher Author Of Zen Garden Design: Mindful Spaces by Shunmyo Masuno - Japan's Leading Garden Designer

From my list on digging into Japanese gardens.

Why am I passionate about this?

When I first saw an image of a Japanese garden, it was unlike anything I had seen before. I just knew I had to visit Japan to see the gardens and try to understand the culture that produced this artistry. I later had the opportunity to work for a small Japanese architecture firm in Tokyo. During those seven years, I explored gardens, landscapes, villages, and cities, trying to absorb as much of the culture as I could. Japanese gardens still fascinate me, and I love learning about contemporary designers and gardeners in Japan who are keeping the traditional spirit alive, while exploring what a garden can be in the present day.

Mira's book list on digging into Japanese gardens

Mira Locher Why did Mira love this book?

Not only does this book provide a translation of a nearly 1,000-year-old text on garden design – the oldest such text existing in the world, but it also includes extensive annotation and a carefully researched introduction to the cultural and historic influences on the development of Japanese gardens. This is a delightful combination of the technical detail and practical advice of the classic text with the author-translators’ descriptive explanation.

By Jiro Takei, Marc P. Keane,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Learn the art of Japanese gardening with this classic, fascinating text.

The Sakuteiki, or "Records of Garden Making," was written nearly one thousand years ago. It is the oldest existing text on Japanese gardening-or any kind of gardening-in the world. In this edition of the Sakuteiki, the authors provide an English-language translation of this classic work and an introduction to the cultural and historical context that led to the development of Japanese gardening. Central to this explanation is an understanding of the sacred importance of stones in Japanese culture and Japanese garden design.

Written by a Japanese court noble during…


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 The Little House

Milena Michiko Flašar Author Of Mr Kato Plays Family

From my list on diving into modern Japan from someone half Japanese.

Why am I passionate about this?

As someone half-Japanese who grew up in Austria, I've spent the last few years making sense of my relationship to my mother’s homeland. My mother spoke Japanese to us children from an early age, and we spent many childhood summers with our grandparents in Okayama. Because of this, my mother's home feels intimate and familiar to me. But it is also distant and foreign, and it is precisely this unknown, the seemingly exotic and mysterious, that I hope to approach through reading. For me, Japan is a kind of poetic space I set my characters in. In my last three books Japan was both the setting and the secret protagonist.

Milena's book list on diving into modern Japan from someone half Japanese

Milena Michiko Flašar Why did Milena love this book?

This book, which appeared in English translation in 2010, is the tender love story of Tokiko, a married woman, and her lover Itakura.

The story is told from the perspective of Taki, the devoted attendant who cares for the house and the family who lives there. In this respect, the reader is dealing with the gaze of a marginal figure, and it is this which makes the book so great: Taki’s gaze is intimate, taking into account everything that happens within the home’s four walls, but is at the same time the cool gaze of an observer on the periphery of all the action.

The book plays out in the pre-war years, but it also depicts the war and the years following. Over the course of this long period, the reader learns that this isn’t just about the love that exists between Tokiko and Itakura. It is also about Taki’s…

By Kyoko Nakajima, Ginny Takemori (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Little House is set in the early years of the Showa era (1926-89), when Japan's situation is becoming increasingly tense but has not yet fully immersed in a wartime footing. On the outskirts of Tokyo, near a station on a private train line, stands a modest European style house with a red, triangular shaped roof. There a woman named Taki has worked as a maidservant in the house and lived with its owners, the Hirai family. Now, near the end of her life, Taki is writing down in a notebook her nostalgic memories of the time spent living in…


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…


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