100 books like Fodor's Essential Japan

By Fodor's Travel Guides,

Here are 100 books that Fodor's Essential Japan fans have personally recommended if you like Fodor's Essential Japan. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Lonely Planet 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?

Lonely Planet guidebooks are almost always the first guides I buy when traveling to a new country.

I read through one almost as if I am reading a novel, taking notes about the places I want to visit and things I’d like to do. That said, the books can be overwhelming simply because they attempt to do so much.

The densely-packed design also doesn’t succeed as well as Fodor’s Essential Japan. Especially if this is your first trip, this is an excellent additional resource—but again, because of its weight you will probably want to leave it at home and take a lighter reference on your actual trip.

For booking hotels and finding transportation details, you’ll probably do better using more up-to-date and extensive internet resources.

By Lonely Planet, Rebecca Milner, Ray Bartlett , Andrew Bender , Samantha Forge , Craig McLachlan , Kate Morgan , Thomas O'Malley , Simon Richmond , Phillip Tang

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Lonely Planet's Japan is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Explore over a thousand temples in old imperial capital Kyoto, relax in one of the onsens scattered across the archipelago, and sample the breadth of Japan's sublime cuisine; all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of Japan and begin your journey now!

Inside Lonely Planet's Japan Travel Guide:

Up-to-date information - all businesses were rechecked before publication to ensure they are still open after 2020's COVID-19 outbreak

NEW top experiences feature - a…


Book cover of Things I Wish I'd Known Before Going to 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?

If you find traditional guidebooks overwhelming (and I do!), this nice little primer is a great way to get your feet wet thinking about your Japanese adventure.

Unlike the weightier guidebooks mentioned above, this one picks out a more select group of sightseeing recommendations. For each one, the authors provide a nice bit of background along with details you need to know.

The book is highly readable and unconfusing, and having taken my teen daughter to Japan myself, I would recommend this for kids to read before a trip. It won’t answer every question, but will help point you in the right directions.

Book cover of 14 Days in Japan: A First-Timer's Ultimate Japan Travel Guide Including Tours, Food, Japanese Culture and History

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?

Even though the author remains conspicuously unidentified in this book, I found the tale of her and her husband’s two-week trip oddly intriguing.

This was the first book I read ahead of my own Japan adventure, and it attempts to be both a travel log and recommendation guide. While the recommendations seem a bit limited, I enjoyed reading about the author’s specific adventures and it definitely gave me some ideas about what my daughter and I might like to do in Japan.

It won’t replace any of the above books, but is a nice additional option if you have the time and inclination.

By IDtravelling,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked 14 Days in Japan as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Are you thinking about traveling to Japan? Discover Japan through this easy to follow guide tailored for first-time travelers!
Most available online resources contain too much information!
If you've searched for a Japan travel guide online, you may have noticed:

- Most guides contain disorganized information that may leave you with more questions than answers.
- It is impossible to find practical information like how much a trip to Japan would cost, where to stay, and what transportation to use.

14 Days in Japan is the ultimate travel guide tailored for a first‑time traveler. It provides detailed information about visiting…


Book cover of Japan by Rail: Includes Rail Route Guide and 30 City Guides

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?

If you intend to travel Japan by rail—and who isn’t—this can be a tempting choice.

The book attempts to duplicate the kind of detail found in Fodor’s and Lonely Planet guides above, and largely succeeds, giving both historical context and transportation details on a wide selection of destinations.

As its title suggests, it heavily focuses on train routes, timetables, passes, costs, and other public transportation information. Especially if you are a rail buff, you will soak this up, but for the average traveler it can be a bit much.

Just as important, a lot of these details change frequently. I read the 4th edition of this book, but a newer edition is available. Even that, though, probably has been outpaced by recent changes in costs for Japan Rail Passes and other details. A good choice for the at-home library, but use the internet for the latest costs and timetables.

By Ramsey Zarifeh, Anna Udagawa,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Japan is steeped in legend and myth, perhaps the greatest of which is the popular misconception that the country is simply too expensive to visit. The truth is that flights to Japan are cheaper than they've ever been, accommodation can be great value, while the warm hospitality which awaits every visitor costs nothing at all. The real secret to travelling around the country on a budget, however, is the Japan Rail Pass. Use this comprehensive guide in conjunction with a rail pass to get the most out of a trip to Japan. * Practical information - planning your trip; when…


Book cover of The Woman in the Dunes

Mark Edward Harris Author Of The Way of the Japanese Bath

From my list on books that offer glimpses of ancient and modern Japan.

Why am I passionate about this?

My Master’s is in history, so books in the field are particularly of interest, especially those focused on the asides of the subject. One of the most unusual is No Surrender: My Thirty-Year War by Hiroo Onoda. When World War II ended in 1945, a number of Japanese soldiers, mostly in the jungles of the South Pacific, refused to surrender. Onoda was one of them. For three decades, the Japanese government tried to convince him that the war was over and flush him out of his hiding place in the Philippines, but to no avail. I found it fascinating to see his confirmation bias at work and described so clearly.

Mark's book list on books that offer glimpses of ancient and modern Japan

Mark Edward Harris Why did Mark love this book?

The Woman in the Dunes (Suna No Onna, Sand Woman) was a 1962 novel written by Kobo Abe. The story is about an amateur entomologist who ends up as a forced partner to a recently widowed woman living at the bottom of a sand dune. The story, of course, goes far deeper than that.

While reading the book I recalled the Tottori Sand Dunes on Japan’s West Coast, one of the most surprising landscapes in the island nation. After reading the book and visiting Tottori I watched the 1964 film adaption of the book directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara and starring Eiji Okada and Kyoko Kishida. It is one of the few instances where the film is at least equal to or perhaps surpasses the book version. I highly recommend first reading both books then watching the films to see how skillfully the written word can be converted…

By Kobo Abe,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Woman in the Dunes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Woman in the Dunes, by celebrated writer and thinker Kobo Abe, combines the essence of myth, suspense and the existential novel.
 
After missing the last bus home following a day trip to the seashore, an amateur entomologist is offered lodging for the night at the bottom of a vast sand pit. But when he attempts to leave the next morning, he quickly discovers that the locals have other plans. Held captive with seemingly no chance of escape, he is tasked with shoveling back the ever-advancing sand dunes that threaten to destroy the village. His only companion is an odd…


Book cover of Snow Country

Michael Grothaus Author Of Beautiful Shining People

From my list on reads set in Japan.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve spent a lot of time in Japan, and my new novel, Beautiful Shining People, is a direct result of two profound experiences I had there. The first was when I was hiking through the hills of Kyoto late one night and turned around to see a glowing creature–some have said they think I saw a kami. The second experience happened when I was in Hiroshima at the Peace Park. I immediately started crying, seeing all the schoolchildren learning about the horrible atrocity committed against their ancestors. I have no idea why it affected me so much, but it was one of the most moving experiences of my life.

Michael's book list on reads set in Japan

Michael Grothaus Why did Michael love this book?

Yasunari Kawabata was the first Japanese author to ever win the Nobel Prize in Literature – and Snow Country is a perfect example of why he did.

It’s the simple tale of a Tokyo businessman who meets a geisha when he takes a trip to a rural onsen (hot springs) town. It’s a melancholy tale, and you feel for the geisha and her harrowing circumstance much more than the Tokyoite.

It’s also a slim book, but one with beautiful descriptions of the snow. You can read it in one sitting, but it will stick with you long after.

By Yasunari Kawabata, Edward G. Seidensticker (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Snow Country as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Shimamura is tired of the bustling city. He takes the train through the snow to the mountains of the west coast of Japan, to meet with a geisha he believes he loves. Beautiful and innocent, Komako is tightly bound by the rules of a rural geisha, and lives a life of servitude and seclusion that is alien to Shimamura, and their love offers no freedom to either of them. Snow Country is both delicate and subtle, reflecting in Kawabata's exact, lyrical writing the unspoken love and the understated passion of the young Japanese couple.


Book cover of The Thief

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?

From the start, the reader can’t help but notice a tower looming in the distance.

The image has something threatening about it, and also deeply significant; the tower will continue to surface over the course of the novel’s unfolding, when certain fateful moments in the plot become clear, as well as the inescapable and hopeless nature of the main character entangled in it.

For me this book is so much more than “just” a crime novel, like it says on the cover. It is an existential masterwork. Slim, though so much is contained within its pages! The reader stays close at the pickpocket’s heels, following him breathlessly through a maze of streets, at the end of which stands the tower, appearing and disappearing in the distance. Nakamura has been compared to Dostoyevsky.

In my opinion, he doesn’t need that ascription. He is Nakamura – through and through. And for anyone…

By Fuminori Nakamura,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Nishimura is a seasoned pickpocket, weaving through Tokyo's crowded streets, in search of potential targets. He has no family, no friends, no connections ...But he does have a past, which finally catches up with him when his old partner-in-crime reappears and offers him a job he can't refuse. Suddenly, Nishimura finds himself caught in a web so tangled and intricate that even he might not be able to escape. Taut, atmospheric and cool, The Thief will steal your breath away.


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 Tokyo: A Spatial Anthropology

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 by Jinnai Hidenobu was influential for me both as a source of information about the history of Tokyo and for its methodology of research. The author discovers the city via walking and traveling across its water routes, an experiential methodology which he first developed in his study of Venice. With the assistance of visuals, both historical and newly drawn based on his field observations, Jinnai explores modern-day Tokyo. His starting point is that Tokyo seems an anomaly when compared with other world cities in its lack of historical structures which is attributed to a series of wars and disasters that radically transformed the city’s physical environment.  

The impressive discovery of this inquiry however is that despite the perceived newness of Tokyo, the spirit of Edo (Tokyo’s name during the Tokugawa period, 1600-1868) has not vanished in today’s modern city. Through this book, we learn that the differences between the…

By Hidenobu Jinnai, Kimiko Nishimura (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Tokyo: destroyed by the earthquake of 1923 and again by the firebombing of World War II. Does anything remain of the old city? The internationally known Japanese architectural historian Jinnai Hidenobu set out on foot to rediscover the city of Tokyo. Armed with old maps, he wandered through back alleys and lanes, trying to experience the city's space as it had been lived by earlier residents. He found that, despite an almost completely new cityscape, present-day inhabitants divide Tokyo's space in much the same way that their ancestors did two hundred years before. Jinnai's holistic perspective is enhanced by his…


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…


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