100 books like Japanese Design

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

Here are 100 books that Japanese Design fans have personally recommended if you like Japanese Design. 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 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 Now Try Something Weirder: How to Keep Having Great Ideas and Survive in the Creative Business

David Airey Author Of Identity Designed: The Definitive Guide to Visual Branding

From my list on visual branding.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a graphic designer, writer, and brand consultant. I work with clients of all sizes, from multinationals to companies of one. Since opening my business in 2005 I’ve created logos and visual identities for brands in more than 30 countries. I run two design blogs Logo Design Love and Identity Designed. They resulted in publishing deals to write their accompanying books, and their pages now get millions of views each year.

David's book list on visual branding

David Airey Why did David love this book?

A relatively small, informal book filled with advice on how to keep having great ideas and how to survive in the creative business. Valuable even in you only pick up for a minute.

By Michael Johnson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Now Try Something Weirder as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With 233 (to be exact) hints, tips, and pieces of advice, Now Try Something Weirder shows those in the creative industry how to have great ideas (every day).

Internationally award-winning graphic designer Michael Johnson draws on more than 30 years' experience (his CV clocks up eight creative posts, three dismissals, and the launch of his own business) to share his ultimate secrets to enviable success ... who said you should keep your secrets closely guarded?

Looking to improve the way you work with clients, understand and question design briefs, deliver knockout presentations—and generally gain covetable creative confidence? Sometimes the solution…


Book cover of Revealing Illustrations: The Art of James McMullan

David Chelsea Author Of Perspective! for Comic Book Artists

From my list on making you a better artist.

Why am I passionate about this?

Although I have been a professional artist for over forty years, I have never yet gotten to the point where I imagine I have it all figured out. There are always new techniques to learn, and new mediums to explore. The books on this list are ones I have found helpful in nudging me in new and productive directions. 

David's book list on making you a better artist

David Chelsea Why did David love this book?

James McMullan is one of America’s preeminent illustrators, working consistently from the 60s to today. He may be most familiar for his long series of posters for Broadway shows at Lincoln Center, but he has also done magazine illustrations, children's books, record covers, and animation. Running parallel to his illustration work has been a long career in teaching, principally at New York’s School of Visual Arts (for which he also has done a series of subway posters). I was privileged to take his SVA illustration course– which had a stringent portfolio review – for two years early in my career, about the time this book appeared. No collection of greatest hits, or even a guide to achieving McMullan’s juicy watercolor style, this is a thoroughly candid tour through an illustrator’s work process, including a generous selection of preliminary sketches and reference photos.

Like many of the students who passed through…

By James McMullan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

signed hardback book with dust jacket titled REVEALING ILLUSTRATIONS.


Book cover of Inside Art Direction: Interviews and Case Studies

Robin Landa Author Of Advertising by Design: Generating and Designing Creative Ideas Across Media

From my list on creative advertising, art direction, and typography.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a Distinguished Professor in the Michael Graves College, Kean University. I’ve written over twenty books about advertising, graphic design, branding, personal branding, creativity, and drawing. On May 17, 2022, Routledge will publish my new book, Strategic Creativity: A Business Field Guide to Advertising, Branding, and Design. I’ve won numerous awards for my design, writing, and research, including awards from the National Society of Arts and Letters and the National League of Pen Women. In 2015, I received the Human Rights Educator award, 2016 Kean Presidential Excellence award for research, 2013 Teacher of the Year, and the Carnegie Foundation lists me among the great teachers of our time.

Robin's book list on creative advertising, art direction, and typography

Robin Landa Why did Robin love this book?

For many years, Brower was the art director at PRINT magazine and before that at esteemed book publishing houses. He is a brilliant art director and book designer, and we were co-authors a while back. In this book, Brower explores what art directors do in a design studio vs. a corporation, how the role is different than being a graphic designer and much more. Great interviews with pros are included are well. I admire Brower's award-winning cover and interior design of his book.

By Steven Brower,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Honorable Mention in the Foreword Indie Awards 2016

For many design students, the expectation is that they will one day reach the top of the ladder within a design studio or corporation and become an art director. But what does this mean and how does a design student get there? What does an art director do? How is it different from being a designer? How does one lead and inspire a team, work with freelance designers, illustrators and photographers? Inside Art Direction answers all these questions for design students and professionals alike.

Through interviews with 18 art directors working in…


Book cover of The Heike Story

Alina Lee Author Of Paper Crane Memories

From my list on the history, folklore, and mythology of Japan.

Why am I passionate about this?

Growing up, I was introduced to Japanese culture and history through anime. But I decided to dig a little deeper, reading history books and looking up more and more information. I was fascinated by what was presented of “Old Japan,” both the misconceptions that were spread by pop culture and by the surprising details that it gets right that no one would believe. This fascination is one of the most consistent things about me through the years, and the idea of delving into works of my own that merged samurai drama with lesbian relationships has been a recurring desire of mine for years.

Alina's book list on the history, folklore, and mythology of Japan

Alina Lee Why did Alina love this book?

Japan is full of figures from its own history that loves to villainize, and few of them stand out, like Taira no Kiyomori. This prose retelling of the original epic covers the rise and fall of the Taira Clan is full of politics, scheming, ruthlessness, and more than a few bloody battles. Kiyomori is someone I can understand the motivations of, even as I condemn him for his tactics and monstrous actions. The Heike Story is the bloodstained and muddy underbelly that emerges as the samurai warrior class rises to prominence and the power of the old aristocracy wanes.

By Eiji Yoshikawa, Kenkichi Sugimoto (illustrator), Fuki Wooyenaka Uramatsu (translator)

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Kyoto in the twelfth century was a magnificent city, but crime, disorder, and lust were rampant. The people were abused by the nobility, while the armed Buddhist monks terrorized court and commoner alike. In despair, the Emperor called upon the Heike and Genji clans to quell civil disturbances. Although the clans succeeded, they quarreled over the spoils of war and plunged the country into a century of warfare.This novel describes the rise to power of Kiyomori of the Heike clan during this turbulent time. From a youth sunk in poverty, Kiyomori eventually rose to become the Emperor's Chief Councillor. Although…


Book cover of Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics

Gianni Simone Author Of Otaku Japan: The Fascinating World of Japanese Manga, Anime, Gaming, Cosplay, Toys, Idols and More!

From my list on otaku Japan.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have lived in Japan for the last 30 years but my love for manga, anime, and games is much older and dates back to when UFO Robot Grendizer was first shown on Italian TV a fateful summer evening in 1978. Many years later, I was able to turn my passion for all things Japanese into a job and now I regularly write about politics, society, sports, travel, and culture in all its forms. However, I often go back to my first love and combine walking, urban exploration, and my otaku cravings into looking for new stores and visiting manga and anime locations in and around Tokyo.

Gianni's book list on otaku Japan

Gianni Simone Why did Gianni love this book?

This book came out only a few years after my first encounter with anime and just blew me away, introducing me to a completely different world – a world that at the time was mostly out of reach because Western translations were still rare. 

Having been published in 1983, it may be considered outdated, but manga translator and historian Frederick Schodt is a master narrator and does a great job of explaining how Japanese comics evolved during manga’s golden age. Now we can find any kind of information on the internet, but Schodt’s thorough analysis and engaging prose are second to none. 

If you are into cultural history and like to go beyond simple manga talk, this is still a must-read.

By Frederik L. Schodt,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Illustrated with the most representative examples of the genre, this book in English explores the world of Japanese comics. Since first published in 1983, Manga! Manga!: The World of Japanese Comics has been the book to read for all those interested in Japanese comics. It is virtually the bible' from which all studies and appreciation of manga begins. More than that, given the influence of Japanese manga on animation and on American-produced comics as well, Manga! Manga! provides the background against which these other arts can be understood. The book includes 96 pages'


Book cover of The Tale of Genji: The Authentic First Translation of the World's Earliest Novel

Alina Lee Author Of Paper Crane Memories

From my list on the history, folklore, and mythology of Japan.

Why am I passionate about this?

Growing up, I was introduced to Japanese culture and history through anime. But I decided to dig a little deeper, reading history books and looking up more and more information. I was fascinated by what was presented of “Old Japan,” both the misconceptions that were spread by pop culture and by the surprising details that it gets right that no one would believe. This fascination is one of the most consistent things about me through the years, and the idea of delving into works of my own that merged samurai drama with lesbian relationships has been a recurring desire of mine for years.

Alina's book list on the history, folklore, and mythology of Japan

Alina Lee Why did Alina love this book?

Though potentially incomplete (some scholars argue we're missing one or two chapters, or that the story was never meant to end), The Tale of Genji manages to paint a vivid picture of the life of a lost age, with its own array of traditions, values, and fashions; a world where one's skill with poetry was just as valuable as political acumen and their outlook is so different from a modern perspective. At the same time, it presents the timeless complexity of relationships between men and women, and the social expectations and norms that impact those connections.

By Murasaki Shikibu, Kencho Suematsu (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Written centuries before the time of Shakespeare and even Chaucer, The Tale of Genji marks the birth of the novel and after more than a millennium, this seminal work continues to enchant readers throughout the world. Lady Murasaki Shikibu and her tale's hero, Prince Genji, have had an unmatched influence on Japanese culture. Prince Genji manifests what was to become an image of the ideal Heian era courtier: gentle and passionate. Genji is also a master poet, dancer, musician and painter. The Tale of Genji follows Prince Genji through his many loves, and varied passions. This book has influenced not…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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