100 books like Lost Japan

By Alex Kerr,

Here are 100 books that Lost Japan fans have personally recommended if you like Lost 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 The Roads to Sata: A 2000-mile walk through Japan

Jonathan DeHart Author Of Moon Japan: Plan Your Trip, Avoid the Crowds, and Experience the Real Japan

From my list on evoking a deep, personal discovery of Japan.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a Tokyo-based writer who first came to Japan during university to live with a host family and study the language. After a stint in Shanghai, Japan brought me back in 2012 and I’ve lived here ever since. I’ve cycled across remote Okinawan islands, wandered Kyoto’s cobblestone lanes, and trekked to mountaintop temples in heavy snow. But some of my best memories have happened over homemade plum wine at a friend’s dinner table. I’ve written two books published by Moon Travel Guides and countless articles on Asia, with some being chosen for “best of” lists by The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Foreign Policy, and Real Clear World

Jonathan's book list on evoking a deep, personal discovery of Japan

Jonathan DeHart Why did Jonathan love this book?

This travelogue brilliantly narrates Alan Booth’s southward trek across Japan, end to end, from Cape Soya in Hokkaido to Cape Sata in Kyushu. The book’s subtitle, A 2,000 Mile Walk Through Japan, speaks volumes. The journey, which some would call masochistic, is practically measured in blisters. We see Booth, fluent in Japanese, trudge through rain and shine along backcountry roads, from greasy spoons to lonesome karaoke bars, collapsing into countless futons along the way. His journey comes to life with colorful characters, boozy local festivals, and pithy realizations about his adopted homeland, at turns entertaining, illuminating, and hilarious. For me, this book captures the joy of discovering the salty, unexpected side of Japan. It also cements Booth’s status as one of the (unsung) travel writing greats.  

By Alan Booth,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Roads to Sata as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A memorable, oddly beautiful book' Wall Street Journal

'A marvellous glimpse of the Japan that rarely peeks through the country's public image' Washington Post

One sunny spring morning in the 1970s, an unlikely Englishman set out on a pilgrimage that would take him across the entire length of Japan. Travelling only along small back roads, Alan Booth travelled on foot from Soya, the country's northernmost tip, to Sata in the extreme south, traversing three islands and some 2,000 miles of rural Japan. His mission: 'to come to grips with the business of living here,' after having spent most of his…


Book cover of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

Chiara Terzuolo Author Of Hidden Japan: A guidebook to Tokyo & beyond

From my list on books before visiting Japan.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been studying Japanese since 2008, studied in the country twice, and then finally made my home here in 2011. Over the years, I have been to 43 of Japan’s 47 prefectures, writing articles about my experiences and constantly searching for new, hidden places where I could still find a touch of the Japan of yore. With so many people visiting the country, I want to do my part to give folks options that are off the beaten path and away from the crowds. 

Chiara's book list on books before visiting Japan

Chiara Terzuolo Why did Chiara love this book?

While, of course, as a fiction book, it gets a bit fantastical at times, this book captures the true oddity and tension of the end of Japan’s sakoku era, when the country was cut off from the world, except for a few highly controlled ports like Dejima in Nagasaki.

I loved how well the author expressed the feeling of time and place and laughed at how some things still haven’t changed. 

By David Mitchell,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Sunday Times Number One Bestseller, from the author of CLOUD ATLAS and THE BONE CLOCKS.

Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2010

'Brilliant' - The Times
'A masterpiece' - Scotsman

Be transported to a place like no other: a tiny, man-made island in the bay of Nagasaki, for two hundred years the sole gateway between Japan and the West. Here, in the dying days of the 18th-century, a young Dutch clerk arrives to make his fortune. Instead he loses his heart.

Step onto the streets of Dejima and mingle with scheming traders, spies, interpreters, servants and concubines as two…


Book cover of The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto

Brett Dakin Author Of Another Quiet American: Stories of Life in Laos

From my list on books about living abroad in Asia.

Why am I passionate about this?

Right after college, I lived abroad in Asia, in the small, landlocked country of Laos. A key theme of the book is the role of the U.S. in the world. During the Vietnam War, Laos was subject to a massive bombing campaign by the U.S., and decades later, the country was still coping with the effects. As unexploded bombs continued to kill people every year, how would my colleagues and neighbors react to an American living among them? The book is mainly about the joys of navigating another culture, and while Laos is unique, I’ve read a lot of books about living abroad in Asia, and common themes certainly emerge.

Brett's book list on books about living abroad in Asia

Brett Dakin Why did Brett love this book?

Iyer’s prose is beautiful, and he’s best known for his travel writing. In this book, he stays put, living in Japan and immersing himself in Zen and the pleasures of traditional life in Kyoto. He also meets his wife, and the combination of cultural study and personal memoir makes for an absolutely lovely read. 

By Pico Iyer,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Lady and the Monk as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When Pico Iyer decided to go to Kyoto and live in a monastery, he did so to learn about Zen Buddhism from the inside, to get to know Kyoto, one of the loveliest old cities in the world, and to find out something about Japanese culture today -- not the world of businessmen and production lines, but the traditional world of changing seasons and the silence of temples, of the images woven through literature, of the lunar Japan that still lives on behind the rising sun of geopolitical power.

All this he did. And then he met Sachiko.

Vivacious, attractive,…


Book cover of Geisha: A Life

Chiara Terzuolo Author Of Hidden Japan: A guidebook to Tokyo & beyond

From my list on books before visiting Japan.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been studying Japanese since 2008, studied in the country twice, and then finally made my home here in 2011. Over the years, I have been to 43 of Japan’s 47 prefectures, writing articles about my experiences and constantly searching for new, hidden places where I could still find a touch of the Japan of yore. With so many people visiting the country, I want to do my part to give folks options that are off the beaten path and away from the crowds. 

Chiara's book list on books before visiting Japan

Chiara Terzuolo Why did Chiara love this book?

The actual story as told by an actual geisha (rather than the male author of Memoirs of a Geisha), I was absolutely obsessed with this book when I began studying Japanese.

I loved the depictions of Kyoto pre-war and all the festivals, ceremonies, and intricacies that go into the life of a geisha. The post-retirement part of the story is also so real and human, and while it is a much quieter book compared to the sturm and drang of Memoirs of a Geisha, it has a delicate beauty that stuck with me. 

By Mineko Iwasaki, Rande Brown,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

GEISHA, A LIFE
"No woman in the three-hundred-year history of the karyukai has ever come forward in public to tell her story. We have been constrained by unwritten rules not to do so, by the robes of tradition and by the sanctity of our exclusive calling...But I feel it is time to speak out."
Celebrated as the most successful geisha of her generation, Mineko Iwasaki was only five years old when she left her parents' home for the world of the geisha. For the next twenty-five years, she would live a life filled with extraordinary professional demands and rich rewards.…


Book cover of The Inland Sea

Jonathan DeHart Author Of Moon Japan: Plan Your Trip, Avoid the Crowds, and Experience the Real Japan

From my list on evoking a deep, personal discovery of Japan.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a Tokyo-based writer who first came to Japan during university to live with a host family and study the language. After a stint in Shanghai, Japan brought me back in 2012 and I’ve lived here ever since. I’ve cycled across remote Okinawan islands, wandered Kyoto’s cobblestone lanes, and trekked to mountaintop temples in heavy snow. But some of my best memories have happened over homemade plum wine at a friend’s dinner table. I’ve written two books published by Moon Travel Guides and countless articles on Asia, with some being chosen for “best of” lists by The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Foreign Policy, and Real Clear World

Jonathan's book list on evoking a deep, personal discovery of Japan

Jonathan DeHart Why did Jonathan love this book?

Written by the 20th century’s leading interpreter of things Japanese, this travel memoir has a timeless, elegiac quality. Donald Richie lived in Tokyo, but he based this work on a series of trips through the waterways and fishing villages of the glittering Inland Sea. Beyond his beautiful sketches of the seascape itself, his warm, human interactions with fishermen, aunties, merchants, and monks give voice to a disappearing side of Japan. They also serve as a mirror into the metaphorical inland sea within himself––the good, bad, and ugly––which he freely reveals. Seeing the world Richie describes vanish evermore in the decades since, the book’s resonance only grows with age. This is why I find myself diving back into it again and again.

By Donald Richie, Yoichi Midorikawa (photographer),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"An elegiac prose celebration ...a classic in its genre."-Publishers Weekly In this acclaimed travel memoir, Donald Richie paints a memorable portrait of the island-studded Inland Sea. His existential ruminations on food, culture, and love and his brilliant descriptions of life and landscape are a window into an Old Japan that has now nearly vanished. Included are the twenty black and white photographs by Yoichi Midorikawa that accompanied the original 1971 edition. Donald Richie (1924-2013) was an internationally recognized expert on Japanese culture and film. Yoichi Midorikawa (1915-2001) was one of Japan's foremost nature photographers.


Book cover of Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewells

Jonathan DeHart Author Of Moon Japan: Plan Your Trip, Avoid the Crowds, and Experience the Real Japan

From my list on evoking a deep, personal discovery of Japan.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a Tokyo-based writer who first came to Japan during university to live with a host family and study the language. After a stint in Shanghai, Japan brought me back in 2012 and I’ve lived here ever since. I’ve cycled across remote Okinawan islands, wandered Kyoto’s cobblestone lanes, and trekked to mountaintop temples in heavy snow. But some of my best memories have happened over homemade plum wine at a friend’s dinner table. I’ve written two books published by Moon Travel Guides and countless articles on Asia, with some being chosen for “best of” lists by The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Foreign Policy, and Real Clear World

Jonathan's book list on evoking a deep, personal discovery of Japan

Jonathan DeHart Why did Jonathan love this book?

When it comes to the seasons, Japan often conjures images of the pink, transient wave of cherry blossoms that ripples through the islands each spring. Iyer, however, suggests in this mature follow-up to The Lady and the Monk that autumn, with its blazing yellow ginkos and red maples, is when Japan’s essence most clearly shines through. He brings us into a sleepy corner of Nara where he lives with his wife Hiroko, plays ping-pong with spry local seniors, and grapples with the decline of his mother-in-law and sudden loss of his father-in-law. At its core, this is a book about ageing, time, and the quintessentially Japanese knack for seeing beauty in impermanence. Having cycled through more than a decade of autumns in Japan myself, Iyer’s musings ring true.

By Pico Iyer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In this “exquisite personal blend of philosophy and engagement, inner quiet and worldly life" (Los Angeles Times), an acclaimed author returns to his longtime home in Japan after his father-in-law’s sudden death and picks up the steadying patterns of his everyday rites, reminding us to take nothing for granted.

In a country whose calendar is marked with occasions honoring the dead, Pico Iyer comes to reflect on changelessness in ways that anyone can relate to: parents age, children scatter, and Iyer and his wife turn to whatever can sustain them as everything falls away. As the maple leaves begin to…


Book cover of The Bells of Old Tokyo: Travels in Japanese Time

Chiara Terzuolo Author Of Hidden Japan: A guidebook to Tokyo & beyond

From my list on books before visiting Japan.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been studying Japanese since 2008, studied in the country twice, and then finally made my home here in 2011. Over the years, I have been to 43 of Japan’s 47 prefectures, writing articles about my experiences and constantly searching for new, hidden places where I could still find a touch of the Japan of yore. With so many people visiting the country, I want to do my part to give folks options that are off the beaten path and away from the crowds. 

Chiara's book list on books before visiting Japan

Chiara Terzuolo Why did Chiara love this book?

Transience and the importance of tiny details are two important underpinnings of Japanese culture, and this book captured them beautifully. I love books that use personal stories to tell an overarching epic, and the rise of Tokyo from a little fishing village to one of the biggest cities in the world is just that.

The author’s poetic style also aligns with how thoughts and phrases would evolve in Japanese, making it very evocative. It is a love letter to this city of contradictions and gives a look into the deeper sides that most visitors would simply not think to ask about. 

By Anna Sherman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

As read on BBC Radio 4 'Book of the Week'
Shortlisted for the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year Award
Longlisted for the RSL Ondaatje Prize

'Sherman's is a special book. Every sentence, every thought she has, every question she asks, every detail she notices, offers something. The Bells of Old Tokyo is a gift . . . It is a masterpiece.' - The Spectator

For over 300 years, Japan closed itself to outsiders, developing a remarkable and unique culture. During its period of isolation, the inhabitants of the city of Edo, later known as Tokyo, relied on its…


Book cover of A History of Japan: From Stone Age to Superpower

Chiara Terzuolo Author Of Hidden Japan: A guidebook to Tokyo & beyond

From my list on books before visiting Japan.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been studying Japanese since 2008, studied in the country twice, and then finally made my home here in 2011. Over the years, I have been to 43 of Japan’s 47 prefectures, writing articles about my experiences and constantly searching for new, hidden places where I could still find a touch of the Japan of yore. With so many people visiting the country, I want to do my part to give folks options that are off the beaten path and away from the crowds. 

Chiara's book list on books before visiting Japan

Chiara Terzuolo Why did Chiara love this book?

I have a hard time keeping track of all the main events of Japanese history, and among the many (MANY) tomes I have read, this one gets the balance just right without being overwhelming.

It gave me a good general overview that now allows me to explain the most important points of the country’s history to others and wasn’t boring or overly academic. 

By K. Henshall,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In a rare combination of comprehensive coverage and sustained critical focus, this book examines Japan's progress through its entire history to its current status as an economic, technological, and cultural superpower. A key factor is a pragmatic determination to succeed. Little-known facts are also brought to light, and the latest findings used.


Book cover of Empire of Signs

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?

Philosopher Roland Barthes visited Japan in the 1960s when it had rebuilt and reinvented itself as a global economic power. Empire of Signs, which he published a few years later, is a profound, yet entertaining reflection on “otherness” and how it helps us see ourselves. I read the slim volume – in the original French – in the plane that took me to Tokyo for the first time. It was a revelation and has inspired me ever since to look for the myriads of little things that fascinate and contradict all preconceived ideas. The book is a wonderful and subtle lesson in seeing the invisible!

By Roland Barthes, Richard Howard (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Now it happens that in this country (Japan),' wrote Barthes, 'the empire of signifiers is so immense, so in excess of speech, that the exchange of signs remains of a fascinating richness mobility and subtlety.' It is not the voice that communicates, but the whole body - eyes, smiles, hair, gestures. The body is savoured, received and displays its own narrative, its own text. Barthes discusses bowing, the courtesy in which two bodies inscribe but do not prostrate themselves, and why in the West politeness is regarded with suspicion - why informal relations are though more desired than coded ones.…


Book cover of Kaempfer's Japan: Tokugawa Culture Observed

Constantine Nomikos Vaporis Author Of Samurai: An Encyclopedia of Japan's Cultured Warriors

From my list on Tokugawa Japan.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve spent all of my career teaching and writing about Japan. Within that country’s long history, the Tokugawa or early modern period (1600-1868) has always fascinated me, going back to my teenage years when I went to Japanese film festivals in Boston with my father and brothers. This fascination stems in part from the period’s vibrancy, color, drama, and the wealth of historical documentation about it that has survived warfare as well as the ravages of time. From these rich sources of knowledge, historians and other scholars have been able to weave rich narratives of Japan’s early modern past.

Constantine's book list on Tokugawa Japan

Constantine Nomikos Vaporis Why did Constantine love this book?

This book first excited my interest in the Tokugawa period and directly led to my first two academic books on the subject. Kaempfer’s History of Japan was a best-seller from the date of its publication in London in 1727. The author was a German doctor in the employ of the Dutch East India Company, who were the only Europeans the Tokugawa rulers would allow into Japan until 1853. He was able to make two trips to the capital of Edo, likely the largest city in the world at the time, and thus was able to observe Tokugawa society broadly.

He recorded important events (such as meeting the shogun) as well as the mundane minutiae of life. It is, hands down, the best informed and liveliest foreign account of Tokugawa Japan before the mid-19th century. Bodart-Bailey translated the text from the original German, annotated it, and wrote a very helpful…

By Englebert Kaempfer, Beatrice M. Bodart-Bailey (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Engelbert Kaempfer's work was a best-seller from the moment it was published in London in 1727 and remains one of the most valuable sources for historians of the Tokugawa period. The narrative describes what no Japanese was permitted to record (the details of the shogun's castle, for example) and what no Japanese thought worthy of recording (the minutiae of everyday life). However, all previous translations of the history oar flawed, being based on the work of an 18th century Swiss translator or that of the German editor some fifty years later who had little knowledge of Japan and resented Kaempfer's…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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