100 books like The Lady and the Monk

By Pico Iyer,

Here are 100 books that The Lady and the Monk fans have personally recommended if you like The Lady and the Monk. 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 River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze

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?

I love just about anything Peter writes, but this book is special; it’s his first, about his stint as a Peace Corps volunteer in China in the late 1990s, just about the time I moved to Laos. It was a great inspiration to me: the perfect combination of personal memoir and cultural insight.

Bonus: Peter continues to write for the New Yorker magazine about his students from all those years ago and what they are up to today.

By Peter Hessler,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked River Town as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When Peter Hessler went to China in the late 1990s, he expected to spend a couple of peaceful years teaching English in the town of Fuling on the Yangtze River. But what he experienced - the natural beauty, cultural tension, and complex process of understanding that takes place when one is thrust into a radically different society - surpassed anything he could have imagined. Hessler observes firsthand how major events such as the death of Deng Xiaoping, the return of Hong Kong to the mainland, and the controversial consturction of the Three Gorges Dam have affected even the people of…


Book cover of The Lover

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?

I guess that this book doesn’t really count, as Duras was born and grew up in Vietnam; a Frenchwoman in Indochina, she wasn’t living abroad.

Her portrayal of her own coming of age and sexual awakening (still rather controversial to many) illuminates not only the way colonial society was structured but also larger themes of love and loss.

It was one of the first things I read before moving to Laos, and her voice, singular and astonishing, has never left me. 

By Marguerite Duras, Barbara Bray (translator),

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Lover as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A sensational international bestseller, and winner of Frances' coveted Prix Goncourt, 'The Lover' is an unforgettable portrayal of the incandescent relationship between two lovers, and of the hate that slowly tears the girl's family apart.

Saigon, 1930s: a poor young French girl meets the elegant son of a wealthy Chinese family. Soon they are lovers, locked into a private world of passion and intensity that defies all the conventions of their society.

A sensational international bestseller, 'The Lover' is disturbing, erotic, masterly and simply unforgettable.


Book cover of Iron & Silk

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?

Another inspiration for me was Mark’s first book, about his experience in the 1980s teaching English and studying martial arts in China. One of the first books to explore life in China after the reforms that followed the excesses of the Cultural Revolution, this book has become a classic.

A few years after this book was published, he even starred in a film adaptation! I’m a little old to do that now.

By Mark Salzman,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Iron & Silk as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This large print edition recounts the true adventures of a young martial arts student in China. Told as a series of lightly sketched episodes, the book allows the reader a glimpse of Chinese culture largely unaccessible to foreigners.


Book cover of Kyoto: A Contemplative Guide

John Dougill Author Of Kyoto: A Cultural History

From my list on understanding Kyoto.

Why am I passionate about this?

Kyoto is one of the world’s great cities. I first came here in 1994, its 1200th anniversary, and was entranced by its many treasures. In the city’s river basin were fostered the traditional arts and crafts of Japan. This is the city of Zen, Noh, the tea ceremony, geisha, moss and rock gardens, not to mention the aristocratic aesthetes of the Heian Era. Here in the ancient capital are imperial estates and no fewer than 17 World Heritage sites, including the Golden Pavilion and the divine Byodo-in. Faced with this wealth of wonders, I tried to weave them into a coherent story – the story of a most remarkable city.

John's book list on understanding Kyoto

John Dougill Why did John love this book?

This was my introduction to the major sights of Kyoto. As well as providing essential information, there is an extra section suggesting how to value each sight on a deeper level. It helped me appreciate just how special Kyoto is. That it has stayed in print for so long is testimony to its worth.

By Gouverneur Mosher,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This Kyoto travel guide presents the best tourists sites in Japan's spiritual and historical capital.

With this guide the visitor needs no further assistance to learn all that a place has to offer. It is factual, concise, and complete. This Japan travel book is generously illustrated with photographs, maps, route plans, and building plans, as well as a selection of reproductions from old prints and picture scrolls.

The sights were specifically chosen to give foreign visitors a broad understanding of Kyoto's political, religious, and cultural history. Among them are the ancient Phoenix Hall of the Byodo-in, the famous rock garden…


Book cover of Exploring Kyoto: On Foot in the Ancient Capital

John Dougill Author Of Kyoto: A Cultural History

From my list on understanding Kyoto.

Why am I passionate about this?

Kyoto is one of the world’s great cities. I first came here in 1994, its 1200th anniversary, and was entranced by its many treasures. In the city’s river basin were fostered the traditional arts and crafts of Japan. This is the city of Zen, Noh, the tea ceremony, geisha, moss and rock gardens, not to mention the aristocratic aesthetes of the Heian Era. Here in the ancient capital are imperial estates and no fewer than 17 World Heritage sites, including the Golden Pavilion and the divine Byodo-in. Faced with this wealth of wonders, I tried to weave them into a coherent story – the story of a most remarkable city.

John's book list on understanding Kyoto

John Dougill Why did John love this book?

Kyoto is known for its many famous sights. But wandering around the backstreets and through the many pockets of nature brings rewards of a completely different kind. Armed with this guide by long-term resident Judith Clancy, I enjoyed many happy days exploring lesser-known routes while appreciating the advice about places to eat and what to look at.

By Judith Clancy,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This revised and updated edition of the Japan travel classic and cultural guide gets you wandering from downtown quarters to remote mountaintop temples and features expanded information on new museums and gardens now open year-round for viewing.

Judith Clancy's expert research weaves a rich narrative of Kyoto's history, local lore, and artistic and religious background to guide you through your journey.

Includes:

31 explorations including 5 mountain routes, 17 World Heritage Sites, Arashiyama, Kiyomizu-dera, Philosopher's Walk, the city's 6 Zen temple complexes, and much more Detailed maps tracing each route Over 30 descriptive photos Tips on etiquette and behavior A…


Book cover of The Pillow Book

John Dougill Author Of Kyoto: A Cultural History

From my list on understanding Kyoto.

Why am I passionate about this?

Kyoto is one of the world’s great cities. I first came here in 1994, its 1200th anniversary, and was entranced by its many treasures. In the city’s river basin were fostered the traditional arts and crafts of Japan. This is the city of Zen, Noh, the tea ceremony, geisha, moss and rock gardens, not to mention the aristocratic aesthetes of the Heian Era. Here in the ancient capital are imperial estates and no fewer than 17 World Heritage sites, including the Golden Pavilion and the divine Byodo-in. Faced with this wealth of wonders, I tried to weave them into a coherent story – the story of a most remarkable city.

John's book list on understanding Kyoto

John Dougill Why did John love this book?

Still today Kyoto is haunted by the magic of its Heian past (794-1185), when an aristocratic elite indulged in aesthetic pursuits, particularly poetry writing. Without an understanding of the period, it is impossible to understand modern Kyoto. The classic work is The Tale of Genji, but it is too heavy a tome to carry around, so the much slimmer and more accessible Pillow Book is recommended. I loved the Willdean wit, the sharp observations, and the intriguing lists. I’m sure you will too, for unlike Genji it has not dated. 

By Sei Shonagon, Arthur Waley (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In the tenth century, Japan was both physically and culturally isolated from the rest of the world. The Pillow Book recaptures this lost world with the diary of a young court lady. Sei Shōnagon was a contemporary of Murasaki Shikibu, who wrote the well-known novel The Tale of Genji. Unlike the latter's fictionalized view of the Heian-era court, Shōnagon's journal provides a lively miscellany of anecdotes, observations, and gossip, intended to be read in juicy bits and pieces.
This unique volume was first rendered into English in 1889. In 1928, Arthur Waley, a seminal figure in the Western studies of…


Book cover of Geisha of Gion: The True Story of Japan's Foremost Geisha (Memoir of Mineko Iwasaki)

John Dougill Author Of Kyoto: A Cultural History

From my list on understanding Kyoto.

Why am I passionate about this?

Kyoto is one of the world’s great cities. I first came here in 1994, its 1200th anniversary, and was entranced by its many treasures. In the city’s river basin were fostered the traditional arts and crafts of Japan. This is the city of Zen, Noh, the tea ceremony, geisha, moss and rock gardens, not to mention the aristocratic aesthetes of the Heian Era. Here in the ancient capital are imperial estates and no fewer than 17 World Heritage sites, including the Golden Pavilion and the divine Byodo-in. Faced with this wealth of wonders, I tried to weave them into a coherent story – the story of a most remarkable city.

John's book list on understanding Kyoto

John Dougill Why did John love this book?

For many tourists, Kyoto is synonymous with geisha and maiko (geisha in training). With their gorgeous clothing and white faces, they epitomise exoticism. However, those of us who live here see them with greater respect, for we know how hard the training is and how they embody the rich tradition of Kyoto arts and crafts. Memoirs of a Geisha was a worldwide hit, but the fiction gave an outdated picture. Personally, I find the Geisha of Gion to be more revealing and written by a true insider. 

By Mineko Iwasaki,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The extraordinary, bestselling memoir from Japan's foremost geisha.
'A glimpse into the exotic, mysterious, tinged-with-eroticism world of the almost mythical geisha' Val Hennessy, Daily Mail
'[An] eloquent and innovative memoir' The Times

'I can identify the exact moment when things began to change. It was a cold winter afternoon. I had just turned three.'

Emerging shyly from her hiding place, Mineko encounters Madam Oima, the formidable proprietress of a prolific geisha house in Gion. Madam Oima is mesmerised by the child's black hair and black eyes: she has found her successor. And so Mineko is gently, but firmly, prised away…


Book cover of Lost Japan: Last Glimpse of Beautiful Japan

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?

So many people come to Japan hoping to see the twisty streets lined with traditional wooden houses and little manicured gardens and feel a bit let down when they realize how much of it has been lost. I was (and in a way still am) one of those people.

Earthquakes, war, and a love for the new have caused much of the Japanese landscape to lose its traditional views. While at some points a little out of date, Kerr has a wonderful way of capturing the beauty of the old and how the new has taken hold. This is not an uplifting book, but it does give a wonderful insight into some of the more closed worlds within Japanese society, as well. 

By Alex Kerr,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

An enchanting and fascinating insight into Japanese landscape, culture, history and future.

Originally written in Japanese, this passionate, vividly personal book draws on the author's experiences in Japan over thirty years. Alex Kerr brings to life the ritualized world of Kabuki, retraces his initiation into Tokyo's boardrooms during the heady Bubble Years, and tells the story of the hidden valley that became his home.

But the book is not just a love letter. Haunted throughout by nostalgia for the Japan of old, Kerr's book is part paean to that great country and culture, part epitaph in the face of contemporary…


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.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Kyoto, Japan, and zen?

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