100 books like The Old Sow in the Back Room

By Harriet Sergeant,

Here are 100 books that The Old Sow in the Back Room fans have personally recommended if you like The Old Sow in the Back Room. 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.

Who am I?

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 An Artist of the Floating World

Richard C. Morais Author Of The Man with No Borders

From my list on thinking deeper about the human condition.

Who am I?

I am a journalist and a novelist. I was both Forbes Magazine’s longest serving foreign correspondent – having served 18 years in London as their European Bureau Chief – and wrote the feel-good international best-seller The Hundred-Foot Journey, a novel that Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey made into a much-loved 2014 film starring Helen Mirren. These twin careers have shaped my approach to writing in that I believe a good micro-story (fiction) should also make astute macro points (journalism). So, the journeys my characters undertake in my novels are also trying to address points about the world or life or humanity at large.

Richard's book list on thinking deeper about the human condition

Richard C. Morais Why did Richard love this book?

The Nobel-prize winning laureate has written many more famous books dealing with the human condition, most notably The Remains of the Day and Never Let me Go, but this is, to my mind, his best rumination on humanity's familiar ache. Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day is a flawless book and similarly themed, but there is something about the post-war regrets, delusions, and self-justifications of the aging Japanese artist Masuji Ono that just slay me and make me want to weep. Ishiguro is of course the king of unreliable narrators, so I don't want to give away the big reveal here, but how denial of the truth and self-delusion can misdirect us in life, is at the core of this masterful insight into the human condition.

By Kazuo Ishiguro,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked An Artist of the Floating World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

*Kazuo Ishiguro's new novel Klara and the Sun is now available*

SHORTLISTED FOR THE BOOKER PRIZE
WINNER OF THE WHITBREAD (NOW COSTA) BOOK OF THE YEAR

1948: Japan is rebuilding her cities after the calamity of World War II, her people putting defeat behind them and looking to the future. The celebrated painter Masuji Ono fills his days attending to his garden, his two grown daughters and his grandson, and his evenings drinking with old associates in quiet lantern-lit bars. His should be a tranquil retirement. But as his memories continually return to the past - to a life and…


Book cover of The Shogun’s Queen

Peter Popham Author Of Tokyo: The City at the End of the World

From my list on modern Japan.

Who am I?

As a teenager, I became fascinated by Japan – by the mysteries of Zen, the exotic atmosphere cooked up by its great novelists, the serene beauty of the countryside captured in old photographs. Then I moved to Tokyo and for eleven years was immersed in Japanese culture. It was like getting to know a complex human being, I went from bafflement and revulsion through fascination and infatuation, arriving at a degree of understanding and affection. I love Japan and feel I know it quite intimately. But the variety of books on my list give an idea of how many different ways this great, elusive civilization can be approached.

Peter's book list on modern Japan

Peter Popham Why did Peter love this book?

Japan was ejected from centuries of tranquil isolation by the arrival of the American Commodore Perry’s menacing ‘Black Ships’ in 1853, and then began the tumultuous decades from which modern Japan emerged. With deep knowledge born of many years living in Japan, Lesley Downer has wrested four wonderfully romantic yarns from this fascinating era, of which The Shogun’s Queen is the first: the tale, rooted in true events, of how a brave woman from Japan’s deep south risks all to save the old regime.

By Lesley Downer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The year is 1853, and a young Japanese girl's world is about to be turned upside down.

When black ships carrying barbarians arrive on the shores of Japan, the Satsuma clan's way of life is threatened. But it's not just the samurai who must come together to fight: the beautiful, headstrong Okatsu is also given a new destiny by her feudal lord - to save the realm.

Armed only with a new name, Princess Atsu, as she is now known, journeys to the women's palace of Edo Castle, a place so secret it cannot be marked on any map. Behind…


Book cover of Ghosts of the Tsunami: Death and Life in Japan's Disaster Zone

Peter Popham Author Of Tokyo: The City at the End of the World

From my list on modern Japan.

Who am I?

As a teenager, I became fascinated by Japan – by the mysteries of Zen, the exotic atmosphere cooked up by its great novelists, the serene beauty of the countryside captured in old photographs. Then I moved to Tokyo and for eleven years was immersed in Japanese culture. It was like getting to know a complex human being, I went from bafflement and revulsion through fascination and infatuation, arriving at a degree of understanding and affection. I love Japan and feel I know it quite intimately. But the variety of books on my list give an idea of how many different ways this great, elusive civilization can be approached.

Peter's book list on modern Japan

Peter Popham Why did Peter love this book?

Northern Japan was struck by one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded in 2011, followed by a disastrous tsunami in which thousands died. Lloyd Parry spent years visiting and interviewing the survivors, bringing back riveting accounts of what it means to have your life shattered by such a catastrophe and to live among the debris. These include one man’s description of being swallowed alive by the giant wave then spat out into the house of a relative which reads like a modern myth.

By Richard Lloyd Parry,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

**WINNER OF THE RATHBONES FOLIO PRIZE**

'The definitive book on the quake which killed more than 15,000 people.' Mail Online
'You will not read a finer work of narrative non-fiction this year.' Economist
'A breathtaking, extraordinary work of non-fiction.' Times Literary Supplement
'A future classic of disaster journalism.' Observer

On 11 March 2011, a massive earthquake sent a 120-foot-high tsunami smashing into the coast of north-east Japan. By the time the sea retreated, more than 18,500 people had been crushed, burned to death, or drowned.

It was Japan's greatest single loss of life since the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. It…


Book cover of Low City, High City: Tokyo from Edo to the Earthquake, 1867-1923

Michael Pronko Author Of Tokyo Traffic

From my list on Tokyo’s essence.

Who am I?

My four novels and three sets of writings are all about Tokyo. I rely not only on my daily observations, personal experiences, and reactions to the city, but on the responses of others to the city. I’ve used all these books to better understand the place where I’ve lived and worked for over two decades. I’ve written about various aspects of Japan for numerous publications, editorials for The Japan Times, art and architecture reviews for Artscape Japan, personal columns on Tokyo life for Newsweek Japan, and reviews and interviews on the vibrant jazz scene for my Jazz in Japan website. I continue to find Tokyo a mesmerizing place to spend my working and writing—and wandering—life. Living here is like traveling every day.

Michael's book list on Tokyo’s essence

Michael Pronko Why did Michael love this book?

This marvelous history of Tokyo focuses on the transformative 50 years from the end of the Tokugawa (Edo) period in 1867 to the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923. Translator and Japanologist Seidensticker tells the history like the grand journey it was. His narrative is fascinating, with more insights than facts, and it flows with the skill of someone who translated the great Japanese novelists Junichiro Tanizaki, Kafu Nagai, and Yasunari Kawabata, among others. Seidensticker includes thoughtfully chosen details as Tokyo emerges from a feudal society into a modern, industrial state. Seidensticker’s follow-up Tokyo Rising is also recommended.

By Edward G. Seidensticker,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Presents a cultural history of Toyko, tracing transformations and preservations and East-West collisions, from the Meiji Restoration of 1867 to the Earthquake of 1923


Book cover of Yamada Monogatari: Demon Hunter

Alina Lee Author Of Paper Crane Memories

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

Who am I?

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?

For me, it's hard to find stories that are so willing to dive into the feel of a bygone era, especially one that is potentially as obscure to some audiences as the Heian period of Japan. Set in a period of slow change, this short story collection combines the tensions of the period (a rising warrior class, Shinto vs Buddhist religious tensions, factions in the imperial court) in combination with the rich variety of strange beings in the folklore of Japan. I love how it paints a picture of a world that is simultaneously grounded in human motivations and populated by the esoteric and supernatural.

By Richard Parks,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In an ancient Japan where the incursions of gods, ghosts, and demons into the living world is an everyday event, an impoverished nobleman named Yamada no Goji makes his living as a demon hunter for hire. With the occasional assistance of the reprobate exorcist Kenji, whatever the difficulty - ogres, demons, fox-spirits - for a price Yamada will do what needs to be done, even and especially if the solution to the problem isn't as simple as the edge of a sword. Yet, no matter how many monsters he has to face, or how powerful and terrible they may be,…


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.

Who am I?

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 A Maritime History of East Asia

Bruce L. Batten Author Of Gateway to Japan: Hakata in War and Peace, 500-1300

From my list on early Japan in world history.

Who am I?

I grew up on the West Coast of the US and became fascinated with Japanese culture after I enrolled in a Japanese language course in college. I changed my major from geology to Asian Studies and went on to get a doctorate in Japanese history from Stanford. The first place I lived in Japan was on the western island of Kyushu, historically Japan’s front door to the outside world. This experience led to a lifelong interest in early Japanese foreign relations. Fun fact: despite being from the US I have now lived most of my life in Japan teaching history at a Japanese university.

Bruce's book list on early Japan in world history

Bruce L. Batten Why did Bruce love this book?

OK, I had to sneak in at least one academic book; I’m a professor, after all. This book might be a little drier than some of the others, but it’s also the most up-to-date and comprehensive account of premodern Japanese international relations available in English. Most Japanese historians only publish in Japanese, so this book provides a unique window into the results of their studies for those who don’t read that language. It’s a treasure trove of information about diplomacy, war, piracy, trade, and cultural exchanges between 1250 and 1800. Who could ask for more?

By Masashi Haneda (editor), Mihoko Oka (editor),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This book takes the reader on a fascinating journey through the history of a region from the perspective of the interactions that occurred on and were facilitated by the sea. It is divided into three parts that each focus on a different hundred-year period between 1250 and 1800. The chapters in each part examine the people, goods, and information that flowed across the seas of the East Asian maritime world, facilitating cultural exchange and hybridity.

The intricate and often fraught relations between China, Japan, and Korea feature throughout, as well as those between these polities and the waves of outsiders…


Book cover of The Heike Story

Alina Lee Author Of Paper Crane Memories

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

Who am I?

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 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.

Who am I?

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 Japan, Tokyo, and Samurais?

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