100 books like They Came to Japan

By Michael Cooper,

Here are 100 books that They Came to Japan fans have personally recommended if you like They Came to Japan. 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 Book of Corrections: Reflections on the National Crisis During the Japanese Invasion of Korea, 1592-1598

Antony Cummins Author Of The Book of Ninja: The Bansenshukai - Japan's Premier Ninja Manual

From my list on hidden Japan and the real samurai.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am not the type of person who likes to say “you are wrong” in fact I am the type of person who likes to say “let us add this to the whole story”. When you picture Japan you do not picture: slavery, snake dancers, or even samurai removing their shoes outdoors in a gesture of politeness to a superior, you do not imagine Italian Jesuits, western traders, pirates, and Chinese samurai, but they are all a part of actual samurai life. It is my task to add those lost items to our understanding of Japan and the samurai, but of course, in addition to this, I have to correct the story of the ninja, simply because it is a false one. The shinobi as they should be known were disfigured in the 20th century and I want to reveal their true face.

Antony's book list on hidden Japan and the real samurai

Antony Cummins Why did Antony love this book?

This book is not a page-turner by any means, but what it does have is hidden information through imagination. It is an eyewitness account in Korean, translated into English concerning the 16th-century Japanese Invasion. It is a step-by-step recounting of how one administrator had to flee the Japanese army as they burned their way through his native lands. The hidden joy is knowing that the samurai army is on his heels and you can feel them in the shadow of the book all the way through. It was a joy to read because it allowed me to see how the Japanese behaved in real war if only from a distance and without the problems of an impassioned samurai pen behind the words. 

By Yu Song-Nyong, Choi Byonghyon,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Book of Corrections as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Korean


Book cover of Musui's Story: The Autobiography of a Tokugawa Samurai

Antony Cummins Author Of The Book of Ninja: The Bansenshukai - Japan's Premier Ninja Manual

From my list on hidden Japan and the real samurai.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am not the type of person who likes to say “you are wrong” in fact I am the type of person who likes to say “let us add this to the whole story”. When you picture Japan you do not picture: slavery, snake dancers, or even samurai removing their shoes outdoors in a gesture of politeness to a superior, you do not imagine Italian Jesuits, western traders, pirates, and Chinese samurai, but they are all a part of actual samurai life. It is my task to add those lost items to our understanding of Japan and the samurai, but of course, in addition to this, I have to correct the story of the ninja, simply because it is a false one. The shinobi as they should be known were disfigured in the 20th century and I want to reveal their true face.

Antony's book list on hidden Japan and the real samurai

Antony Cummins Why did Antony love this book?

There is samurai culture as understood by most people, involving bushido, loyalty, honour, and truth and then there is this book, an autobiography by a real samurai about the honest truth about actually being a samurai. Part criminal, part reluctant warrior, this man’s story is one of passion, hardship, and eventual love for his family. It is one of the greatest windows into actual Japanese life, and again, it is not a best seller and is maybe now out of print. If you want to know what a samurai’s life was like after the wars with nothing to do but to just be a samurai, look no further, this is one of my most cherished books.

By Katsu Kokichi, Teruko Craig (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Musui's Story as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


A series of picaresque adventures set against the backdrop of a Japan still closed off from the rest of the world, Musui's Story recounts the escapades of samurai Katsu Kokichi. As it depicts Katsu stealing, brawling, indulging in the pleasure quarters, and getting the better of authorities, it also provides a refreshing perspective on Japanese society, customs, economy, and human relationships.

From childhood, Katsu was given to mischief. He ran away from home, once at thirteen, making his way as a beggar on the great trunk road between Edo and Kyoto, and again at twenty, posing as the emissary of…


Book cover of Samurai William: The Englishman Who Opened Japan

Antony Cummins Author Of The Book of Ninja: The Bansenshukai - Japan's Premier Ninja Manual

From my list on hidden Japan and the real samurai.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am not the type of person who likes to say “you are wrong” in fact I am the type of person who likes to say “let us add this to the whole story”. When you picture Japan you do not picture: slavery, snake dancers, or even samurai removing their shoes outdoors in a gesture of politeness to a superior, you do not imagine Italian Jesuits, western traders, pirates, and Chinese samurai, but they are all a part of actual samurai life. It is my task to add those lost items to our understanding of Japan and the samurai, but of course, in addition to this, I have to correct the story of the ninja, simply because it is a false one. The shinobi as they should be known were disfigured in the 20th century and I want to reveal their true face.

Antony's book list on hidden Japan and the real samurai

Antony Cummins Why did Antony love this book?

At the moment Yasuke - the Black Samurai is very prominent in the samurai enthusiast community, and rightly so, he was an African samurai who made his way up the ranks. However, not much is known about his story, so while it is fascinating, there is too little documentation to delve further. This is not the case with William Adams, a Londoner who made his way to Japan, who not only became a samurai but then also became a banner-man (Hatamoto) and leader of a small state. We have so much historical documentation about him and his story is captivating.

While he only arrived at the end of the wars, he was still around at one of the most important times of Japanese history. He never made it back home, but this was one Englishman who made his mark on Japanese culture. Something I hope to do.

By Giles Milton,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

An eye-opening account of the first encounter between England and Japan, by the acclaimed author of Nathaniel's Nutmeg.

In 1611, the merchants of London's East India Company received a mysterious letter from Japan, written several years previously by a marooned English mariner named William Adams. Foreigners had been denied access to Japan for centuries, yet Adams had been living in this unknown land for years. He had risen to the highest levels in the ruling shogun's court, taken a Japanese name, and was now offering his services as adviser and interpreter.

Seven adventurers were sent to Japan with orders to…


Book cover of Seppuku: A History of Samurai Suicide

Antony Cummins Author Of The Book of Ninja: The Bansenshukai - Japan's Premier Ninja Manual

From my list on hidden Japan and the real samurai.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am not the type of person who likes to say “you are wrong” in fact I am the type of person who likes to say “let us add this to the whole story”. When you picture Japan you do not picture: slavery, snake dancers, or even samurai removing their shoes outdoors in a gesture of politeness to a superior, you do not imagine Italian Jesuits, western traders, pirates, and Chinese samurai, but they are all a part of actual samurai life. It is my task to add those lost items to our understanding of Japan and the samurai, but of course, in addition to this, I have to correct the story of the ninja, simply because it is a false one. The shinobi as they should be known were disfigured in the 20th century and I want to reveal their true face.

Antony's book list on hidden Japan and the real samurai

Antony Cummins Why did Antony love this book?

Who does not know about Seppuku, or Hara-kiri (also incorrectly said as Hari-Kari)? Andrew in his book gives a great in-depth discussion about its history, its customs, and its position in Japanese society. I have no idea why this book is not a best seller. I know I have used it in my own books more than once. People think they know about ritual suicide in Japanese culture, but more often than not it is “movie knowledge” and Andrew’s book is a solid piece of research on the subject, it should be in every samurai fan’s book collection. 

By Andrew Rankin,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A collection of thrilling samurai tales tracing the history of seppuku from ancient times to the twentieth century. The history of seppuku -- Japanese ritual suicide by cutting the stomach, sometimes referred to as hara-kiri -- spans a millennium, and came to be favoured by samurai as an honourable form of death. Here, for the first time in English, is a book that charts the history of seppuku from ancient times to the twentieth century through a collection of swashbuckling tales from history and literature.


Book cover of Khubilai Khan’s Lost Fleet: In Search of a Legendary Armada

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

From my list on early Japan in world history.

Why am I passionate about this?

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?

What could be cooler than underwater archaeology? This book tells the incredible story of how Mongol emperor Kublai Khan attempted to conquer Japan, not once, but twice in the late twelfth century. Both invasions were unsuccessful, and Kublai’s second fleet was sunk by a “divine wind” or kamikaze in the waters off Kyushu island in western Japan—only to be rediscovered in modern times by underwater archaeologists.

By James P. Delgado,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Khubilai Khan’s Lost Fleet as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1279, near what is now Hong Kong, Mongol ruler Khubilai Khan fulfilled the dream of his grandfather, Genghis Khan, by conquering China. The Grand Khan now ruled the largest empire the world has ever seen - one that stretched from the China Sea to the plains of Hungary. He also inherited the world's largest navy - more than seven hundred ships. Yet within fifteen years, Khubilai Khan's massive fleet was gone. What actually happened to the Mongol navy, considered for seven centuries to be little more than legend, has finally been revealed. Renowned archaeologist and historian James P. Delgado…


Book cover of Ennin's Travels in T'ang China

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

From my list on early Japan in world history.

Why am I passionate about this?

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?

This book is also old but I have always loved it. It’s the best thing ever written by Edwin Reischauer, the pioneer historian of Japan and also US Ambassador to that country during the Kennedy administration. It follows Ennin, a ninth-century Japanese Buddhist monk, on his visit to the glorious and cosmopolitan Tang empire in China together with a group of Japanese diplomats. Travel then was very different from travel now; to go by ship across the East China Sea was to take your very life into your hands. What an adventure!

By Edwin O. Reischauer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ennin's Travels in T'ang China as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book, a reconstruction of daily life and ways of thought in China during the ninth century, is based on an extensive travel diary of that time. The diarist Ennin was a Japanese Buddhist monk who went to China in AD 838 in search of new Buddhist texts and further enlightenment in his faith. While journeying through North China, and living in Ch’ang-an, he recorded in detail what he saw and experienced.

Edwin O. Reischauer presents—often in Ennin’s own words—a series of vignettes of various aspects of life in the Far East in medieval times: embassies and the conduct of…


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.

Why am I passionate about this?

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 Ainu: Spirit of a Northern People

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

From my list on early Japan in world history.

Why am I passionate about this?

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?

This one might seem a bit of a stretch. If you are familiar with the Ainu you know they are an ethnic minority from Japan’s northern island, Hokkaido, whose culture exhibits many similarities to that of native Americans from the Pacific Northwest. So why would a book about the Ainu have anything to do with foreign relations or Japan in world history? Well, because Hokkaido was originally not part of Japan and the Ainu were independent of their southern neighbors. This book, an exhibition catalogue, is not only the single best source of information in English about Ainu history and culture but also a visual feast.

By Arctic Studies Center (National Museum of Natural History),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

As soon as the Ainu became known outside Japan in the early 1800s, scholars recognized that their history was different from that of surrounding Japanese, Korean, and Siberian peoples. This book presents a broad range of contemporary scholarship on Ainu studies by leading European, American, and Japanese scholars, and by native Ainu artists and cultural leaders. Using materials from early, unpublished Ainu collections in North America, supplemented by archaeological, archival, and modern Ainu art from Japan, Ainu culture is presented here as a rich blend of traditional and modern belief. Like other extant native cultures, the Ainu have survived by…


Book cover of Japan from Prehistory to Modern Times

David Flath Author Of The Japanese Economy

From my list on captivating Japanese history.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a retired economics professor from the US who studied Japan for most of my 46-year career and have lived in Kyoto since 2008. I first visited Kyoto in 1981, naively hoping to revel in the splendors of the Heian era, and was disappointed to find that the physical manifestations of medieval Japan as evoked in The Tale of Genji had vanished. But the persisting legacy of that ancient age is still evident to the trained observer. Japan today embodies its past. It's not enough to know that Japan today is a prosperous country. Curious people also want to know how it got that way. The roots lie deep in the past. 

David's book list on captivating Japanese history

David Flath Why did David love this book?

The best way to start one’s reading about Japanese history is to pick a short overview written by an expert who writes well. This decades-old book is a splendid example of that and still the best in my opinion. Hall was an American who grew up in prewar Japan and spent his later years as a distinguished scholar of premodern Japanese history at Yale University. The book is a joy to read and identifies the main historic events from prehistoric time up through the American occupation that ended in 1952.

By John Whitney Hall,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Japan from Prehistory to Modern Times as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


Japan: From Prehistory to Modern Times has a heavy emphasis upon the premodern period of Japanese history. No attempt has been made to provide the usual kind of textbook completeness. Hall’s fascination with Japanese history lies within the manner in which Japan’s political and social institutions have changed and diversified over time and how this fundamentally “Eastern” culture gave rise to a modern world power. Japan is today a modern nation in the full sense of the term. Yet its history is less familiar to us than the histories of those Western powers that it has now outstripped, or of…


Book cover of The World of the Shining Prince: Court Life in Ancient Japan

David Flath Author Of The Japanese Economy

From my list on captivating Japanese history.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a retired economics professor from the US who studied Japan for most of my 46-year career and have lived in Kyoto since 2008. I first visited Kyoto in 1981, naively hoping to revel in the splendors of the Heian era, and was disappointed to find that the physical manifestations of medieval Japan as evoked in The Tale of Genji had vanished. But the persisting legacy of that ancient age is still evident to the trained observer. Japan today embodies its past. It's not enough to know that Japan today is a prosperous country. Curious people also want to know how it got that way. The roots lie deep in the past. 

David's book list on captivating Japanese history

David Flath Why did David love this book?

This is essential background for any reader of the Tale of Genji, the famous novel written by Murasaki Shikibu in the early 11th century. In a breezy style that pulls the reader along, Morris describes how the court nobles of Heian—the original name for  Kyoto—had created a distinctive high culture inspired by borrowings from China but uniquely Japanese. We learn about a polygamous society in which males among the court nobles competed for the affection of high-born females through poetry and aesthetics. Political ambitions were channeled into the pursuit of higher social rank rather than into government works and policies. That last sentence could describe Japanese politics of today. Readers of this book will learn that even in the eleventh century, Japan already had a sophisticated culture, government, and style of life. The nation’s economic development has roots that extend at least that far into the past. 

By Ivan Morris,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Ivan Morris’s definitive and widely acclaimed portrait of the ceremonious and melancholy world of ancient Japan.

Using The Tale of Genji and other major literary works from Japan’s Heian period as a frame of reference, The World of the Shining Prince recreates an era when women set the cultural tone. Focusing on the world of the emperor’s court—a world deeply admired by Virginia Woolf, among others—renowned scholar of Japanese history and literature Ivan Morris explores the politics, society, religious life, and superstitions of the period.

Offering readers detailed portrayals of the daily lives of courtiers, the cult of beauty they…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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