100 books like Tokyo

By Stephen Mansfield,

Here are 100 books that Tokyo fans have personally recommended if you like Tokyo. 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 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 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.

Why am I passionate about this?

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 Tokyo Megacity

Michael Pronko Author Of Tokyo Traffic

From my list on Tokyo’s essence.

Why am I passionate about this?

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?

If you have to buy only one book on Tokyo, you’d be missing out on a lot, but this might be a contender. Organized by areas of Tokyo, the short essays are written by Donald Richie, Tokyo’s pre-eminent foreign resident, film historian, essayist, novelist, and translator. Having lived most of his life in Tokyo, he understood the city as well as anyone, Japanese writers included. He packs in fantastic quotes from Japanese writers, western theorists, and early foreign chroniclers amid his own quietly elegant prose. Picture books tend to make me roll my eyes, but Ben Simmons’ photographs are a lesson in how to look at and understand the essentials of Tokyo. Unlike many books, the photo captions are precise and informative. Simmons has numerous other photography collections on Japan, so he’s chosen some of his best work to include here.

By Donald Richie, Ben Simmons (photographer),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This photographic Tokyo travel guide explores the dynamic Japanese culture, art and architecture that make Tokyo a unique, world-class city.

It has been said that "every city has its high points, but Tokyo is all exclamation points!" The largest and most populous city in the world, Tokyo is best experienced in-person. The next best way? Through Tokyo Megacity-a visual and descriptive exploration of a city that combines old with new and traditional with trendy, like no other city in the world.

This extraordinary book explores Tokyo through more than 250 revealing photographs by well-known photographer Ben Simmons and over 30…


Book cover of Tokyo Totem - A Guide To Tokyo

Michael Pronko Author Of Tokyo Traffic

From my list on Tokyo’s essence.

Why am I passionate about this?

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?

Tokyo can be a quirky place, which of course requires a quirky guidebook. This collection of essays, illustrations, photos, and photo essays are a good way to delve into the unique elements of Tokyo. The chaotic approach of the book ranges from photos to personal musings to sketches to abstract concepts about everything from sidewalk markings, bathhouses, urban building design, aerial views, nature, fashion, family homes—the entire range of Tokyo’s interiors and exteriors. In short, the book doesn’t really cohere, but then, neither does Tokyo. That’s what makes the city so fascinating, and so confusing. This is less a guide in the traditional sense than an intriguing series of suggestions about the overwhelming experience of Tokyo.

By Christiaan Fruneaux (editor), Edwin Gardner (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Tokyo Totem - A Guide To Tokyo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This publication is the result of a collaboration between international and Japanese authors and makers from various disciplines. What they have in common is their interest and fascination with cities, and in particular Tokyos urban culture. Everybodys efforts resulted in the essays, maps, photo essays, collages, poems, mangas, and observations that have been collected in this book that is hard to categorize. It is called a guide, not because it helps you to find places to see, eat or drink, but because it helps you to read and see the city differently. Each contribution lets you experience a different city.…


Book cover of The Thief

Milena Michiko Flašar Author Of Mr Kato Plays Family

From my list on diving into modern Japan from someone half Japanese.

Why am I passionate about this?

As someone half-Japanese who grew up in Austria, I've spent the last few years making sense of my relationship to my mother’s homeland. My mother spoke Japanese to us children from an early age, and we spent many childhood summers with our grandparents in Okayama. Because of this, my mother's home feels intimate and familiar to me. But it is also distant and foreign, and it is precisely this unknown, the seemingly exotic and mysterious, that I hope to approach through reading. For me, Japan is a kind of poetic space I set my characters in. In my last three books Japan was both the setting and the secret protagonist.

Milena's book list on diving into modern Japan from someone half Japanese

Milena Michiko Flašar Why did Milena love this book?

From the start, the reader can’t help but notice a tower looming in the distance.

The image has something threatening about it, and also deeply significant; the tower will continue to surface over the course of the novel’s unfolding, when certain fateful moments in the plot become clear, as well as the inescapable and hopeless nature of the main character entangled in it.

For me this book is so much more than “just” a crime novel, like it says on the cover. It is an existential masterwork. Slim, though so much is contained within its pages! The reader stays close at the pickpocket’s heels, following him breathlessly through a maze of streets, at the end of which stands the tower, appearing and disappearing in the distance. Nakamura has been compared to Dostoyevsky.

In my opinion, he doesn’t need that ascription. He is Nakamura – through and through. And for anyone…

By Fuminori Nakamura,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Nishimura is a seasoned pickpocket, weaving through Tokyo's crowded streets, in search of potential targets. He has no family, no friends, no connections ...But he does have a past, which finally catches up with him when his old partner-in-crime reappears and offers him a job he can't refuse. Suddenly, Nishimura finds himself caught in a web so tangled and intricate that even he might not be able to escape. Taut, atmospheric and cool, The Thief will steal your breath away.


Book cover of Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan

Brian Klingborg Author Of Thief of Souls

From my list on international crime both fiction and nonfiction.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in a small town in the days before the internet and cable television, so books were my escape, and through them, I traveled to faraway places and learned about different customs and cultures. Later, I studied Chinese cultural anthropology and lived and worked in Asia for many years. Now, I write a series about a Chinese police inspector in the brutally cold far north province of Heilongjiang and use mystery stories to unpack some of the more fascinating and essential aspects of Chinese society, politics, and religion.

Brian's book list on international crime both fiction and nonfiction

Brian Klingborg Why did Brian love this book?

This is an autobiographical tale by an American journalist on the crime beat in Tokyo.

It’s not only a riveting tour of the underbelly of Japanese society – hostess bars, yakuza gangs, murder, and mayhem – it’s a fascinating cultural journey.

The author, Jake Adelstein, studied at a Japanese university and fell into journalism almost as an afterthought.

His description of the stringent procedures for getting hired, the brutally hierarchical nature of working for a major Japanese daily, and his growth as an intrepid investigative reporter is a must-read for anyone interested in Japanese culture, society, media, and crime.

By Jake Adelstein,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A riveting true-life tale of newspaper noir and Japanese organised crime from an American investigative journalist. Soon to be a Max Original Series on HBO Max

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EITHER ERASE THE STORY, OR WE'LL ERASE YOU. AND MAYBE YOUR FAMILY. BUT WE'LL DO THEM FIRST, SO YOU LEARN YOUR LESSON BEFORE YOU DIE.

From the only American journalist ever to have been admitted to the insular Tokyo Metropolitan Police press club: a unique, first-hand, revelatory look at Japanese culture from the underbelly up.

At nineteen, Jake Adelstein went to Japan in search of peace and tranquility. What he got was a…


Book cover of Scandal

Peter Tasker Author Of Samurai Boogie

From my list on Tokyo noir: dark deeds in the neon wonderland.

Why am I passionate about this?

Japan has been my home for many decades. I know the world of business and finance inside out, and have an obsessive interest in art, film, and literature. I’ve written several books, fiction and non-fiction, and countless articles on Japan-related subjects, as you can see on my blog. I think I may have actually been Japanese in a previous life…

Peter's book list on Tokyo noir: dark deeds in the neon wonderland

Peter Tasker Why did Peter love this book?

Imagine you are a respected member of the literary establishment, a prize-winning novelist, and, a rare thing in Japan, a devout Christian. A man like the real Shusaku Endo, in fact. Suddenly, rumors start circulating that you have been seen frequently in a raunchy part of town, partying into the wee wee hours with hookers and taking women to love hotels. You catch glimpses of a strange face at various events. It is your own face but wearing a horrible lewd sneer. Who is this person? What is going on? Endo has come up with a taut psychological thriller that explores the deep contradictions of the human heart. As well as being a Christian, Endo is a leading expert on the Marquis de Sade.

By Shusaku Endo, Van C. Gessel,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Suguro is an eminent Catholic novelist who is about to receive a major literary award. When a drunk woman he has never met before approaches him at the award ceremony, claiming she knows him well from his regular visits to Tokyo’s red-light district, he assumes she must surely be mistaken. But with a scurrilous press campaign damaging Suguro’s reputation, his sleazy doppelgänger appears more and more, as if deliberately trying to discredit him. He is sighted touring the love hotels and brothels of Shinjuku; a leering portrait of him appears in an exhibition—and Suguro is forced to undertake a journey…


Book cover of Inheritance from Mother

Karen Laura Thornber Author Of Global Healing: Literature, Advocacy, Care

From my list on aging and end-of-life decisions and care.

Why am I passionate about this?

Karen Thornber is Harry Tuchman Levin Professor in Literature and Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard. Her work brings humanistic insights to global challenges.  Thornber is the author of the award-winning scholarly books Empire of Texts in Motion and Ecoambiguity as well as most recently Global Healing: Literature, Advocacy, Care. Current projects include books on gender justice in Asia, mental health, inequality/injustice, sustainability/climate change, and indigeneity.

Karen's book list on aging and end-of-life decisions and care

Karen Laura Thornber Why did Karen love this book?

This expertly translated novel draws from the prolific Japanese writer Mizumura Minae’s experiences caring for her aging parents and eloquently exposes the vulnerability of women whose elderly family members require substantial care. To be sure, financial security mitigates precarity as does having professional caregivers who respect the family’s wishes concerning the medical treatment of their ailing loved ones. At the same time, Inheritance emphasizes that with so many younger individuals already overextended – whether because of their own health concerns, spousal conflicts, childcare responsibilities, employment challenges, and other factors – there are few reserves with which to compassionately care for others.

By Minae Mizumura, Juliet Winters Carpenter (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Now in paperback, this Osaragi Jiro Award-winning novel demystifies the notion of the selfless Japanese mother and the adult daughter honor-bound to care for her.

Mitsuki Katsura, a Japanese woman in her mid-fifties, is a French-language instructor at a private university in Tokyo. Her husband, whom she met in Paris, is a professor at another private university. He is having an affair with a much younger woman.

In addition to her husband's infidelity, Mitsuki must deal with her ailing eighty-something mother, a demanding, self-absorbed woman who is far from the image of the patient, self-sacrificing Japanese matriarch. Mitsuki finds herself…


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 Tokyo Underworld: The Fast Times and Hard Life of an American Gangster in Japan

Peter Tasker Author Of Samurai Boogie

From my list on Tokyo noir: dark deeds in the neon wonderland.

Why am I passionate about this?

Japan has been my home for many decades. I know the world of business and finance inside out, and have an obsessive interest in art, film, and literature. I’ve written several books, fiction and non-fiction, and countless articles on Japan-related subjects, as you can see on my blog. I think I may have actually been Japanese in a previous life…

Peter's book list on Tokyo noir: dark deeds in the neon wonderland

Peter Tasker Why did Peter love this book?

Though non-fiction, Whiting’s romp through the secret history of post-war Japan is more eye-popping than most novels. The “hero” is a rogue called Nick the Greek who brought pizza to Japan, amongst other more nefarious accomplishments. I myself knew Nick, loved his thick crust Margherita and believed at least half his stories of gangster showdowns, heists, and con jobs. They don’t make them like that anymore - thank God.

By Robert Whiting,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A riveting account of the role of Americans in the evolution of the Tokyo underworld in the years since 1945.

In the ashes of postwar Japan lay a gold mine for certain opportunistic, expatriate Americans.  Addicted to the volatile energy of Tokyo's freewheeling underworld, they formed ever-shifting but ever-profitable alliances with warring Japanese and Korean gangsters.  At the center of this world was Nick Zappetti, an ex-marine from New York City who arrived in Tokyo in 1945, and whose restaurant soon became the rage throughout the city and the chief watering hole for celebrities, diplomats, sports figures, and mobsters.

Tokyo…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Tokyo, feudalism, and Japanese gardens?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Tokyo, feudalism, and Japanese gardens.

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