100 books like Tokyo Totem - A Guide To Tokyo

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

Here are 100 books that Tokyo Totem - A Guide To Tokyo fans have personally recommended if you like Tokyo Totem - A Guide To Tokyo. 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 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: A Biography: Disasters, Destruction and Renewal: The Story of an Indomitable City

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 biography by writer and photographer Mansfield is probably the best guide into Tokyo’s vibrantly organic nature. To get a thorough line on the largest city in the world isn’t easy, but Mansfield carefully selects the most relevant, and interesting details. Inevitably, it’s a work of exclusion as much as inclusion, but is magnificent for that. Seeing and understanding Tokyo requires getting past the cascade of small details that keep you from seeing the whole forest. Mansfield keeps his biography flowing with the right balance of telling details and insightful summary. His companion volume, Tokyo, a Cultural History is also excellent, as are his beautifully photographed books on Japanese gardens.

By Stephen Mansfield,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The history of Tokyo is as eventful as it is long. A concise yet detailed overview of this fascinating, centuries-old city, Tokyo: A Biography is a perfect companion volume for history buffs or Tokyo-bound travelers looking to learn more about their destination.

In a whirlwind journey through Tokyo's past from its earliest beginnings up to the present day, this Japanese history book demonstrates how the city's response to everything from natural disasters to regime change has been to reinvent itself time and again. A calamitous fire results in a massive expansion of the city's territory. A debate over the Samurai…


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 Lights Out in Wonderland

Tim Slee Author Of Taking Tom Murray Home

From my list on upbeat books for tough times.

Why am I passionate about this?

At a time when our news feeds are dominated by war and disease and brain-dead politicians I find my escape in the genre known as ‘uplit’ or ‘uplifing literature.’ These are feel-good stories that have a simple goal, to introduce us to characters like ourselves – human, fallible, unreasonable, and flawed – and take us on a journey with them through thick and thin. Not every story ends in the happiest of endings but the reader is always left with a sigh of satisfaction and a feeling of hope. And couldn’t we all do with a bit more of that?

Tim's book list on upbeat books for tough times

Tim Slee Why did Tim love this book?

Before ‘uplit’ was even invented, there was DBC Pierre. His fiction has been described as a ‘joyful celebration of the human spirit’ and that is none more evident than in his protagonist in Lights Out, Gabriele Brockwell, a twenty-something narcissistic pleasure seeker optimistically stumbling through life before ultimately finding his place in it. A book that leaves you with the thought that optimism is the key to turning bad luck into good.

By DBC Pierre,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Lights Out in Wonderland as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Gabriel Brockwell, aesthete, poet, philosopher, disaffected twenty-something decadent, is thinking terminal. His philosophical enquiries, the abstractions he indulges, and how these relate to a life lived, all point in the same direction. His destination is Wonderland. The nature and style of the journey is all that's to be decided. Taking in London, Tokyo, Berlin and the Galapagos Islands, "Lights Out In Wonderland" documents Gabriel Brockwell's remarkable global odyssey. Committed to the pursuit of pleasure and in search of the Bacchanal to obliterate all previous parties, Gabriel's adventure takes in a spell in rehab, a near-death experience with fugu ovaries, a…


Book cover of Three Assassins

Douglas Weissman Author Of Life Between Seconds

From my list on feeling magical without actual magic.

Why am I passionate about this?

I fell in love with magical realism and stories that have a sense of whimsy after hearing my grandparents tell stories of their lives. They always embellished a bit, making a simple detail of a bread line or a penny found on the ground feel massive. Then I read Tom Robbins’s Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates. I didn’t understand at the time that the light touches of magic or moments that felt magical, even if not truly enchantment, were uplifting in stories both light and dark. I quickly fell under the spell and have placed elements of magic or whimsy in my own writing ever since. 

Douglas' book list on feeling magical without actual magic

Douglas Weissman Why did Douglas love this book?

Three Assassins almost feels like the movie Bullet Train with Brad Pitt.

It’s a series of seemingly unrelated events that connect a network of assassins together and pit them against one another, knowingly or unknowingly. The novel itself is less about the action and pace and unfurls like a twisted puzzle, making every piece lean into a seemingly surreal universe.

We see all the characters, good and bad, their flaws, good and bad, and the ones we can stand up for, good and bad. “All the knowledge and science that human beings have, it only helps humans.” But even when we’re cheering, I didn’t necessarily know what to believe until I reached the end. Even then, I walked away holding doubts and a smile. 

By Kotaro Isaka, Sam Malissa (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

SUZUKI IS JUST AN ORDINARY MATHS TEACHER...UNTIL HIS WIFE IS MURDERED.

Seeking justice, he leaves his old life behind to infiltrate the criminal gang responsible. What he doesn't realise is that he's about to get drawn into a web of the most unusual professional assassins, each with their own agenda:

THE WHALE convinces his victims to take their own lives using just his words.

THE CICADA is a talkative and deadly knife expert.

THE PUSHER dispatches his targets in deadly traffic 'accidents'.

Suzuki must take on the three assassins to avenge his wife - but can he keep his innocence…


Book cover of Norwegian Wood

Marcia Yudkin Author Of Marketing for Introverts

From my list on overlooked stories about introverts.

Why am I passionate about this?

A bookworm and word lover from the get-go, I always pushed back a bit on society’s expectations that we all act like extroverts. I studied philosophy at school, taught it for a few years, but quit academic life to become a freelance writer and then a marketing expert. When I took a personality test sometime around 2008 and realized I was an introvert – and a fairly extreme one at that – I began seeing more and more ways in which our culture misunderstands and disparages introverts. Now retired from marketing, I explore prejudices against introverts and introverts’ special talents in my weekly newsletter, Introvert UpThink.

Marcia's book list on overlooked stories about introverts

Marcia Yudkin Why did Marcia love this book?

All of the five or six novels of Murakami’s that I’ve read feature an introverted protagonist not quite at home in the world, someone who wonders about reality and latches on to other strange people. Norwegian Wood, named after a song by the Beatles, may be the most accessible and this-worldly of his books.  It’s a coming-of-age story about a Japanese college student who falls in love at the end of the 1960s and never quite resolves his feelings. But after you read Norwegian Wood assuming you like it – be sure to go on to Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore and IQ84, which I feel is his masterpiece.

By Haruki Murakami,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

DISCOVER THE SHORT STORY COLLECTION THAT GAVE THE WORLD DRIVE MY CAR, THE BAFTA AND OSCAR WINNING FILM

A dazzling Sunday Times bestselling collection of short stories from the beloved internationally acclaimed Haruki Murakami.

Across seven tales, Haruki Murakami brings his powers of observation to bear on the lives of men who, in their own ways, find themselves alone. Here are vanishing cats and smoky bars, lonely hearts and mysterious women, baseball and the Beatles, woven together to tell stories that speak to us all.

Marked by the same wry humour that has defined his entire body of work, in…


Book cover of Tokyo: A Spatial Anthropology

Jilly Traganou Author Of The Tôkaidô Road: Travelling and Representation in EDO and Meiji Japan

From my list on travel in premodern and modern Japan.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an architect from Greece who traveled to Japan in the 1990s as an exchange student. Visiting Japan in the early 1990s was a transformative experience. It led me to a career at the intersection of Japanese studies and spatial inquiry and expanded my architectural professional background. I did my PhD on the Tokaido road and published it as a book in 2004. Since then I have written several other books on subjects that vary from the Olympic Games to social movements. In the last 16 years, I've taught at Parsons School of Design in New York where I am a professor of architecture and urbanism. My current project is researching the role of space and design in prefigurative political movements.

Jilly's book list on travel in premodern and modern Japan

Jilly Traganou Why did Jilly love this book?

Tokyo by Jinnai Hidenobu was influential for me both as a source of information about the history of Tokyo and for its methodology of research. The author discovers the city via walking and traveling across its water routes, an experiential methodology which he first developed in his study of Venice. With the assistance of visuals, both historical and newly drawn based on his field observations, Jinnai explores modern-day Tokyo. His starting point is that Tokyo seems an anomaly when compared with other world cities in its lack of historical structures which is attributed to a series of wars and disasters that radically transformed the city’s physical environment.  

The impressive discovery of this inquiry however is that despite the perceived newness of Tokyo, the spirit of Edo (Tokyo’s name during the Tokugawa period, 1600-1868) has not vanished in today’s modern city. Through this book, we learn that the differences between the…

By Hidenobu Jinnai, Kimiko Nishimura (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Tokyo: destroyed by the earthquake of 1923 and again by the firebombing of World War II. Does anything remain of the old city? The internationally known Japanese architectural historian Jinnai Hidenobu set out on foot to rediscover the city of Tokyo. Armed with old maps, he wandered through back alleys and lanes, trying to experience the city's space as it had been lived by earlier residents. He found that, despite an almost completely new cityscape, present-day inhabitants divide Tokyo's space in much the same way that their ancestors did two hundred years before. Jinnai's holistic perspective is enhanced by his…


Book cover of Out

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?

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to cut a corpse up into pieces small enough to dispose of easily? Apparently, it’s not very different from preparing a chicken for a family meal - it just takes a lot longer. So it seems to the four women who are suddenly faced with just that challenge in Kirino’s sensational story.  What stands out is the realism of her characterization. These are ordinary women leading humdrum but stressful lives. You understand their predicament. In their shoes, you might end up doing the same.     

By Natsuo Kirino, Stephen B. Snyder (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Winner of Japan's Grand Prix for Crime Fiction • Edgar Award Finalist • Nothing in Japanese literature prepares us for the stark, tension-filled, plot-driven realism of Natsuo Kirino’s award-winning literary mystery Out.

This mesmerizing novel tells the story of a brutal murder in the staid Tokyo suburbs, as a young mother who works the night shift making boxed lunches strangles her abusive husband and then seeks the help of her coworkers to dispose of the body and cover up her crime. The coolly intelligent Masako emerges as the plot’s ringleader, but quickly discovers that this killing is merely the beginning,…


Book cover of Stranger in the Shogun's City: A Japanese Woman and Her World

Anne Walthall Author Of The Weak Body of a Useless Woman: Matsuo Taseko and the Meiji Restoration

From my list on amazing women during the age of the samurai.

Why am I passionate about this?

When I was studying Japan in graduate school, my advisor once told me that he hoped I wouldn’t pursue research in women’s history, calling it a fad. He was wrong, but it took me well over ten years to figure that out. Thanks to colleagues and friends, I helped build the field of Japanese women’s history in English, especially for the early modern period. As professor emerita at the University of California, Irvine, I remain committed to the possibility of uncovering the lives of yet more amazing women who challenge the stereotypes of docile wife and seductive geisha all too prevalent in fiction set in Japan.

Anne's book list on amazing women during the age of the samurai

Anne Walthall Why did Anne love this book?

The fascinating tale of Tsuneno’s journey from respectable daughter and sister in a family of Buddhist priests to a hand-to-mouth existence in Edo—now Tokyo—could well have been titled “down and out in the city.” And she chose her fate. A fiery, headstrong woman, she endured three marriages that all ended in divorce, and when confronted with the possibility of a fourth, she ran away from her home in the storied snow country region along the Japan Sea to try her luck working as a maid. She detailed her adventures and her demands for money and clothes in letters to her brother, letters that Stanley has used to wonderful effect in recreating not only Tsuneo as an individual but also the world of people on the margin among whom she lived.  

By Amy Stanley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Stranger in the Shogun's City as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

** SHORTLISTED FOR THE BAILLIE GIFFORD PRIZE 2020 **

A vivid, deeply researched work of history that explores the life of an unconventional woman in Edo - now known as Tokyo - and a portrait of a great city on the brink of momentous change

The daughter of a Buddhist priest, Tsuneno was born in 1804 in a rural Japanese village and was expected to live a life much like her mother's. But after three divorces - and with a temperament much too strong-willed for her family's approval - she ran away to make a life for herself in one…


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