The best books on the Empire of Japan 📚

Browse the best books on the Empire of Japan as recommended by authors, experts, and creators. Along with notes on why they recommend those books.

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Book cover of The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945

The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945

By John Toland

Why this book?

The masterful Toland weaves a narrative of jaw-dropping detail, drama and complexity that tells the grand and harrowing story of the Pacific War between the United States and Japan from the perspective of the Japanese. The tale takes the reader from Tokyo cabinet meetings to the deck of warships to the frontline of critical battles, to share the experiences of everyone from national leaders to top generals to ordinary soldiers. It’s one of those books that’s so good it leaves you wondering how it was even written.

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Book cover of The Master of Go

The Master of Go

By Yasunari Kawabata, Edward G. Seidensticker

Why this book?

Translated from Japanese, this 182-page novel originally published in 1951 is perhaps a little long to be included as a short novel, and a little old to be considered contemporary . . . but it’s a personal favorite! Both a novel and a piece of journalism, Master describes the final match of a man widely considered to be his generation’s greatest go player. Interwoven into this narrative/character study are arresting details about the game and those who have played it over the centuries. It reads so quickly, you’ll think it was only 100 pages.

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Book cover of SENSŌ: The Japanese Remember the Pacific War: Letters to the Editor of "Asahi Shimbun"

SENSŌ: The Japanese Remember the Pacific War: Letters to the Editor of "Asahi Shimbun"

By Frank Gibney, Beth Cary

Why this book?

Composed of letters to the editor in Tokyo’s highly respected Asahi Shimbun newspaper from 1986 to 1987, SENSŌ provides vivid insight into wartime life in Imperial Japan. Composed of honest reflections 40 years after the war, the topics covered (often with powerful emotion) include: life in the military, the Sino-Japanese War, Pacific War, home front, the bombing of Japanese cities, and post-war reflections. In the end, I was impressed how the Japanese experience and emotions during the war were not dissimilar to what I might imagine feeling as an American in a similar situation.
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Book cover of Guadalcanal Diary

Guadalcanal Diary

By Richard Tregaskis

Why this book?

Written by a war correspondent who landed on Guadalcanal with the Marines, this book is another must-read for history buffs and every Marine. It is an accurate story of this critical and now legendary battle. 

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Book cover of Kuma-Kuma Chan, the Little Bear

Kuma-Kuma Chan, the Little Bear

By Kazue Takahashi

Why this book?

These small, sparsely illustrated books are so charming and quirky! At the surface, there seems to be very little going on, but there is a soothing quality to the simple text that allows you to contemplate the little wonders of life. The naïve artwork works so well with the quiet, short musings by Kuma-Kuma chan and the narrator.

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The best children’s books about and from Japan

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Book cover of They Came to Japan: An Anthology of European Reports on Japan, 1543-1640

They Came to Japan: An Anthology of European Reports on Japan, 1543-1640

By Michael Cooper

Why this book?

Japan’s first encounter with the West came with the arrival of Spanish and Portuguese merchants and missionaries in the mid-sixteenth century and dramatically ended less than a century later when the Tokugawa Shogunate closed the country to most foreign visitors. Luckily, the Westerners who visited Japan during this brief (by historical terms) window left many fascinating accounts of what they saw and experienced. This book is a kind of Reader’s Digest of the juiciest of those records. It’s old but has never been superseded and never will be. The book is super easy to read because each entry is just…

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