The best books about Japan 📚

Browse the best books on 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 Roads to Sata: A 2000-mile walk through Japan

The Roads to Sata: A 2000-mile walk through Japan

By Alan Booth

Why this book?

A loud-mouthed, liquor-loving British expat, Alan Booth was the last person you would imagine feeling at home among the shy, polite, self-effacing Japanese – and that’s the secret of the book’s charm, as this eccentric barbarian sets off to walk the entire length of Japan, from the top of Hokkaido to Cape Sata, the southernmost tip of Kyushu. Everywhere he goes his over-size personality evokes the best and most characteristic in the people he meets along the way, and he records the whole mad escapade with the pen of an angel. 

From the list:

The best quirky books on modern Japan

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Book cover of Tonoharu: Part 1

Tonoharu: Part 1

By Lars Martinson

Why this book?

I recommend this three-part series of graphic novels for their beautiful artwork and painstaking attention to detail. Illustrator Martinson has a superb knack for observing the smallest aspects of the Japanese environment, with every frame bursting with the minutiae of everyday Japan.

The story follows ‘Dan’ a downbeat American, working as an English teacher in Japan who is experiencing severe isolation in his host country. Dan’s attitude to his new life is at the very extreme end of the culture shock spectrum, whereas in my experience, most foreigners embrace life more than he does, and therefore enjoy a more balanced…

From the list:

The best travel books about life in Japan

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Book cover of Inaka: Portraits of Life in Rural Japan

Inaka: Portraits of Life in Rural Japan

By John Grant Ross

Why this book?

This anthology contains a collection of 18 different accounts by non-Japanese authors who have all spent extended time living in rural Japan. Arranged geographically, from Okinawa to Hokkaido, the book offers a diverse view of pastoral Japan, allowing readers to get insight into some of the less commonly known aspects of the country.

The topics covered range from Buddhist pilgrimages, to pottery; abandoned Shinto shrines to record snowfalls; romance to ryokan. This is a great book for anyone who’s interested in learning about life outside of Japan’s megacities. Most of the authors included have written other works, so it’s a…

From the list:

The best travel books about life in Japan

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Book cover of Emperor Hirohito and the Pacific War

Emperor Hirohito and the Pacific War

By Noriko Kawamura

Why this book?

At last (2015) there is a balanced and carefully researched study of a central figure in the modern history of Japan and the war in the Pacific. The substantial utilization and integration of Japanese sources enhances the work but does not lead to any distortion of the real picture.

From the list:

The best books on WW2 from a military historian

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Book cover of Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II

Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II

By John W. Dower

Why this book?

Winner of the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction, this book gives the reader an in-depth analysis of the effects of World War II on the political, economic, and social life of the Japanese people. It depicts the ways in which Japan moved into the twentieth century and gave up many of its feudalistic habits – some for the better and some for the worse. 

From the list:

The best books to peer into the traditional and modern Japanese mind

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Book cover of The Souvenir: A Daughter Discovers Her Father's War

The Souvenir: A Daughter Discovers Her Father's War

By Louise Steinman

Why this book?

After Steinman’s parents passed away, she found a trove of WWII-era letters her father wrote along with a silk flag inscribed to a man named Yoshio Shimizu. In this book, Steinman recounted her years-long quest to learn who Shimizu was, a search that resulted in a trip to Japan to return the precious artifact. At the same time, by reading her father’s letters, Steinman discovered a tender and expressive side of her father—a side that had been wiped away by trauma. Steinman’s book shines a light on the universal cost of war.

From the list:

The best books on contemporary WWII family searches

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