The best books about Tokyo 📚

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

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Book cover of Norwegian Wood

Norwegian Wood

By Haruki Murakami

Why this book?

I suspect for a lot of people this will be the first fiction by a Japanese author they read. Murakami’s world can be dream-like, sometimes supernatural so, often, you don’t always notice the emotional impact of his stories. Norwegian Wood is one of his more ‘straightforward’ narratives, a timeless depiction of young love and all its agonies.

From the list:

The best fiction books set in Japan

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Book cover of Low City, High City: Tokyo from Edo to the Earthquake, 1867-1923

Low City, High City: Tokyo from Edo to the Earthquake, 1867-1923

By Edward G. Seidensticker

Why 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.

From the list:

The best books on Tokyo’s essence

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Book cover of Tokyo: A Biography: Disasters, Destruction and Renewal: The Story of an Indomitable City

Tokyo: A Biography: Disasters, Destruction and Renewal: The Story of an Indomitable City

By Stephen Mansfield

Why 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…

From the list:

The best books on Tokyo’s essence

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Book cover of Tokyo Megacity

Tokyo Megacity

By Donald Richie, Ben Simmons

Why 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…

From the list:

The best books on Tokyo’s essence

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Book cover of Tokyo Totem - A Guide To Tokyo

Tokyo Totem - A Guide To Tokyo

By Christiaan Fruneaux, Edwin Gardner

Why 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…

From the list:

The best books on Tokyo’s essence

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Book cover of A History of Tokyo 1867-1989: From EDO to Showa: The Emergence of the World's Greatest City

A History of Tokyo 1867-1989: From EDO to Showa: The Emergence of the World's Greatest City

By Edward G. Seidensticker

Why this book?

This new edition combines under one cover Edward Seidensticker’s colossal Low City: Tokyo from Edo to the Earthquake and Tokyo Rising.  Few cities have been so fortunate as to have such erudite-yet-accessible books written about them; by an outsider, no less. A towering figure on late twentieth-century Japanese studies and letters, Seidensticker arrived in Tokyo weeks after General Douglas MacArthur had assumed control of the country. His work on major twentieth-century Japanese writers earned him graduate degrees and faculty appointments at major American universities; his freelance writing on Japanese life extended the reach of his work well beyond the…

From the list:

The best books for understanding Japanese urban history

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