12 Books to read before going to Japan
A Geek in Japan by Hector Garcia
A very comprehensive introduction to contemporary Japan and a supplement to a guide book. Hector Garcia covers many aspects of Japan from culture, history and religion to language and travel recommendations.
Hiroshima by John Hersey
John Hersey was one of the first Western correspondents to see the ruins of Hiroshima after the atomic bomb was dropped on the 6th of August 1945. His book tells a story of six survivors.
Bending Adversity: Japan and the art of survival by David Pilling
David Pilling lived in Tokyo for seven years working as a foreign correspondent for the Financial Times Asia. In Bending Adversity Pilling presents a very complex and detailed portrait of contemporary Japan and its potential for a change.
Geisha, A Life by Mineko Iwasaki (UK translation: Geisha of Gion)
Mineko Iwasaki was one of Japan’s most famous Geisha, her life and story served as a background for Arthur Golden’s bestseller Memoirs of a Geisha. In her autobiography Mineko reveals the secrets of the Geiko’s (female artist) life and career in post war Kyoto.
Geisha: The Remarkable Truth Behind the Fiction by Lesley Downer
An informative book about the geishas and their place in Japanese society, culture and history. Lesley Downer has spent several months living close to geishas. Her book offers an insight to this little-known and often misunderstood world.
The Japan Journals: 1947-2004 by Donald Richie
Donald Richie was an American expert on Japanese cinema and keen observer of Japanese complex culture and people. In his journals, Richie describes his very personal experiences as an expat living in Tokyo for almost seven decades.
The Roads to Sata: A 2000-Mile Walk Through Japan by Alan Booth
In 1970’s Alan Booth, an Englishman fluent in Japanese and married to a Japanese woman, decides to walk from the northernmost point of Japan; Cape Soya to the southernmost point Cape Sata. In his memoir, Booth describes the 3,300-kilometer journey through rural Japan, encounters with the local people, landscape, culture and the history of the region.
Hokkaido Highway Blues by Will Ferguson
After spending few years teaching English in Japan, a Canadian Will Ferguson decides to hitchhike the length of Japan from the south to the north, following the sakura (cherry blossoms), as they bloom in the spring. Ferguson’s travelogue offers an entertaining and insightful portrait of Japan and its fascinating culture from the perspective of a Westerner.
Shogun: A Novel of Japan by James Clavell
An epic novel set in feudal Japan in early 17th century. It tells the story of a British sea pilot, John Blackthorne, who is shipwrecked on the coast of Japan and gets involved in Japanese politics. In 1980 the book has been adapted into popular TV series starring Richard Chamberlain.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
A surrealistic novel by one of Japan’s most regarded authors. It tells a story of Toru Okada, a young man who lives with his wife in a Tokyo suburb. One day their cat disappears and Toru goes out to look for it. This is how the great story of his encounters with various bizarre characters begins and leads him to a complete spiritual transformation
Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
A novel set in Tokyo in the late 1960’s. It tells a story of Toru Watanabe, a student of drama who develops relationships with two women; an emotionally fragile Naoko, and lively Midori. Naoko used to go out with Toru’s best friend Kizuki, before he took his own life. The book sold almost 4 million copies and made Murakami a pop-culture icon.
The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima
A classic coming-of-age Japanese novel. Set on a remote island in Japan, it tells a story of a poor young fisherman Shinji who falls in love with Hatsue, a beautiful daughter of a wealthy ship owner.