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22 Books Set in Japan That Will Transport You There

Japan is an island country of East Asia in the northwest Pacific Ocean.  On the surface, Japan appears exceedingly modern but traveling around it offers numerous opportunities to connect with the country’s traditional culture.  Japan is also one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, and it isn’t hard to imagine why. With sprawling modern metropolises, gorgeous natural landscapes, spectacular cuisine, a variety of entertainment options, rich history, landmarks, and vibrant culture –  there is something for everyone.  If you’ve never visited or you’re simply longing to go back, these books set in Japan are sure to transport you there and inspire a future adventure!

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami (1987)

A magnificent coming-of-age story steeped in nostalgia, Norwegian Wood blends the music, the mood, and the ethos that were the sixties with a young man’s hopeless and heroic first love.

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (2016)

A sharp-eyed look at contemporary work culture and the pressures we all feel to conform, Convenience Store Woman offers a brilliant depiction of a world hidden from view and a charming and fresh portrait of an unforgettable heroine.

An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro (1986)

From the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and author of the Booker Prize-winning novel The Remains of the Day.  

In the face of the misery in his homeland, the artist Masuji Ono was unwilling to devote his art solely to the celebration of physical beauty. Instead, he put his work in the service of the imperialist movement that led Japan into World War II.

The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea by Yukio Mishima (1963)

Yukio Mishima’s The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea explores the vicious nature of youth that is sometimes mistaken for innocence.

Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata (1937)

Nobel Prize winner Yasunari Kawabata’s Snow Country is widely considered to be the writer’s masterpiece: a powerful tale of wasted love set amid the desolate beauty of western Japan.

Audition by Ryū Murakami (2010)

In this gloriously over-the-top tale, Aoyama, a widower who has lived alone with his son ever since his wife died seven years before, finally decides it is time to remarry. Since Aoyama is a bit rusty when it comes to dating, a filmmaker friend proposes that, in order to attract the perfect wife, they do a casting call for a movie they don’t intend to produce.

Kokoro by Soseki Natsume (1914)

The great Japanese author’s most famous novel, in its first new English translation in half a century.  No collection of Japanese literature is complete without Natsume Soseki’s Kokoro, his most famous novel, and the last he completed before his death. Published here in the first new translation in more than fifty years, Kokoro–meaning “heart”–is the story of a subtle and poignant friendship between two unnamed characters, a young man and an enigmatic elder whom he calls “Sensei.”

Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami (2001)

Shortlisted for the 2013 Man Asian Literary Prize, Strange Weather in Tokyo is a story of loneliness and love that defies age.

Geisha, A Life by Mineko Iwasaki (2002)

No woman in the three-hundred-year history of the karyukai has ever come forward in public to tell her story–until now. Many say I was the best geisha of my generation, writes Mineko Iwasaki. But even though she became one of the most prized geishas in Japan’s history, Iwasaki wanted more: her own life. And by the time she retired at age twenty-nine, Iwasaki was finally on her way toward a new beginning. Geisha, a Life is her story — at times heartbreaking, always awe-inspiring, and totally true.

I Am a Cat by Natsume Sōseki (1905)

Written from 1904 through 1906, Soseki Natsume’s comic masterpiece, I Am a Cat, satirizes the foolishness of upper-middle-class Japanese society during the Meiji era. With acerbic wit and sardonic perspective, it follows the whimsical adventures of a world-weary stray kitten who comments on the follies and foibles of the people around him.

Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa (1996)

A tale of twisted love from Yoko Ogawa–author of The Diving Pool and The Housekeeper and the Professor. Hotel Iris is a stirring novel about the sometimes violent ways in which we express intimacy and about the untranslatable essence of love.

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami (1999)

Koushun Takami’s notorious high-octane thriller envisions a nightmare scenario: a class of junior high school students is taken to a deserted island where, as part of a ruthless authoritarian program, they are provided arms and forced to kill until only one survivor is left standing. Criticized as violent exploitation when first published in Japan–where it became a runaway bestseller–Battle Royale is a Lord of the Flies for the 21st century, a potent allegory of what it means to be young and (barely) alive in a dog-eat-dog world. A new translation by Nathan Collins.

Some Prefer Nettles by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki (1929)

Junichiro Tanizaki’s Some Prefer Nettles is an exquisitely nuanced exploration of the allure of ancient Japanese tradition–and the profound disquiet that accompanied its passing. Some Prefer Nettles is an ethereally suggestive, psychologically complex exploration of the crisis every culture faces as it hurtles headfirst into modernity.

The Old Capital by Yasunari Kawabata (1962)

The Old Capital is one of the three novels cited specifically by the Nobel Committee when they awarded Kawabata the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1968. With the ethereal tone and aesthetic styling characteristic of Kawabata’s prose, The Old Capital tells the story of Chieko, the adopted daughter of a Kyoto kimono designer, Takichiro, and his wife, Shige.

The Pillow Book by Sei Shōnagon (1971)

The classic portrayal of court life in tenth-century Japan. Written by the court gentlewoman Sei Shonagon, ostensibly for her own amusement, The Pillow Book offers a fascinating exploration of life among the nobility at the height of the Heian period, describing the exquisite pleasures of a confined world in which poetry, love, fashion, and whim dominated, while the harsh reality was kept firmly at a distance.

Shogun by James Clavell (1975)

After Englishman John Blackthorne is lost at sea, he awakens in a place few Europeans know of and even fewer have seen–Nippon. Thrust into the closed society that is seventeenth-century Japan, a land where the line between life and death is razor-thin, Blackthorne must negotiate not only a foreign people, with unknown customs and language, but also his own definitions of morality, truth, and freedom.

Schoolgirl by Osamu Dazai (1939)

Schoolgirl was first published more than a decade before Catcher in the Rye, but many of its preoccupations- the dislocation of adolescence, the stifling weight of cultural expectations, the unreliability of adults, the difficulty of authentic expressions of individuality- are remarkably similar. Where Schoolgirl contrasts sharply from Catcher, however, is in how its narrator responds to the tumult of adolescence: Where Holden outwardly rebels, Schoolgirl’s narrator sticks closely to the script expected of her from her mother, teachers, and friends, even though it is entirely at odds with the dictates of her inner monologue. Her angst lives silently inside her.

The Samurai’s Garden by Gail Tsukiyama (1994)

The daughter of a Chinese mother and a Japanese father, Gail Tsukiyama’s The Samurai’s Garden uses the Japanese invasion of China during the late 1930s as a somber backdrop for this extraordinary story.

Vibrator by Mari Akasaka (1999)

Rei Hayakawa, a lonely, bulimic freelance writer with a drinking problem, wanders into a convenience store. She’s swaddled in her coat and scarf, while her thoughts – of alienation, of hunger, of the need for gin and white wine – drift in via stream-of-consciousness. A trucker named Okabe walks in, deliberately grazes her behind, and at the same time, Rei’s cell phone, set on vibrate, goes off over her heart. Rei impulsively gets into Okabe’s truck with him – and stays. Suddenly she finds herself embarking on a road journey across the wintry landscape of Japan with a complete, and possibly dangerous, stranger.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (2013)

A brilliant, unforgettable novel from bestselling author Ruth Ozeki–shortlisted for the Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Full of Ozeki’s signature humor and deeply engaged with the relationship between writer and reader, past and present, fact and fiction, quantum physics, history, and myth, A Tale for the Time Being is a brilliantly inventive, beguiling story of our shared humanity and the search for home.

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto (1988)

With the publication of Kitchen, the dazzling English-language debut that is still her best-loved book, the literary world realized that Yoshimoto was a young writer of enduring talent whose work has quickly earned a place among the best of contemporary Japanese literature. Kitchen is an enchantingly original book that juxtaposes two tales about mothers, love, tragedy, and the power of the kitchen and home in the lives of a pair of free-spirited young women in contemporary Japan.

The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki (1949)

Junichirō Tanizaki’s magisterial evocation of a proud Osaka family in decline during the years immediately before World War II is arguably the greatest Japanese novel of the twentieth century and a classic of international literature.

What do you think of these books set in Japan?

Have you been to Japan before or is it on your bucket list?  Have you read any of these books set in Japan?  Do you know any books set in Japan that I may have missed?  Let me know your thoughts, ideas, and suggestions about Japan and books set there in the comments below!

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