Japan Blog Series: 5 Books You Should Read Before Going To Japan


I am finally back from holiday and fighting the post-holiday blues. I will be slowly catching up on comments – although I caught the Tsum Tsum fever while I was away, so it may take longer than usual XD PS Does anyone play it? Add me on LINE, the username is aentee!

Meanwhile, I’d like to give you guys some recommendations of books you should read before or after you go to Japan – just to give you a slice of what the country has to offer! I am still reading some of these books myself, as a way for me to wean off my vacation. Thank goodness for books and their ability to transport you!

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Murakami books is basically a must-try for English-speakers interested in Japanese literature. This particular one is a classic, portraying adolescent and nostalgia and the pain of letting go. Set in a somber and lonely Tokyo, this book is a perfect winter read. There is also a spin off movie featuring current Japan IT Girl: Keiko Mizuhara (honestly, her face was plastered EVERYWHERE I went – how is she so beautiful?!)

A Modern History of Japan by Andrew Gordon

I find it a lot more interesting to traipse through all the castles and temples of Japan when I realise the historical significance behind them. This particular nonfiction book is accessible and a riveting read, leading you from the rise of the Tokugawa shogunate through to the Meiji Restoration and subsequent era.

The Melancholy of Mechagirl by Catherynne Valente

Once again proving that I am utterly incapable of making a recommendation list without sliding in Catherynne Valente. This anthology are short stories inspired by the myths of Japan, mixed with the author’s own experiences there. Japan has changed Valente irrevocably, and not for romantic reasons as you might think. I highly recommend this based on the beautiful, haunting proses and creative incorporation of mythology alone.

The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki

Tanizaki is a huge literary figure in his homeland, and The Makioka Sisters is his most well-known work. Detailing the rise and fall of the aristocratic Makioka Sisters, the setting is in Osaka and surrounding area rather than the usual Tokyo.

Geisha of Gion by Mineko Iwasaki

While it’s a classic, I hesitate to recommend Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden due to reasons listed here. Instead, I recommend reading this autobiography of Mineko Iwasaki, one of the most successful geiko of her days. Despite its shortcomings, it offers an authentic glimpse to life behind the gilded walls of the floating world.


Have you ever read books that made you want to go on vacation? What are your favourite armchair vacation settings?

43 thoughts on “Japan Blog Series: 5 Books You Should Read Before Going To Japan

  1. You have reignited the Tsum Tsum obsession in me… WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?! (I have added you btw). And hmmm… I really don’t like Mizuhara Kiko that much (my dislike for her started after watching the Norwegian Wood film 5-6 years ago, I might add). Ehhh… she’s alright.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thankfully, the tsum tsum fever has left me – though it is occasionally reignited when I see my bf plays it XD
      WHAT? How will you watch the Attack of Titan series if you don’t like her!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have always been obsessed with Japan and its culture (primarily because of anime, but things change, still obsessed though). There’s something about their culture. Something a bit (just a bit) like ours, but not. There’s a whole lot of difference between our cultures, and I am a very curious being.

    I’ve only read one Japanese book. It was very violent. I am hesitant to try another because of Jap-Eng translation problems. (I can’t read kanji. Trying to learn the language, though.)

    Thanks for the book recommendations! Oh, and welcome back!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Japan definitely has a very unique cultural identity, even if their older stuff is heavily influenced by China. Which book did you read that was violent? I think most of the ones I’ve read are very mellow and introspective – and I haven’t found too much issues with translation — I mean I still read translated manga and I don’t think there’s a huge difference. Aside from things like puns or small nuances.
      Thank you!! Glad to be back.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Lemme add a shameless plug of one of my favorite Japanese Lit reads, which would have to be Confessions of a Mask by Mishima Yukio 😀 I would be totally interested in reading “The Melancholy of Mechagirl” since I love Japanese folklore and myths. Thanks for this list!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah that sounds amazing! Thanks so much for the rec 🙂
      I highly recommend Melancholy of Mechagirl! Cat Valente is by far my favourite author and her portrayal of the myths are both unique and authentic.


  4. Welcome back from vacation! These are all really good books – I just added The Melancholy of Mechagirl to my TBR list!

    The only book I have really read about Japan (besides Memoirs of a Geisha) is Tales of the Otori by Lian Hearn, a fantasy series based on a fictional version of Japan that includes magic and ninjas. I’m not sure that it really counts, but the first book in the series really ignited my passion to travel to Japan.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I hope you enjoy reading The Melancholy of Mechagirl :D!
      I have not read the Tales of Otori yet, would love to hear more of what you think of it! I just know that there are references to nightingale floors, which you can experience in person in castles all over Japan haha.


    1. 1q84 is definitely intensely problematic, I didn’t enjoy it either. I would recommend starting with his short stories collection like The Elephant Vanishes and Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman instead!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Welcome back. Hope you had a wonderful holiday. I’ve always been fascinated by the Japanese myths, history and culture so The Melancholy of Mechagirl and A Modern History of Japan sound like the perfect books for me.
    I’m quite proud of myself for not giving in to the temptation of the Tsum Tsum game but I can see myself slipping one of these days haha.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much Lois 😀 I definitely recommend A Modern History of Japan to all fans of the culture, it makes visiting so much more fun when things are in context.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I am mildly ashamed to call myself a fan of manga because I am woefully behind on all of them — even Shokugeki no Soma *sobs*


    1. I would definitely start with Murakami’s short story collections on Norwegian Wood if you are new to him 😀 Have fun with it!!


    1. I am already 100% jealous of your trip in March! Is it your first time? You will have such a blast either way, enjoy ❤ I had such a great time there.


  6. I’ve got some temporary Christmas work in a book shop right now, and soooo many people have told me that I have to read Haruki Murakami. Maybe Norwegian Wood can be my starting point.

    I’m glad you had a great time and it’s lovely to have you back in the blog world 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Norwegian Wood is his most commercial and accessible work, so it’s definitely a good place to start. And ooo a bookstore gig, I am so envious!! If I was not an optometrist I would run off and work for a bookstore haha.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. While I still like Memoirs of a Geisha I have some reservations due to the inaccurate portrayals of some aspects. I think you’ll enjoy Lesley Downer’s geisha research books if you enjoyed MoaG though!!


  7. So basically I need to read ALL OF THESE for writing research purposes. XD I wanted to write a fantasy-inspired Japan book and totally mangled it culturally…so it’s back to researching for me. And these sound immensely helpful. 😀 The only Japanese books I’ve really read are Ink and Stormdancer (but that’s just Japanese inspired, so idek if it’s accurate or not!) I NEED TO READ MORE CLEARLY.
    Yay that you’re back too!! SQUEE. I have missed your gorgeous posts and fabulous self. XD

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Eeep I am so excited to read that book one day!! I hope you have heaps of fun researching, there’s so many resources out there. I also recommend NHK’s Japanology series for research, they’re free to view on the NHK youtube account.


  8. Happy to see that your back from Japan Aentee!
    I definitely must go and visit some day (since it looks GORGEOUS omg) so I’ll definitely need this list of books to reference back to. 🙂

    (Thank you so much for visiting my blog <3)

    Liked by 1 person

  9. So happy to see that your back from your vacation Aentee!
    I would love to visit Japan someday (purely based off all the gorgeous pictures) so I’ll definitely need this list of books to reference back to.

    (Thank you so much for visiting Faith’s Bookspiration <3)


  10. Because of you and CW’s testimony on Norwegian Wood, I bought it and will buddy read with Nicolette @ A Little Bookish, A LIttle Writerly. It has a spin off?? OMG Can’t wait to read the book! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ooo I am excited for you to be reading Norwegian Wood for the first time! I hope you love it as much as CW and I did! the movie is quite good, too!


  11. I will definitely check these out! Thanks for the recommendations 🙂 I feel you on the Tsum Tsum game haha. It’s so addicting! Do you collect the plushies as well? I’m warning you; they’re even more addicting 😂


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