50 Books Set in + About Japan

50 Books About Japan image with cherry blossoms and Mount Fuji

This post contains affiliate links. Read the full disclosure here.

Japanese literature and culture has impacted Western culture for a long time with technology from Nintendo to Toyota and cultural icons from Hello Kitty to Pokémon. And while we love Japanese culture, if you want to truly take a deeper dive into Japanese culture, these books about Japan will be perfect for you.

You’ll find several common threads running through them: WWII and imperialism, the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and (because they are often the stories I’m drawn to) what it means to be a woman in Japan. Not everything here is serious though! There are also cozy books about cats, suspense and thrillers, and one of my favorite YA books from the last few years.

So let’s get going to Japan with these books!

Novels Set in Japan

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

In Japan, Nao writes a diary about her life: the bullying of her classmates, her father’s depression, and the great-grandmother she loves. Later, on the coast of Canada, Ruth finds this diary washed up on the shore and begins reading and trying to track down Nao to learn what might have happened to her. For fans of contemporary fiction and interesting structures. (And content warnings for lots of discussion of suicide and assault.)

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

This epic family saga was on multiple best-books-of-the-year lists when it came out. Set in Japan and Korea, it is about several generations of Korean immigrants in Japan and their survival through many hardships. This is for fans of historical fiction and family epics.

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, Translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori

In a Japanese city, Keiko, who struggles to understand social interactions, works at a convenience store. She is in her thirties, and her friends and family thinks she should want more for her life. But she doesn’t understand why she can’t just be satisfied with her life as it is. For fans of literary fiction and novels that are a bit quirky.

Life Ceremony by Sayaka Murata, Translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori

While this isn’t a novel, it is an acclaimed short story collection from the author of Convenience Store Woman. The stories here explore relationships and culture in Japan, with everything from a story about two people about to get married to a story about a curtain trying to stop a girl’s first kiss (yes, you read that right). For fans of short stories.

Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami, Translated by Allison Markin Powell

Tsukiko sees an old teacher of hers in a bar one night, and while at first they hardly acknowledge each other, their relationship begins to grow. This is for fans of quiet stories that notice the details of life and have strong character development.

Fifty Words for Rain by Asha Lemmie

Nori is half Japanese, half African American. Her grandparents, traditionally Japanese, are intent on hiding her and she has accepted this. But when her half-brother shows up, things start to change as she sees the world for what it can be. For fans of historical fiction.

The Emissary by Yoko Tawada, Translated by Margaret Mitsutani

In a dystopian Japan, all the children are born weak and frail. Japan has suffered through a disaster (this could be read as a metaphor for the Fukushima disaster), and it’s only the elderly who are healthy. While this is a dystopian novel, reviewers generally don’t view it as heavy. This also won the National Book Award for Translated Literature in 2018. For fans of thoughtful books with a dystopian element and literary fiction.

Dead-End Memories by Banana Yoshimoto, Translated by Asa Yoneda

In this collection of stories, women find healing after traumatic events in their lives. The stories include a woman finding happiness after a broken relationship and a woman finding romance after sexual assault. This book is described as “gentle,” and is for readers who want redemptive stories but aren’t afraid of difficult things.

Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami, Translated by Sam Bett and David Boyd

Breasts and Eggs is a book about women in Japan. This novel focuses on three women: Makiko, her sister Natsu, and her daughter Midoriko. As they spend a summer together, there are secrets they are holding that will come out. Then, years later, Natsu is almost 40 and thinking about becoming a mother herself. This is for fans of books about womanhood and motherhood.

There’s No Such Things as an Easy Job by Kikuko Tsumura, Translated by Polly Barton

A woman in Japan is searching for the easiest possible job. But jobs like sitting in a room and watching surveillance footage of an author or composing simple advice for rice cracker papers maybe aren’t as easy as they seem. For fans of contemporary fiction and novels that lean toward the satirical.

Diary of a Void by Emi Yagi, Translated by David Boyd and Lucy North

Ms. Shibata is irritated at some of the things she is asked to do as a woman at her job. So one day, she tells her employers that no, she cannot clear the coffee cups, because she is pregnant and she smell makes her sick. Except, she’s not actually pregnant. So how far will she go to keep the ruse up? For fans of contemporary fiction and stories about women in society.

Fault Lines by Emily Itami

Mizuki is a housewife in Tokyo whose life feels boring and predictable. She has a good husband and children she loves. But is there more? Then, one day she meets a man who ignites a passion in her. But eventually she will have to choose between the two lives she is leading. For fans of contemporary fiction.

The Woman in the Purple Skirt Natsuko Imamura, Translated by Lucy North

When the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan observes the Woman in the Purple Skirt at the park and decides she wants to be friends with her, she pulls the Woman in the Purple Skirt into a job at her same company. But the Woman in the Purple Skirt makes a stir, and the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan isn’t too happy about that. For fans of contemporary fiction with sharp, psychological insights and a bit of suspense.

Tokyo Ueno Station by Yu Miri, Translated by Morgan Giles

Kazu was born in 1933 and has lived a marginalized life. Now that he is dead, he is unable to rest, and in his ghostly existence readers see the how the history of his life has intersected with Japanese history and caused his hardships. This book won the 2020 National Book Award for Translated Literature and is for fans of literary fiction.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, Translated by Jay Rubin

When Toru Okada’s cat and wife go missing, he searches for them and discovers a series of strange people and places. This is for fans of literary fiction and books with some surrealism.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami, Translated by Jay Rubin

Two college students are in love, but their relationship is marred by the death of one of their best friends. As a result, they each go in different directions. This is one of Murakami’s most well-known works, and is for fans of literary fiction and coming of age stories.

An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro

In this novel, an artist looks back on his life, in which he was devoted to the Imperialist movement. In his old age, his feelings about his experiences and decisions are mixed, as readers see him reflect on Japan’s history and his part in it. For fans of literary fiction.

Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata, Translated by Edward G. Seidensticker

When Kikuji attends a tea ceremony after the death of his parents, he meets his father’s former mistress. While at first he is scandalized, soon he isn’t and their relationship grows with big consequences for other family members. First published in 1959, this is for fans of historical fiction and modern classics.

Woman Running in the Mountains by Yuko Tsushima, Translated by Geraldine Harcourt

In 1970s Tokyo, Takiko becomes a single mother after a brief affair. This definitely isn’t something that’s socially acceptable, but for Takiko, motherhood, even single motherhood, is special. This is a book about being a mother and woman in Japan and going against the cultural norms. For fans of feminist stories and modern classics.

The Tale of Gengi Murasaki Shikibu, Translated by Royall Tyler

This Japanese classic was first written in the eleventh century. It’s an epic story about Japanese medieval court life with drama about love and family and politics. For fans of classics.

The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki, Translated by Edward G. Seidensticker

In pre-WWII Japan, four sisters from a once prestigious family are struggling to cling to the past. They are searching for a marriage for one of their sisters, but things aren’t like they once were as both their family and Japan is going through change. For fans of historical fiction.

The Boy and the Dog by Seishu Hase, Translated by Alison Watts

After an earthquake and tsunami, Tamon, a dog, is determined to find his owner again. He goes through a series of owners on his way to the boy he once belonged to, bringing meaning to the life of each one. This is for fans of books about animals and heartwarming stories.

The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa, Translated by Philip Gabriel

This is a heartwarming story about a man and his cat who take a journey across Japan. They are going to visit the man’s friends, but there is more to the journey. For fans of stories that can be described as charming and animal narrators.

Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi, Translated by Geoffrey Trouselot

In a small coffee shop in Tokyo, you can travel back in time and try to change the past. But you can only stay as long as it takes for the coffee you leave behind to get cold. For fans of quirky and heartwarming stories.

The Little Teashop in Tokyo by Julie Caplin

When Fiona, a travel blogger, wins a trip to Tokyo she couldn’t be more excited. But when she arrives, she sees the man who broke her heart years ago. For fans of romance.

Bullet Train by Kotaro Isaka, Translated by Sam Malissa

On a bullet train from Tokyo to Morioka, five assassins are on board with different missions. Who will make it out alive? Who will complete their mission? This is a locked room thriller, perfect for fans of suspense.

Malice by Kaigo Higashino, Translated by Alexander O. Smith

When Detective Kaga is called in to investigate the death of a famous writer, he suspects the writer’s best friend had something to do with it. Everyone knew the writer and this friend were close, but were they really? For fans of thrillers and suspense.

Fish Swimming in Dappled Sunlight by Riku Onda, Translated by Alison Watts

Aki and Hiro fell in love at university, before realizing that they were actually brother and sister (don’t worry, one of them was adopted so they aren’t blood related). When they go on a hike with their estranged father and he dies, they are each convinced the other one is responsible. For fans of thrillers and suspense.

For more books around the world, check out these books set in India!

Non-Fiction Books About Japan

Pure Invention: How Japan Made the Modern World by Matt Alt

We often associate Japan with modern tech, and here Alt examines the history of Japanese inventions and how they have impacted our modern life. He covers everything from Hello Kitty to Nintendo to Toyota. For fans of books about pop culture and technology.

A Beginner’s Guide to Japan: Observations and Provocations by Pico Iyer

Iyer has called Japan home for over three decades, and in this book he points out the small observations and cultural touchstones that make Japan the country it is. He discusses everything from train stations to temples, explaining how Japan operates with interesting tidbits that visitors may notice. Perfect for fans of travel memoirs and quiet books.

Bending Adversity: Japan and the Art of Survival by David Pilling

Pilling examines Japan’s history through the lens of crisis and resilience, beginning with the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disasters and looking back through history including Japan’s pre-WWII imperialism. This is for fans of books about the intersection of history and society.

Where the Dead Pause, and the Japanese Say Goodbye: A Journey by Marie Mutsuki Mockett

In the wake of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Mockett was also grieving the unexpected loss of her father. In this memoir, she seeks healing by journeying through Japan. She meets people and visits places that reflect on death and mourning, eventually finding some hope. For fans of travel memoirs and books about grief.

Fifty Sounds by Polly Barton

Polly Barton is a literary translator, and in Fifty Sounds she reflects on her time living in Japan, Japanese culture, and her journey with the Japanese language. For fans of quiet memoirs and books about culture and language.

The Bells of Old Tokyo: Meditations on Time and a City by Anna Sherman

Anna Sherman travels to Tokyo in search of the old bells of Tokyo that once kept the hours for the city. She delves into the culture, history, and the people of the city in this book that is for fans of travel memoirs.

A Year in Japan by Kate T. Williamson

In this graphic memoir, Williamson reflects on the culture of Japan with detailed specificity. This book is a result of the year she spent in Japan, and she focuses on the little observations she made that make Japanese culture what it is. And it’s all illustrated with beautiful watercolors. For fans of travel memoirs and graphic novels.

Children’s Books About Japan

First Book of Sushi by Amy Wilson Sanger

This rhyming board book all about sushi is a fun book for the littlest of kids and will introduce them to Japanese food. Recommended ages: 0-3 years.

Yoko by Rosemary Wells

When Yoko brings her favorite food, sushi, for lunch, her classmates don’t think it looks so tasty. This is a perfect book to talk about culture differences and acceptance with younger kids. Recommended ages: 3 and up.

The Funny Little Woman by Arlene Mosel, Illustrated by Blair Lent

In this Caldecott Medal-winning book, an old woman who loves to laugh falls into the earth chasing after a runaway dumpling. There, she comes face to face with the wicked three-eyed oni. Recommended ages: 3 and up.

I Live in Tokyo by Mari Takabayashi

Follow Mimiko as she lives her life in Tokyo! This book illustrates the city for kids and takes them through the year, month by month, as Mimiko celebrates special occasions, goes to school, and lives life with her family. Recommended ages: 4 and up.

The Sound of Silence by Katrina Goldsaito, Illustrated by Julia Kuo

In the busy city of Tokyo, Yoshio is surrounded by noise all the time. But silence is maybe the most beautiful sounds of all. Where can he find it though? Recommended ages: 4 and up.

Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say

Allen Say reflects on his grandfather’s life in this picture book, explaining how he felt like he belonged in two places: both the US and Japan. Recommended ages: 5-8 years.

Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein, Illustrated by Ed Young

Wabi Sabi is a cat in Kyoto. When a friend of her owner visits and asks what her name means, Wabi Sabi sets out on a journey to discover the meaning behind her name. Recommended ages: 5 and up.

A Bowl Full of Peace by Caren Stelson, Illustrated by Akira Kusaka

In this picture book based on a true story, Sachiko Yasui survives the bombing of Nagasaki. When her family returns to their destroyed home, they find an intact bowl, which inspires a message of peace. Recommended ages: 6-11 years.

Middle Grade & YA Books Set in Japan

Dodsworth in Tokyo by Tim Egan

When Dodsworth and his duck visit Tokyo he tells the duck they need to be on their best behavior. But the duck likes to misbehave. This is a perfect book about Japan for early readers. Recommended ages: 6 and up.

Flat Stanley’s Worldwide Adventures: The Japanese Ninja Surprise by Jeff Brown, Illustrated by Macky Pamintuan

Kids who love the Flat Stanley series can read about his adventures in Japan! Stanley and his brother are big fans of the ninja movie star Oda Nobu. So they decide to mail Stanley to Oda and adventures in Japan ensue! Recommended ages: 6-8 years.

Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr, Illustrated by Ronald Himler

This middle grade novel is based on the true story of Sadako. She was a young girl who loved to run, but she died early because of radiation exposure after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Recommended ages: 7-10 years.

Pokémon Adventures by Hidinori Kusaka, Art by Mato

Pokémon is perhaps one of Japan’s most famous exports. So of course a Pokémon book belongs on our list of books about Japan! This makes a perfect read for kids who love comics and Pokémon. Recommended ages: 8 and up.

Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus

In this historical middle grade novel, a Japanese ship sinks in 1841 and its survivors are picked up by an American ship. A young boy named Manjiro finds a new home in the US, only to return to Japan later and feel out of place. Recommended ages: 8-12 years.

On the Horizon by Lois Lowry, Illustrated by Kenard Pak

In this middle grade non-fiction title, Lois Lowry uses her own childhood memories to reflect on those whose lives were altered by Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima. Much of the book is told in verse, as she tells the story of these historic events . Recommended ages: 10-12 years.

Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean

This super fun novel is like The Princess Diaries meets Crazy Rich Asians. Izumi has never known her father. But when she finds an old book of her mother’s with a strange clue in it, she discovers her father is actually the Crown Prince of Japan, and she travels there to meet him and her family (and maybe finds some romance along the way). I listened to this on audio and thought it was great in that format. Recommended ages: 12 and up.

More Books You May Like

Like this post? Save it for later!