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Looking for a good book to read while you’re traveling in Japan? Check out my list of books about Japan and by Japanese authors.


Almost Transparent Blue

Ryū Murakami
CATEGORIES: Classic/Culturally Significant | Sense of Culture

Written while the author was still in college, the award-winning postmodern novel, set in the 1970s, follows a disaffected youth who delves in sex, drugs, and rock and roll in excess, thanks in part to the nearby U.S military base. The Japan Times included it in its weekly column “Essentials,” which features books that should be “on the bookshelf of any Japanophile.”



Karate-Do: My Way of Life

Gichin Funakoshi
CATEGORIES: Classic/Culturally Significant | Sense of Culture

When my sensei recommended this book, I thought it was to try to win me over to karate as an overall lifestyle. But it is so much more than that. The autobiography of the man who introduced the Okinawan martial art to the rest of the country also relates how individual Japanese acclimated during the transition out of 220 years of isolationism.



Norwegian Wood

Haruki Murakami
CATEGORIES: Classic/Culturally Significant

As the book that launched Murakami into the spotlight of his native Japan, Norwegian Wood became a bestseller upon its release in 1987 and became particularly popular among the country’s youth. The coming-of-age story explores the themes of loss and sexuality as it follows college-age protagonist Toru Watanabe through the Tokyo of the 1960s. Murakami has gone on to become one of the best-known Japanese authors outside of his country and has been the recipient of numerous awards around the world.



Pachinko

Min Jin Lee
CATEGORIES: Person/Place/Event | Sense of Culture

Cited by Barack Obama as one of his favorite books of 2019, the epic novel spanning four generations follows a poor Korean family that immigrates and struggles to assimilate in Japan. Opening in 1910, during the Japanese occupation of Korea, and ending in 1989, Lee’s second novel shows how — just like the game for which the book is named — haphazard and random life can be, while providing a glimpse into both Korean and Japanese cultures.



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