Books and literature

The Japanese have a long literary tradition and if you’re a book lover I bet you’ll have fun reading some Japanese novels when there’s some downtime in your travels.

If you’re looking for books in English, you should be warned that it’s quite uncommon to find stores with a good selection within Japan. Even the biggest bookstores in Tokyo have a limited selection which often doesn’t go much further than a Lonely Planet about Japan or Dan Brown and John Grisham books. Most book stores have no English books at all.

If you’re looking for bookstores, check out the shopping section.


Haruki Murakami

Murakami is perhaps the most famous Japanese writer in the West. He has written many books that are considered classics; the most famous one being Norwegian Wood. Within Japan Murakami has many fans but also receives criticism for writing stories in a way that they would appeal to a Western audience. Some critics believe he “sold out”.

Personally, I think South of the Border, West of the Sun is Murakami’s best book.

Yukio Mishima

Yukio Mishima was an interesting literary figure. Next to a writer, he was a political activist. His main line of thought was to restore old imperialism and loyalty to the emperor. He was quite rich from selling many books and often held private parties. He had his own army consisting of more than 100 soldiers.

He died in a very specific way after trying to stage a coup d’etat. committing suicide in the traditional way (seppuku, otherwise known as harakiri). One second after he stuck a dagger in his abdomen, his second lieutenant tried to chop his head off but failed. His head was finally severed by another soldier. He was gay and one of his first books was about a boy struggling with him being gay. In his most famous work The Temple of the Golden Pavillion he wrote about a monk’s obsession with the Kinkaku-ji temple in Kyoto.

Soseki Natsume

Soseki Natsume, who lived from 1867 to 1916, was a Japanese novelist best known for his novel I am a cat. This satirical book describes Japanese society during the Meiji period (1868-1912) from the perspective of a cat. In Japan, Soseki Natsume is often considered the greatest writer in modern history.

Ryunosuke Akutagawa

Ryunosuke Akutagawa is considered the “father” of the short story. Japan’s premier literary award, the Akutagawa Prize, is named after him. Akutagawa’s most story is called Rashōmon. He wrote over 150 short stories in his short life.