The Essential Japanese Reading List

Headed to Japan? Our short list of the best books to read offers the ultimate primer before you go.

Penguin Random House (2); Pushkin Press
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My fondest first memory of Tokyo may well be the two hours I spent recovering from that dizzying megalopolis inside Books Kinokuniya’s flagship Shinjuku store. While America’s mega bookstores long ago wilted beneath Amazon’s onslaught, Kinokuniya’s enduring presence testifies to the value of the written word in Japan.

Thus, there is no better preparation for visiting Japan than reading about it first. But if you think that means just haiku and Haruki Murakami, you have some serious catching up to do. Yes, Murakami deserves his place in world literature, but even he wouldn’t pretend to be the first or last word in Japanese literature. Fortunately, we have some suggestions to help you get started.