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Books & Movies
  • Japan: The Story of A Nation by Edwin Reischauer. This book chronicles the evolution of Japanese civilization from imperial rule through the death of Emperor Hirohito. It explores the roots and development of the military dictatorship that brought Japan into World War II and the effects of the postwar American occupation.
  • Everyday Life in Traditional Japan by Charles J. Dunn and Laurence Broderick. A vivid portrait of Tokugawa Japan, a time when contact with the outside world was deliberately avoided and the daily life of the different classes consolidated the traditions that shaped modern Japan.
  • Unbeaten Tracks in Japan by Isabella L. Bird. The intrepid explorer recounts her 1878 excursion by pack horse, rickshaw, and foot into the back country of the Far East. In poignant, vivid letters, Bird describes journey: the difficulties as well as the excitement and rewards. 40 of Bird's own sketches and photographs illustrate her captivating stories.
  • Japanese Today: Change and Continuity by Edwin O. Reischauer and Marius B. Jansen. An incomparable description of Japan today in all its complexity and uniqueness, both material and spiritual. The book presents the paradox of contemporary Japan: thoroughly international, yet not entirely trusted and feared for its current economic aggressiveness.
  • The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture by Ruth Benedict. A recognized classic of cultural anthropology, this book explores the political, religious, and economic life of Japan from the seventh century through the mid-twentieth, as well as personal family life.
  • Geisha by Liza Dalby. In this classic best-seller, Liza Dalby, the only non-Japanese ever to have trained as a geisha, offers an insider's look at the exclusive world of female companions to the Japanese male elite. Her new preface considers the geisha today as a vestige of tradition as Japan heads into the 21st century.
  • Anthology of Japanese Literature: From the Earliest Era to the Mid-Nineteenth Century. The sweep of Japanese literature in all its great variety. Every genre and style, from the celebrated No plays to the poetry and novels of the seventeenth century, find a place in this book.
  • Memoirs of a Geisha: A Novel by Arthur Golden. A literary sensation and a bestseller, this novel tells with seamless authenticity and exquisite lyricism the true confessions of one of Japan's most celebrated geisha. Speaking to us with the wisdom of age and in a voice at once haunting and startlingly immediate, Nitta Sayuri tells the story of her life.
  • The World of the Shining Prince: Court Life in Ancient Japan by Ivan Morris. A widely acclaimed portrait of the ceremonious, inbred, melancholy world of ancient Japan. Using as a frame of reference The Tale of Genji, it recreates an era when woman set the cultural tone of the emperor's court in Japan.
  • Travelers of a Hundred Ages: The Japanese as Revealed Through 1,000 Years of Diaries by Donald Keene. An intimate account of the diarists' lives and a testimony to the greater struggles and advances of Japanese culture, this book illuminates the hidden worlds of imperial courts, Buddhist monasteries, country inns, and merchants' houses.
  • Autobiography of a Geisha by Sayo Masuda. The life of hardship and pain led by the hot-springs-resort geisha. Indentured to geisha houses by poor families, deprived of freedom and identity, these young women lived in a world of sex for sale, unadorned by the trappings of wealth and celebrity.
  • Introduction to Japanese Culture by Daniel Sosnoski. Preserved for centuries in its highly independent and utterly unique rituals and ethics, Japanese culture is still mysterious to Westerners. The sixty eight original and informative essays reveal the tenacious cultural past still resonant in Japan's arts, festivals, and customs. 
  • Travelers' Tales Japan: True Stories by Donald W. George. It is no wonder that Japan simultaneously astonishes, delights, and frustrates travelers, and the diverse tales in this book reveal the nation in all its contradictions: a place of tranquil temples and high-tech toilets, exquisite ancient inns and lurid love hotels.
  • The Showa Anthology: Modern Japanese Short Stories (Japan's Modern Writers) by Van C. Gessel. The anthology covers 60 years of Japanese literature, and presents both established authors as well as numerous writers, almost unknown in English. A great introduction to today's Japan.


  • Old Kyoto: A Guide to Traditional Shops, Restaurants and Inns by Diane Durston (A wonderful guide to unique traditional shops); 
  • Exploring Kyoto: On Foot Through the Ancient Capital by Judith Clancy (A source for lesser known, fascinating corners of Kyoto;
  • Fodor's Tokyo by Stephanie Adler (Comprehensive, portable guide to Tokyo);
  • Clueless in Tokyo: Explorer’s Sketchbook of Weird and Wonderful Things in Japan by Betty Reynolds (A user-friendly book offering a different take on things Japanese; there is also a follow up book).


  • Beginner's Japanese: An Easy Introduction (Teach Yourself Books) by Helen Gilhooly;
  • Berlitz Japanese Phrase Book.

Western Travelers and Commentators

  • Learning to Bow: Inside the Heart of Japan by Bruce S. Feiler (The author of Walking the Bible describes his time as a teacher of English to junior high students in Japan and how his lessons helped him uncover the essence of the Japanese people);
  • Lost Japan by Alex Kerr (Idiosyncratic look at changing Japan);
  • The Inland Sea by Donald Richie; 
  • Japanese Inn by Oliver Statler (Classic history of a ryokan - traditional inn - on the Tokaido road from 1569 to the present).


  • The Tale of Genji, translated and abridged by Edward G. Seidensticker (There are several translations of this classic of Japanese literature, written in the 11th century; this abridged version may be the most manageable).
  • The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, translated and edited by Ivan Morris; 
  • The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches by Matsuo Basho, translated by Nobuyuki Yuasa.

Modern and Contemporary Japanese fiction

  • The Crazy Iris and Other Stories of the Atomic Aftermath by Oe Kenzaburo; 
  • Monkey Brain Sushi: New Tastes in Japanese Fiction by Alfred Birnbaum; 
  • Kafka on the Shore by Murakami Haruki; 
  • The Old Capital by Yasunari Kawabata;
  • Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata; 
  • The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet: A Novel by David Mitchell; 
  • The Teahouse Fire by Ellis Avery.


  • Japan Before Perry: A Short History by Conrad Totman; 
  • The Making of Modern Japan by Marius Jansen; 
  • Japan: A Modern History by James McClain.

Art – General

  • How to Look at Japanese Art by Stephen Addiss;
  • Japanese Art by Joan Stanley-Baker; 
  • The Unnamed Craftsman by Soetsu Yanagi.

Applied Arts

  • Japan Crafts Sourcebook: A Guide to Today's Traditional Handmade Objects by Diane Durston; 
  • Vanishing Japan: Traditions, Crafts, and Culture by Elizabeth Kiritani, et al; 
  • Edo Craftsmen: Master Artisans of Old Tokyo by Thomas F. Judge.


  • Japanese Garden Design by Marc P. Keane;
  • Infinite Spaces: The Art and Wisdom of the Japanese Garden (based on Sakuteki by Tachibana no Toshitsuna) by Joe Earle.
  • Seven Samurai (1954). A poor village under attack by bandits recruits seven unemployed samurai to help them defend themselves.
  • In The Realm Of The Senses (1976). Based on a true story set in pre-war Japan. A man and one of his servants begin a torrid affair to the point when their desire becomes a sexual obsession.
  • James Clavell's Shogun (1980). John Blackthorne, an English ship pilot, whose vessel wrecked upon the Japanese coast in the early 17th century is forced to deal with the two most powerful men in Japan in these days. He is thrown in the midst of a war between Toranaga and Ishido, who struggle for the title of Shogun which will give ultimate power to the one who possesses it.
  • Kagemusha (1980). A petty thief with an utter resemblance to a samurai warlord is hired as the lord's double. When the warlord later dies, the thief is forced to take up arms in his place.
  • Ran (1985). An elderly lord abdicates to his three sons, and the two corrupt ones turn against him.
  • Lost in Translation (2003). A faded movie star and a neglected young wife form an unlikely bond after crossing paths in Tokyo.
  • Cherry Blossoms (2009). A tender, emotionally intense and profoundly moving story of marital love. After Trudi dies, Rudi is devastated but vows to make up for her lost life. He embarks on his last journey, to Tokyo, in the midst of the cherry blossom festival, a celebration of beauty, impermanence and new beginnings.