Books to Turn You Japanese

Turning Japanese I think I’m turning Japanese I really think so!

I loved that song as a kid, and though I’ve never really been to Japan I’ve read a fair few books either set in the land of the rising sun, or with Japanese characters. It is after all a country full of stories, whose written language is created of tiny images.

So to celebrate this amazing country here’s a selection of books for you. Some are written by Japanese people, some not but hopefully you’ll find something in here that will inspire you turn Japanese too!

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles by Haruki Murakami

imageMurakami’s classic novel combining the suburban life of a Japanese couple with a mysterious and magical cast of characters is nothing less than mind-twisting.

I loved the descriptions of everyday Japanese life and particularly of the buildings. So often Japan is romanticised as some kind of Tatami heaven but of course it’s not like that these days. This felt real.

There are many subplots through this and one of my favourites involves the story of one man’s war, not enough is heard of Japanese soldiers and this vignette was fascinating.

Read our full review here.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

imageNao (pronounced now) is a teenager living in Tokyo before the new millennium. Somehow her diary ends up in a Hello Kitty lunchbox washed up on a Canadian beach. It is found by Ruth, a Japanese expat and novelist suffering from writer’s block and trying to avoid her feelings of guilt for not being a good enough daughter. Ruth becomes obsessed with the diary, trying to research to see if she can find Nao whilst simultaneously reading it slowly and not wanting to know what has become of Nao until she reaches the end.

Like Murakami’s work it shows us life in Japan in the last quarter of the 20th Century, but it also gives glimpses of their war history and explores themes much bigger than country and culture.

Read our full review here.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

the-watchmaker-of-filigree-streetTo be fair this book isn’t really even partially set in Japan. But one of the main characters is Japanese and through him (and a few others) we do get to see what London living was like for expat Japanese in the early 1900’s. Clearly it was a time when the west’s fascination for the land of the rising sun was rising, because one sub-plot here involves the preparation for the premier of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado!

Read our full review here.

A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton

imageWhen the atomic bombs hit Japan families were torn apart. Amaterasu Takahashi’s family were torn apart. Her daughter Yuko and gorgeous little grandson Hideo were gone in that appalling flash.

But in truth there was a tear in her family already and when a stranger arrives Amaterasu has to face up to it and decide if she can reconcile herself to the past for a chance at a new future.

Read our full review here.

Star Sand by Roger Pulvers.


As World War 2 draws to its end sixteen year old Hiromi sees a man on the beach at night about to shoot himself. He is rescued by another man and dragged into a cave. When she follows to help she finds they are both army deserters—one American, one Japanese.

Though they should be enemies they bond instantly and Hiromi, alone in the world herself, resolves to care for them. But when another joins them the dynamics are upset. Fatally.

Read our full review here.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell

imageDavid Mitchell’s epic historical novel is set in 18th Century Dejima. A tiny, man-made island in the bay of Nagasaki, that has been the sole gateway between Japan and the West for two hundred years. The streets of Dejima are thick with scheming traders, spies, interpreters, servants and concubines East and West converge. Superstitions and science fight for supremacy but nothing can conquer Mitchell’s historical accuracy.

Read our full review here.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

415meoi1r1L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_When her mother falls ill, Chiyo and her sister are sold. Her older sister is sold as a prostitute but Chiyo ends up a servant and apprentice to a renowned geisha house.

Many years later she tells her story of her the highs and lows, the beauty and the ugliness of life behind the rice-paper screens, from the Waldorf Astoria in New York. Hers is the story of Geisha in the 20th Century, the last generation of true Geisha, girls that knew how to wind the kimono, how to walk and pour tea, and how to beguile the land’s most powerful men.

Read our full review here.

The Tale of Murasaki by Liza Dalby

IMG_2396Lady Murasaki is considered the author of the first novel ever written She was born around 973ad and wrote The Tale of Genji initially to entertain herself and a few friends but then it came to the notice of the young Empress Shoshi and she was called to court.

This story is based on her diaries, it is a fascinating story of life in medieval Japan. Liza Dalby has retained much of the poetry that underpins the writing but yet turned it into a lyrical voice that recounts the story naturally. I’m tempted to read The Tales of Gengi but in truth I think the story of its author will remain more fascinating!


I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.