There is a wealth of Japanese literature out here for you to enjoy! If you are living in Japan, reading books set in Japan, or written by Japanese authors can help to form a deeper connection with the country.
With things such as misleading social media, and a whole pandemic (think isolation, social distancing…), we are often feeling more disconnected, and reading can be a great antidote to this, so why not try reading some Japanese novels to learn more about this wonderful place!
Some of the best contemporary Japanese authors are also some of the best contemporary authors across the World, Japanese books are increasingly paving the way and favorited by so many readers. Additionally, many of the best contemporary Japanese authors are talented women, Mieko Kawakami, Hiromi Kawakami, Sayaka Murata, and Yoko Ogawa, to name a few.
If you enjoy reading and you are living in Japan, please check out some of these Japanese books listed below!
Convenience Store Woman – Sayaka Murata
Murata’s 2018 masterpiece is the understated Convenience Store Woman.
If you’re looking for books set in Japan, this short novel quite literally tells the story of a woman, Keiko, who works in a convenience store in Tokyo for eighteen years. So many people living in Japan make frequent visits to the konbini. Japanese convenience stores are unique and very much part of modern Japanese culture.
This is one of many Japanese novels giving a glimpse into the society here and illustrating what it is like to be almost on the edge of society. It gives an insight into the attitudes towards quirkiness and difference, work culture, social obligations, and mental health. This is told through the eyes of someone who is both a cog at the center of Japanese society (working in a convenience store) but could and may break away from it at any point.
Breasts and Eggs – Mieko Kawakami
Breast and Eggs is an intimate and insightful portrayal of contemporary female experience living in Japan, written by one of the best contemporary Japanese authors, Mieko Kawakami.
It tells the story of a family of women born in Osaka; Natsuko, who has just entered her thirties, her sister Makiko, and Midoriko, Makiko’s daughter. Makiko is an intriguing and compelling character so you may end up unable to put the book down just so that you can see learn more about her life!
If you’re looking for Japanese books that explore womanhood and bodily autonomy, start here! Some of the themes explored in Breasts and Eggs include motherhood, body image and breast enlargement procedures, life as a single mother, growing up as a girl, and motherhood.
Like some other fictional Japanese novels in this list, it is set in Tokyo. We see the city through Natsu’s perspective as both an Osakan and a woman. Parts of this book are also set in Osaka, around Kyobashi, so keep your eyes peeled for places you may recognize!
1Q84 – Haruki Murakami
No list of Japanese novels is complete without a reference to Haruki Murakami, one of the best contemporary Japanese authors. His unique simplicity and writing voice are beloved by readers across the world.
1Q84 is one of many of Murakami’s books set in Japan, specifically in Tokyo, and it is considered one of his best works. It is a magical realism book, so things aren’t quite what they seem and Japan in this book isn’t quite the Japan we know.
Although it is set in Tokyo, it is also set in another mysterious dimension. The story follows Aomame and Tengo, who met in school but are living separate lives in different worlds, unable to find each other.
This dystopian book refers to George Orwell’s 1984, in some of the themes, as well as its title. It is divided into three parts, which were originally meant to be three separate books, so it’s not a quick read!
Murakami combines this tragic love story with religious cults, unusual small people crawling into other beings, moons, teenagers, crafting his unique aesthetics, and featuring plenty of references to Western music.
If you like this you may also want to check out some of his other fiction novels like Kafka on the Shore and Norwegian Wood.
Pachinko – Min Jin Lee
Korean-American author, Min Jin Lee, is responsible for the gripping historical fiction novel detailing the story of a Korean family that immigrates to Japan.
Pachinko is a great book for anyone living in Japan or anyone who would like to learn about some of the challenges and difficulties of the Korean experience in Japan throughout the 20th century and onwards.
The book begins with Sunja, the beloved daughter of a fisherman who falls in love with a rich older man in Korea in the early 1900s. It follows the story of her and her family’s transition from Korea to Japan, passing through various characters and generations.
If you’re looking to read books set in Japan, Pachinko passes through busy street markets, farms, pachinko parlors, and Waseda University, beautifully illustrating each new environment. It begins in Yeongdo, close to Busan. In Japan, the book is set in Osaka, Nagasaki, Nagano, Roppongi, and Tokyo, so readers can travel all over Japan in one book!
It’s heartfelt and incredibly moving. At times it is harrowing and at other times it is filled with hope, perseverance, and a wholesome sentiment.
Reading Japanese books is a great way to better understand the culture and psyche here in Japan, especially if you are a foreigner. Not only that but many of the best contemporary Japanese authors are popularly some of the best contemporary authors around the world. There is no doubt that Japanese novels often considered some of the most popular novels in modern culture.