If you are travelling to Japan, moving to Japan, learning Japanese, or just interested in Japan, there are loads of books to fuel your curiosity. Japanese society is unique and remarkable in many ways, and there are layers of meaning and understanding that outsiders don’t always understand. Here are 12 fascinating books about Japan to help you better understand Japanese society.
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12 books about Japan to help you understand Japanese society
Modern Japan: A very short introduction
I like these “very short introduction” books in general because they give you a good overview of lots of larger topics. This one about Japan introduces you to modern Japanese society and the struggles that came out of Work War II.
This is an insightful book about Japan because it examines several important words. It defines and explains words unique to Japanese society, like amae, senpai-kohai, shudan ishiki, and lots more. This a must-read book for anyone seriously learning Japanese language or living in Japan and wants to understand the subtle nuances of Japanese society on a deeper level.
An Introduction to Japanese society
This is basically a textbook, so it’s not such a light read as the others on this list. I have this book though, and I thought others might be interested in something a bit more academic. I haven’t read all the chapters. It covers lots of topics, like gender, minorities in Japan, and work culture. This would be good reading for anyone studying Japan in an academic setting or who just likes to read textbooks for fun. Like me.
Shutting out the sun: How Japan created it’s own lost generation
This is one of the most interesting books about Japan I have read. It introduced me to a social phenomenon I had no idea even existed. It talks about hikikomori – people who shut themselves in their room for months or years at a time. The book highlights the problems with Japanese society that are causing people to severely withdraw from any type of social interaction. It’s also very sad.
The essence of Shinto: Japan’s spiritual heart
This would be a great book for anyone wanting to know about religion in Japan. It’s about the spiritual roots of Shintoism and its role in modern society. Shintoism is uniquely Japanese, and this book would help to see and understand how religion and spirituality influence everyday life.
Women on the verge: Japanese women, western dreams
This book has some critical reviews, but I found it insightful. It does look at a small population of people in Japan, so it’s not wise to generalize this book to all of Japanese people. But it is an interesting niche study of Japanese women who can speak Japanese and want a relationship with western men and to live abroad. I think it brings out Japan’s gender inequalities by looking at a very specific group of people.
The Japan we never knew: A journey of discovery
This might just be my favourite book about Japan I’ve ever read, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is seriously interested in Japanese society. I stumbled across it at the library one day, and I’m so glad it found me. It is about cultural and ethnic minorities, like Ainu, Ryuku, burakumin, and resident Koreans in Japan. I think a lot of people with a basic understanding of Japan don’t know about these issues, so it’s very informative. Plus, it’s by David Suzuki. 🙂
A geek in Japan: Discovering the land of manga, anime, zen, and the tea ceremony
I’m not into Japanese anime and manga, but I know a lot people are. I haven’t read this book, but I often see it recommended. It seems like it would be interesting for anyone who is Japan-curious, but someone who is into anime and robots might find the most enjoyment in it.
Tokyo vice: An American reporter on the police beat in Japan
I read this book, and I had a few issues with it. The story itself was fascinating because it’s about an American police officer in Tokyo who goes on lots of cases relating to organized crime. It’s a look into a side of Japan you don’t often know about and from a westerner. But I didn’t like the author. Maybe I’m not being fair because I obviously don’t know the author, but I didn’t like how he was such a workaholic who felt it was part of his job to go around with prostitutes while he had a wife and family at home…
Confessions of a Yakuza
This is one of those books about Japan that takes you into the underworld from someone who has been there. It’s the true life story of a real traditional yakuza as he told his story to his doctor. He tells about his adventures and sentimental moments in the Japanese mafia.
Bushido: The samurai code of honour – the truth about Japanese samurai wisdom
The samurai were an important class of people in old Japan. In this book, you can learn about samurai codes and traditions that played such an important role in Japanese society. If you’re looking for books about Japan that tie the past in with the present, give this one a read. It should leave you with a deeper appreciation for samurai and a better understanding of modern Japanese society.
You can’t spell Tokyo without K.O.: A photo-essay dissecting the Japanese epidemic of passing out in public
I have seen Japanese salarymen (and on occasion women) passed out on the streets at night. Like other books about Japan, this one explores a fascinating and confusing social phenomenon. But unlike other books, it does so through photos and commentary. It’s an interesting look at a strange behaviour in a place like Japan where you would expect people to always have their best face forward in public. There is something odd, even shameful, about letting all inhibitions loose and passing out in public, no?