Ready to move to Japan? The land of the rising sun is a beautiful and often mysterious place. One thing is certain, it feels very different from life in the states. Pick up these 11 reads to ease your nerves, delve into the culture and hit the ground running once you make the life-changing move. Before you know it, you’ll be drinking matcha at a cat café by day and singing karaoke with new friends by night.
By Betty Reynolds
Read before your first dinner off base.
Just what are you eating? Do you pick it up with your fingers? Dip it in sauce? And just what is that sauce? Dining in Japan can be intimidating and overwhelming. This delightfully light read takes the guess work out of the experience. Author and artist Betty Reynolds explores everything from world famous sushi to traditional Japanese cooking.
By Arthur Golden
Read before a trip to Kyoto.
This historical fiction novel was a runaway best seller when it debuted in 1997. The novel is told from the first-person perspective and follows the story of Japan’s most celebrated geisha working in Kyoto before, during and after WWII. She’s taught to beguile the most powerful men in this romantic and suspenseful tale. A 2005 film based upon the book was a Hollywood hit.
By Takashi Hiraide
Read when you surrender to all things Hello Kitty.
Once you arrive in Japan, you will notice that cats are everywhere in pop culture and out in town. I once saw a cat in a hat and sweater on top of a busy Tokyo street sign. What better way to find out about this revered pet than Hiraide’s charming novel? The recipient of Japan’s prestigious Kiyama Shohei Literary Award, this slender 140 page-novel is a treasure that tells the story of lonely marriage between two writers. While house sitting, they reconnect when a stranger’s cat enters their lives.
By Min Jin Lee
Read before visiting a pachinko parlor.
A 2017 finalist for the National Book Award, Pachinko is an engrossing novel about four generations of a Korean family who moved to Japan in the early 20th century. The novel captures their struggles to integrate as foreigners and explores themes of racism, identity and power. This story will serve as a great backstory to the more than 10,000 pachinko parlors you find in Japan today and the complicated relationship between Japan and Korea.
By Kyoko Mori
Read when after you make your first Japanese friend.
The author’s personal story about dual heritage is strikingly honest. In this memoir, she explores the different codes of silence, deference and expression that govern Japanese and American women’s lives. The book explores the rituals of mourning, body image, the importance of family and differing views on femininity. One woman’s life becomes the mirror of two profoundly different societies.
By Richard Lloyd Perry
Read before a stay at Tokyo’s New Sanno Hotel.
As the title suggests, this book is really dark! I mean, creepy dark. Japan has one of the lowest crime rates in the world and is consistently deemed one of the safest places to live. This book chronicles the highly publicized murder of Lucie Blackman. In the summer of 2000, the blonde 21-year-old British national walked out her job at a club in Roppongi and disappeared without a trace. The following winter, her dismembered remains were found buried in a seaside cave. The true crime thriller delves deep into the Japanese detectives’ passivity in the case and the country’s convoluted legal system. This page turner will have you on the edge of your seat.
by Sayaka Murata
Read when 7/11 becomes your favorite lunch spot.
Murata is one of Japan’s best-selling and most acclaimed authors and this is her first book to be translated into English. Winner of the Akutagawa Prize, this quirky and odd book is the heartwarming story of thirty-six-year-old Keiko Furukura who struggles with the conformity Japanese society requires. Keiko has never fit in and is an outsider and at school and within her own family. At the age of 18, she starts working at the Hiiromachi branch of “Smile Mart,” and finds both peace and purpose in her life.
By Will Ferguson
Read during cherry blossom season.
In the 1990s, a Canadian teacher sets out to follow cherry blossoms across the length of Japan. The novel is a beautiful look at Japan the country’s most celebrated season. The author gets to know new Japanese friends along the way has some raucous hanami parties under these majestic trees.
By Hector Garcia
Read after you download Pokemon Go.
This is the go-to bible of everything otaku (nerd culture) in the geek paradise that is modern day Japan. The book is geared towards Westerners who love Pokemon and anime and features a wide variety of local culture. From vending machines to Japan’s incredible megastores, you’ll find it here in this guide.
10. Ms. Ice Sandwich
By Mieko Kawakami
Read when you see the local kids walking to school in their adorable school uniforms.
This YA novella tells the story of a fourth-grade boy and his much older crush who works in a sandwich shop. It’s a tender and warm story about growing up in Japan, first love, grief and saying goodbye to loved ones.
By Matt Goulding
Read right before you PCS to your next duty station and are brave enough to order off a Japanese menu without knowing what you’re going to get.
Why is Japanese food so delicious? From convenience stores to kaiseki and everything in between, Author Matt Goulding takes a deep dive into the culinary scene found in the country.
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