Finding the right book can often be a difficult task as you trawl through various shelves at the bookstore or library searching for that one collection of pages that interest you. Furthermore, if you’re looking for a book particularly set in Japan, your options can oftentimes be a little more limited, sometimes with just a small selection of Haruki Murakami novels to choose from. The following article offers four books with Japan as a setting that should satisfy you, should you be looking for something besides Norwegian Wood.
The first book on this list will certainly be of interest to any foreigner interested in teaching English in Japan, especially those considering working under the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme or JET. The book itself revolves around the real life experiences of author Sam Baldwin while he was teaching English in the rural town of Ono in Fukui Prefecture. Published in 2012, the book remains relevant although some references may now be considered outdated – for example, his referral to Barack Obama as US President during his trip to a town of the same name – but these are only minor details and it’s still one of the more recent books you will find set in Japan.
As the tongue-in-cheek title might elude to, For Fukui’s Sake offers a sometimes humorous view of what living in a rural Japanese town can be like for a foreigner. Beneath the humor, though, lies a detailed and insightful book about one man’s experiences in Japan, which makes a great read for would-be English teachers and anyone else who wants to read about rural Japan.
*Hokkaido Highway Blues was republished and renamed in 2005 as Hitching Rides with Buddha
This book also details one man’s journey through Japan, however, it is very different from For Fukui’s Sake in many ways. Firstly, the book was originally published in 1998. It refers to a Japan of a different time, especially with regards to the number of foreigners in the country. In 1990, around the time Canadian author Will Ferguson was in Japan traveling, there was approximately just under one million foreign residents living in Japan; whereas in 2010, around the time Sam Baldwin wrote For Fukui’s Sake, the number had more than doubled to where there were over two million foreign residents – something to bear in mind when comparing the two.
The premise of the book is also different with the Canadian writer not limiting himself to one region of Japan like Baldwin. Instead, Ferguson hitchhikes from the southernmost point of Japan, Cape Sata, to the northernmost, Cape Noya, following the cherry blossoms.
Hokkaido Highway Blues is also approximately one hundred pages longer than For Fukui’s Sake with the 2003 version of the book coming in at 344 pages. Although it should be noted that in my copy of For Fukui’s Sake, the pages and text were somewhat larger.
Some of the stories the Canadian offers will make you both laugh and potentially frustrated with him as he stumbles across Japan.
The next book on this list is another true story, however, a rather darker one. The 2010 offering from Japan-based journalist Jake Adelstein is a gripping tale about how he was a young journalist at one of Japan’s largest newspapers, the Yomiuri Shimbun, and how he found himself entangled with a certain branch of the Japanese Yakuza.
Tokyo Vice reads a lot like a fantasy crime novel would, however, the events are real and Adelstein even tells of the loss of a friend in the book so younger readers might want to give this one a miss. It provides a great insight, not only to life in Japan but also the inner workings of the Japanese media, police, and organized crime.
The book is also meant to be getting a film with Harry Potter star, Daniel Radcliffe, playing author Adelstein. However, news has been limited since it was announced back in 2013.
If Tokyo Vice isn’t necessarily suitable for younger readers, Tokyo Heist most certainly is. The only work of fiction on this list, this crime novel is clearly aimed at the young adult market.
The story itself follows a teenage girl, who is interested in both art and Japan, on a globetrotting chase from America to Japan where she attempts to retrieve a stolen piece of art for some friends of her father. While the story may be fictional, the settings are not and author Diana Renn does a good job of detailing the cities of Tokyo and Kyoto in the novel.
If you’re looking for a rather more light-hearted book about Japan than those listed above, Tokyo Heist might just be for you.
So what do you think of the books on the list? Did we miss your favorite Japan-based read? Let us know in the comments section below!