Friday, June 18, 2010

What Would You Recommend? - Fiction set in Japan

This is a question I get asked all the time working in the bookstore: "What would you recommend for somebody who loved "_________"? (fill in the blank)" Usually I can come up with something, but that something can be a bit of a wild guess if it's not a book or genre I normally read. This is where you helpful people come in. If you have a suggestion, I'd love to hear it.

This week's request was inspired by watching The Last Samurai the other day and by the realization that I need to widen my reading horizons. Thanks to that movie I've been hunting down some non-fiction books on the period. Now, I'd like to find some good fiction set in historical Japan. I've read Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden and someone recommended James Clavell's novel Shogun, (that was a challenge to find! Sold out at five different stores) but I don't know of many other books aside from Leslie Downing's The Last Concubine for Japan, although there are quite a few that I've seen/read for historical China. Interestingly, the author of that last book has written some non-fiction books about Japan as well.

So, what would you recommend as good novels? Or, good non-fiction books on Japan's history?


Anassa said...

You can probably find biographies of Japanese royals and samurai fairly easily. I know I've seen some, but can't for the life of me remember their titles. Ditto with stories of European contact—a vaguely creative Amazon search should do you fine.

As for fiction, I'd look for either the Tale of Genji or Lian Hearn's Tales of the Otori series. The last one's set in a fantasy world, but from what I hear, it's barely fantasy and more or less historical fiction about Japan.

Book Bird Dog said...

How about a nice piece of literary fiction? Easy to read - The Housekeeper and the Professor, or After Dark by Haruki Murakami, or if you like noir, Out by Natsuo Kirino - all in translation of course. I also have a mystery by a Japanese american writer on the first page of my blog today.

You could also join the Japanese Literature Challenge 4 to find other books and reviews, hosted by

Here is the link to my review of The Housekeeper and the Professor

Hope you visit.

fantasylover12001 said...

Well...I know it's a young adult series (and well known manga) but The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzimiya light novel series. Yes it's technically a fantasy but it takes place in today's Japan and you kind of get insight into the school life of Japan.'s just plain hysterical.

Unknown said...

Think I've found one or two of those now, Anassa. Thanks for the reminder on that Tale of Genji. I've had people in looking for it in the past.

Book Bird Dog, that looks like an interesting challenge. I'm definitely going to check it out. Thanks.

That sounds interesting Fantasylover. Thanks for mentioning it.

Chad Hull said...

James Clavell's works are great reading no matter what you like. Though it's not necessary I'd say start with Shogun.

I've heard very good things about Lian Hearn.

Shipwrecks by Akira Yoshimura is by far and away the best book I've read this year; I bet I'll be saying the same thing in December as well.

Unknown said...

I'll have to look for that one then Chad. Thanks for the recommendation. I'm absolutely loving Shogun right now (about a hundred and fifty pages from the end).

Unknown said...

Anassa, I'd have to say you're right. Tales of the Otori is barely fantasy. In fact, it rather brings to mind Guy Gavriel Kay's novel Under Heaven. The books seem to be done in the same way.


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