5 Japanese Books for 2021

These Books Will Change Your Perspective And Boost Your Optimism

By Jessica Esa
January 1, 2021
Art & Culture, Book Corner

A few inspirational titles to recharge your optimism batteries for all exciting things that are to come in 2021.

Looking for some inspirational books to get you in the mood to embrace everything the new year has coming? 2020 is finally behind us and we can make new resolutions for the brand new 2021 in front of us. Resolutions are made to be broken but practicing some new habits and enjoying some fresh perspectives on life can get you going on the right note. Here are some Japanese books, from philosophy to fiction, to get you in the right frame of mind to begin the new year or anything else you’d like to start anew in 2021.

1. Ikigai by Yukari Mitsuhashi 

5 Japanese Books To Read Before You Start Anything New This Year: Ikigai

If you’re looking to practice mindfulness this new year then this short and inspirational book is perfect for you. Mitsuhashi looks at the ancient-old Japanese concept of ikigai which can help bring focus to your life: “Ikigai is not something you practice but something you find.”

Raised in Tokyo, Mitsuhashi brings the reader case studies and practical advice to help learn some of the secrets to a happy life by focusing on things that bring you joy, learning to appreciate them, and practicing altruistic behaviors. This is an easy way to start the year on a positive note and work on some new habits. The concept has also been popularised in the West with the book Ikigai: A Secret for a Long and Happy Life by Héctor García which provides you with a great next option if you want to learn more about Ikigai after Mitsuhashi’s fantastic introduction. 

2. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

5 Japanese Books To Read Before You Start Anything New This Year: Marie Kondo

Born in Tokyo, Marie Kondo has become an international success in the art of tidying and perfecting the art of designer organization. Using her own “KonMari” methods, largely inspired by Japanese philosophies, she encourages the reader to declutter through joy. By only keeping the things that bring you happiness, and blessing and sending away the things that you don’t need anymore. You can enjoy an organized minimalist space by starting small—room by room—one category at a time, until your house resembles an Instagram lifestyle page. For those who aren’t ready to declutter (admittedly, as a major hoarder, I struggle with it all), Marie also teaches the Japanese art of furoshiki (gift wrapping) and provides tips for improving your productivity. You’ll find all the tools to start the new year with a fresh perspective and a beautiful living space.

3. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

5 Japanese Books To Read Before You Start Anything New This Year: What I talk about when I talk about running

Losing weight or taking up some form of exercise is a classic new year’s resolution that many of us will be familiar with breaking. Murakami took up marathon running when he was 33 and here, in this memoir, he discusses his motivations. Marrying athleticism and intellectual pursuit, we follow the renowned writer as he trains for the New York Marathon, providing wisdom, advice on running, and plenty of writing tips along the way. It also looks at his changed perspective on life since taking up the hobby, how his running has a positive effect on his writing, and how a healthy body can contribute to an active mind. Perfect if you’re looking for that push to get moving after the festive indulgences.

Book translated by Philip Gabriel

4. The Traveling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa

5 Japanese Books To Read Before You Start Anything New This Year: The travelling cat chronicles

A few years ago, the catchphrase of the day was YOLO (You only live once). As we move into the new year, a read of The Travelling Cat Chronicles, which was also made into a movie last year, will have this word back on your lips as you consider how best to seize 2021 and make it yours.

A story concerning a road trip across Japan from the point-of-view of a witty cat called Nana might not, at first, sound like the makings of an inspirational message like “seize the day,” but its story is one of those that is very easy to spoil. So, let’s simply say that this is a story that will move you to tears, fill you with enthusiasm for the year ahead, and perhaps give you that push to plan the ultimate Japanese road trip.

Book translated by Philip Gabriel

5. The Last Children of Tokyo by Yoko Tawada

5 Japanese Books To Read Before You Start Anything New This Year: The Last children of Tokyo

If you’re looking to become more environmentally-minded this year, or looking for something to motivate you to become so, this is it. Tawada provides us with a glimpse into the very near future with her latest Black Mirror-esque award-winning novel.

In recent years, Japan has become known globally for its aging population: a generation living longer than that of any other nation; and this issue, coupled with the very real fears of pollution and isolation from the rest of the world, makes this one of the greatest dystopian novels of recent years. Far from being depressing, Tawada gently reminds us of the things we should be thankful for and the ways we can preserve our current lifestyle in healthier ways.

Book translated by Margaret Mitsutani

Know the perfect Japanese books for 2021? Let us know in the comments below.

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