6 Japanese Books to Enjoy This Summer

From romance to sci-fi to Tokyo-based travel, there’s a good read to dive into for everyone this summer

By Jessica Esa
June 18, 2019
Art & Culture, Book Corner

Discover some of the best Japanese literature coming out this summer.

Visions of summer holidays often include a beach, a book, and a cocktail, but even if your summer vacation is still a long way ahead, there’s always room for a great Japanese read or two. Whether you want inspiration for new things to do in Tokyo, or want to be captivated by a romance or fantasy tale, there’s something for everyone on this list of Japanese summer reads.

1. The Bells of Old Tokyo by Anna Sherman

6 Japanese Books for Summer Bells of Old Tokyo

If you love Japanese culture and are itching to discover new things, then this is the book for you! Good travel writing is often hard to come by—it’s a delicate balance of bringing a destination to life while also informing of its noteworthy aspects, but Anna Sherman does so flawlessly in The Bells of Tokyo. Sherman begins her personal tale searching for the bells of Edo and on the way, she develops new friendships with local Japanese people, such as the cafe owner who considers coffee as an art-form. It’s a vibrant yet calm account of Tokyo and its secrets and provides to us a readable approach to what could be considered a dry topic.

2. Automatic Eve by Rokuro Inui 

6 Japanese Books for Summer Automatic Eve

Automatic Eve is an explosive book that’s perfect if you like science-fiction mixed with a touch of Edo Japan. A political fantasy in the same realm as Game of Thrones, this book offers a unique perspective of a world where the line of succession is purely female. This world is thrown into upheaval when the creation of a self-aware automaton called Eve leads to an unraveling of the city’s hidden secrets. Japan has a long history of creating automatons, clockwork dolls, and puppets that were all years ahead of the rest of the world, and Inui has taken that to create an alternate-reality, feminist sci-fi story that can be described as nothing short of genius. This is a book you’ll struggle not to devour in just one sitting.

Book translated by Matt Tryvaud

3. The Ten Loves of Nishino by Hiromi Kawakami 

6 Japanese Books for Summer The Ten Loves of NishinoThis endearing collection of short stories are all tethered together by a single man: Nishino. An enigmatic man, Nishino floats through the lives of ten independent women; each of them loving him in her own way. Through these stories, we get ten different perspectives into how love behaves and what love, relationships, and men mean to different women. We also get a fun, surreal, and at times unsettling, life story—one that’s been cut up, rearranged, inverted, and confused. All the way through the book, Nishino is as unpredictable as love itself often is. Here is an engrossing and engaging exploration of love in all of its forms.

Book translated by Allison Markin Powell 

4. The Little House by Kyoko Nakajima

6 Japanese Books for Summer The Little House

This charming slow burner, set in the early years of the Shōwa era (1926–89), takes place on the outskirts of Tokyo in a European-style house with a red, triangular roof. A nostalgic and gentle memoir of a servant, comparable to Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, we follow the life of the main character, Taki. Having served a middle-class family for most of her life, she introduces us to an average day in a country that’s slowly descending into war. It’s vivid, incredibly well translated, and paints a picture of this time period better than I’ve ever seen. The story takes a surprising twist with an additional chapter at the end of the journal, which turns the novel on its head.

Book translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori

5. The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

6 Japanese Books for Summer The Memory Police

This novel needs no introduction for fans of Yoko Ogawa—she is a master of suspense, twists, and in-depth characters. In her new Orwellian novel, a young writer lives on an island where things (or people) that have disappeared no longer exist in the minds of those who live there. She discovers that her editor is going to be taken by the Memory Police, a group that exists to erase everything from a person, an animal or even a book. In this surreal world, once something is forgotten, it’s gone for good. Miraculously, the writer retains her memory and embarks on a journey to rescue her editor while pretending that she is just like everyone else. It’s provocative, captivating, and stays with you long after you’ve finished reading.

Book translated by Stephen Snyder

6. The Night is Short, Walk On Girl by Tomihiko Morimi

6 Japanese Books to Read This Summer The Night is Short, Walk on GirlWidely known for the award-winning animated film with the same title, The Night is Short, Walk on Girl makes it’s printed debut (and with a gorgeous cover too!) this summer. For anyone who’s seen the film, the novel won’t surprise you, but it is incredibly charming and features the original illustrations by Yusuke Nakamura, who was also the character designer for the film. The plot revolves around a college student who attracts the attention of various men and a supernatural being while walking outside one night. One man has been nursing a crush on her—and has chosen this particular night to let her know.

Book translated by Emily Balistrieri

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