7 Japan Travel Books To Inspire Future Trips

Fill Up That Japan Travel Bucket List

By Jessica Esa
April 24, 2020
#StayAtHome, Book Corner

Today's book selection is guaranteed to transport you right into Japan! Each of these books explores a different side of Japan—sometimes unknown—and they are mostly available in both digital and paperback versions. Make yourself cozy, grab a hot drink, and let your mind wander.

Good travel writing can transport us to places we may never see, revisit a beloved area, or even put a new destination firmly on our radar. We can learn about a country from the perspective of new eyes, not unlike our own, or experienced locals that can take us deeper culturally than we ever could into these new places.

Good travel writing can transport us to places we may never see

Enjoying new destinations from the comfort of our homes is the easiest way to broaden our horizons and enjoy a good story at the same time. Here are some of the best travel books about Japan, written in English, to inspire our own adventures. Do you have children in need of a new read? Try our English books for kids’ selection instead!

1. The Only Gaijin in the Village

7 Japan Travel Books To Inspire Future Trips The Only Gaijin In The Village

If you’re looking for a lighthearted read that’s guaranteed to make you laugh while also highlighting some interesting facts and quirks about life in rural Japan then you will love this book! Perfect for fans of Bill Bryson, Scottish writer Iain Maloney and his Japanese wife Minori move from Tokyo to the Japanese countryside and introduce us to the colorful characters they meet along the way.

Much of the book is dedicated to Iain’s early life in Japan and will resonate with anyone who’s moved countries and had to navigate a brand new life abroad. Those who have lived abroad long term will also relate to the challenges of being accepted and that age-old question ‘so, when are you going home’. This book is guaranteed to make you laugh, but it’s emotional moments hit hard and by the end, you’ll feel like you’ve made a friend.

2. Hokkaido Highway Blues

7 Japan Travel Books To Inspire Future Trips Hokkaido Highway Blues Hokkaido Highway Blues

Another frank and witty entry, Hokkaido Highway Blues takes away from the big cities as we journey from the south to the north of Japan with the author who’s chasing the cherry blossom by hitchhiking. The concept of hitchhiking isn’t a particularly popular one in Japan which only adds to the hilarious encounters he has with people along the way as we traverse the small villages and towns that we rarely get to see in Japan travel writing.

While the author doesn’t hold back with his opinions of both Japan which, at times, can seem ungrateful considering the hospitality he’s being shown, it’s still a great piece of travel writing about Japan and is guaranteed to take you on a journey while teaching you some local history.

3. The Meaning of Rice: A Culinary Tour of Japan

7 Japan Travel Books To Inspire Future Trips The Meaning Of Rice

The author of Sushi and Beyond takes us on another culinary adventure around Japan exploring what’s changed in the ten years since his previous book. He explores weighty topics in a lighthearted way and really gets across how Japanese food has conquered the Western world in a decade. As always with good travel writing, it’s the people the writer meets on his journey that provides the intrigue and this is no exception—tales from a rice farmer in Fukushima, ramen chefs, and factory workers give valuable insight into the culinary landscape of Japan.

Booth takes us on a journey right through the country leaving our belies rumbling in his wake. While the author does have a rather purist view of Japanese cuisine especially when it comes to breakfast habits and the general prevalence of convenience food in everyday life, this is still a valuable and witty exploration of Japanese food from a travel perspective.

4. The Bells of Old Tokyo: Travels in Japanese Time

7 Japan Travel Books To Inspire Future Trips The Bells Of Old Tokyo

One of the most unique books on this list and one that’ll make you see Tokyo in a new light no matter how much time you’ve spent there. Sherman takes us on a journey through Tokyo’s history from the Shogun era to the 2011 earthquake and those many great changes that have shaped the city.

She writes vibrantly and with love, while seamlessly weaving in her own experience as a foreigner in the city making friends and learning Japanese. Tokyo very much feels alive in this book and the stories from patrons such as her friend Daibo, a coffee shop owner, give us a real insight into the culture of Tokyo. The writer takes us around parts of the city we might pass every day and never see the deeper history and significance all with exquisite writing and respect for what’s around her.

Whether you’ve never visited Tokyo or spent a lot of time there, this is truly a book for everyone.

5. Lost Japan

7 Japan Travel Books To Inspire Future Trips Lost Japan Last Glimpse Of Beautiful Japan

As the name might suggest, this is a book that laments some of what’s been lost in Japan due to mass development and commercialism. There’s a real appreciation for the natural beauty of Japan in this book as well as its cultural traditions.

Written from his rural Iya Valley home, Alex Kerr takes us through years of Japanese art from kabuki to tea ceremonies and the rise of contemporary cultural aspects like pachinko. Much of the beauty in the book comes in the descriptions of his house Chiiori which you can actually stay in, it’s a restoration and celebration of everything traditionally beautiful in Japan.

Lyrically written and frank in its approach to modern Japan, this book will leave you with much to think about.

6. The Roads to Sata: A 2000 Mile Walk Through Japan

7 Japan Travel Books To Inspire Future Trips The Roads To Sata

This wonderful piece of travel writing, that was originally written in the seventies, is being re-released this year so we can follow Alan Booth from the north to the south of Japan once again. Well written, humourous, and classy, Booth never makes sweeping generalizations about Japan or the people he meets and instead lets the reader judge the situations for themselves.

As readers, it’s amazing to see how much Japan has changed in thirty years but also see that many of the problems he faces and the joys he experiences are still very much present in Japan today. Full of personal anecdotes and quirky characters that stay with you thanks to Booth’s ability to get people to open up, this is travel writing as its finest.

7. Tokyo on Foot

7 Japan Travel Books To Inspire Future Trips Tokyo on Foot

Something a little different: this is a charming memoir of an artist who spent six months in Tokyo and is a hand-drawn colorful masterpiece. Florent Chavouet walked around Tokyo and drew the small neighborhoods and small corners that many of us never visit and brings them to life in a way we’ve never seen.

Once again the people in this memoir are just as important as the places and their stories are beautifully illustrated and told here. Each of his drawings features comments and tags from Chavouet which adds layers to the art and gives us a complete account of his time in Tokyo. This is the kind of book that you’ll revisit again and again simply to indulge in this dreamy pastel Tokyo.

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