In addition to the many travel guides and blogs on travelling in Japan that you come across as you prepare your itinerary for your trip, there is also a wide selection of books and novels on Japanese history and culture that you might want to read before you leave. Here are five reading suggestions:
Written by British author, director, and screenwriter James Clavell, Shogun is a 1975 bestselling historical fiction novel that tells the story of feudal Japan in 1600, shortly before the start of the Battle of Sekigahara.
Its main characters are based on real-life Japanese historical figures, such as Yoshi Toranaga (based on Japan’s first shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu), Yoshi Sudara (based on Tokugawa dynasty’s second shogun, Tokugawa Hidetada), Yoshi Naga (based on Takeda Nobuyoshi, son of Ieyasu and a daimyo during the rise of Edo period), and Ishido (based on military commander and samurai Ishida Mitsunari).
Memoirs of a Geisha
A fictional story about a geisha living and working in Kyoto before and after the Second World War, Memoirs of a Geisha is a historical novel told in the first person, written by American author Arthur Golden. Its plot is primarily set in Gion, a known geisha district in Kyoto.
Published in 1997, the novel was adapted into a movie in 2005, starring Zhang Ziyi, Michelle Yeoj, Gong Li, and Ken Watanabe.
Kafka on the Shore
Dubbed as one of Japanese author Haruki Murakami’s best works, Kafka on the Shore is a work of fiction that features two different but connected plots — the odd-numbered chapters focus on the story of 15-year-old Kafka Tamura, a young boy who runs away from home to search for his mother and his sister; and the even-numbered chapters tell the story of Satoru Nakata, a boy who acquired the ability to talk to cats after an accident rendered him unconscious for weeks and left him unable to read.
Critics describe it as a masterpiece that perfectly blends Japanese religious customs (specifically Shintoism) with humour, suspense, fantasy, and pop culture.
The Roads to Sata
The Roads to Sata is a 1985 book written by Alan Booth, a travel writer from England who, in 1977, went to Japan and traversed 2,000 miles on foot, starting from the country’s northernmost point, Cape Soya, to its southernmost point, Sata. It is filled with accounts of his experiences and interactions with the locals along the way during the entire 128 days it took him to complete the journey.