Winter is here in Tokyo. Whether that means you’re ready to curl up on the couch with a cup of coffee, cozy up at your kotatsu with a cup of green tea, or nurse a warm cup of fresh drip coffee at a classic kissaten, you need a solid winter reading list to come along with you. From Kazuo Ishiguro’s long-awaited work “Klara and the Sun” to the racing novel “Bullet Train” by Kotaro Isaka (translated by Sam Malissa), we’ve rounded up a list of our favorite Japanese authors, translators and creatives publishing in the English-language literary scene this winter. Read on for the full breakdown of what’s on our list Japan-related books you need to have on your reading list this winter.

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Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
Published in March 2021

Klara is an outdated model of a humanoid artificial friend (AF) but she has an outstanding ability for deep insight and empathy. She is chosen by Josie, a frail teenage girl, and her family at a store to be the companion for her as she is home-schooled in America. Klara immediately devotes herself to fulfilling her mission as an AF.

The best-seller writer, Kazuo Ishiguro, perhaps most well-known for “Never Let Me Go,” portrays the possibility of the unquestioning belief and the denial of objective facts no matter how intelligent the person is in this book. While the tone of the narrative is gentle, the harsh reality this story tells highlights the bitterness of modern society. A long-awaited novel finally hit the shelves, and if you haven’t read it yet, this needs to be on your list.

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Bullet Train by Kotaro Isaka
Translated by Sam Malissa
Published in March 2021

Soon to be made into a Hollywood movie starring Brad Pitt and directed by David Leitch, this is a must read thriller to read before its film counterpart is released in cinemas in April 2022. On the shinkansen from Tokyo to Morioka, five assassins cross paths, each on their way to different missions. Yet is it really a coincidence? Kimura, an alcoholic former assassin, is planning to get revenge for his young son against “The Prince”, a supposedly role model junior high school student with the hidden personality of a cunning psychopath. Tangerine and Lemon, a lethal duo, receive a secret mission from a big name in the underground world. And Nanao, nicknamed Ladybug, also the self-proclaimed “unluckiest assassin in the world” is commanded to rob the ransom money on the bullet train.

Though it is the second book in Isaka’s series, the first of which was “Grasshopper,” don’t worry if you haven’t read in order as it is still a gripping read without any backstory.


Behind the Kaiju Curtain by Norman England
Published in November 2021

This is the first ever English-language book to talk in such depth about the modern Japanese film industry. With plenty of behind the scenes insight, from the production of Godzilla to the development of Japanese movies, England shares his less-than-ordinary journey deep into the industry secrets.

England, who moved from New York to Japan in 1992, has worked in the Japanese film industry and contributed much to kaiju (a monster) production movies. His accounts in this book are for anyone who loves to explore both Japanese culture, history and media.

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The Sentence by Louise Erdrich
Published in November 2021

We know, we know: though in no way related to Japan whatsoever, we simply couldn’t miss this one off our list to watch out for this winter. Tookie, a middle-aged Native American bookstore worker who specializes in works of indigenous people, craves a life in which she has a house to go back to and a husband to wait for after work. Against her wishes, a ghost named Flora haunts Tookie at the bookstore. Flora is an elderly woman who, even in death, yearns to be a Native American. The ghost is just one of the things haunting Tookie, and the story of her past soon unravels.

Louise Erdrich is a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning author and her work has been chosen by Amazon as one of the “Top 100 books to read in a lifetime.” Herself Native American, her cultural ties weave beautifully through her books and, though the comedic ghost story plot is packed with humor, her words also skillfully tip into bigger questions of life and death.


The Easy Life In Kamusari by Shion Miura
Translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter
Published in November 2021

Yuki Hirano, a 19-year-old, has just graduated from high school. He is enrolled by his parents into a forestry training program against his will. Kamusari, a remote village located deep in the mountains of Mie prefecture, Japan, is supposed to be the last place a city boy wants to spend his time, but through meeting people who engage with the forest and deal with nature in the village, and through his work learning the hard trade of forestry himself, he begins to appreciate the harmony in Kamusari.

A true coming of age story, this is the first book of the Forest series by Shion Miura, award-winning Japanese author of “The Great Passage,” translated by the superb Juliet Winters Carpenter. Yuki’s adaptation to life without phones, the internet, shopping and the most common expression in the village “naa-naa” (take it easy) portrays the modern world’s appreciation for ancient traditions and the harmony with nature.

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Lady Joker by Kaoru Takamura
To be published February 2022

A criminal group targets a major company in the beer industry and kidnaps its CEO, Kyosuke Joyama. The group demands 2 billion yen from the company after the release of the CEO; it turns out they stole 3.5 million liters of beer as the true hostage instead of him. Inspired by the true crime story from 1984, the Glico-Morinaga extortion case, this novel is one of Takamura’s best-sold ones in Japan. Originally released in 1997 and adapted into a movie in 2004, only now has it finally been translated into English.

This book is an absolute must-read for mystery lovers this winter. It also aptly exploring the dark underground of discrimination against minority groups in Japanese society, including buraku communities, Korean living in Japan and those with disabilities. Though the gang seem to be the bad guys, when you consider their original motive of the criminal group as a revenge to the injustice of society, you may start to wonder who is the true antagonist of this world.

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Of Arcs and Circles by Marc Peter Keane
To be published February 8, 2022

How do the names of gardens reveal their essential meaning? Of Arcs and Circles looks at nature as art and gardens as allegorical compositions. What are trees really made of and what do the enigmatic torii (gates found at Shinto shrines) symbolize? From unearthing the reason why we give flowers as gifts to exploring the essential, underlying unity of the world, Keane, a landscape gardener and writer based in Kyoto, Japan, shares his insights on Japanese art, nature and gardens. Over the past 20 years, he has designed and built numerous gardens for private residences, businesses and temples in Japan, ranging from a 1200-sq.-ft. tea garden to a six-acre park. Keane is also the author of “The Japanese Tea Garden, The Art of Setting Stones” and “Japanese Garden Design.”

Craving more Japan-based literature? Us too. Check out our Books Page here.