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Japan is one of those places that both conforms to and confounds your expectations. All the clichés – Zen gardens, sumo wrestles, bullet trains, geisha – are easy to find, but what blows travellers away is how Japan consistently delivers the unexpected. For every Shinto shrine and futuristic city, there is a beach-fringed tropical island or a forest trail climbing the slopes of a snowcapped mountain. Then there’s the famous Japanese quirkiness – this is a nation where dressing up as a manga character is as commonplace as checking the news update each day in spring to track the arrival of the cherry blossom moving through the country.  (Excerpted from Lonely Planet’s The Travel Book: A Journey Through Every Country of the World)

We stock a range of travel guides and maps for Japan, as well as selected books based in the country including fiction, travel writing, biographies, history, food and more. Below you’ll find our recommended books to read before you go to Japan.

We also stock regional travel guide books, travel maps and books for Tokyo and Kyoto.

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The Devotion of Suspect X

Yasuko lives a quiet life, working in a Tokyo bento shop, a good mother to her only child. But when her ex-husband appears at her door without warning one day, her comfortable world is shattered. When Detective Kusanagi of the Tokyo Police tries to piece together the events of that day, he finds himself confronted by the most puzzling, mysterious circumstances he has ever investigated. Nothing quite makes sense and it will take a genius to understand the genius behind this particular crime. The Devotion of Suspect X is of the biggest-selling Japanese thrillers ever and the inspiration for a cult film. Its blend of a page-turning story, evocative Tokyo setting and utterly surprising ending make it a must-read for anyone travelling to the Japanese capital.

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silk - Japan: What to Read Before You Go

This novel begins in France in 1861. When an epidemic threatens to wipe out the silk trade, Herve Joncour (a young silkworm breeder) has to travel overland to distant Japan, out of bounds to foreigners, to smuggle out healthy silkworms. In the course of his secret negotiations with the local baron, Joncour's attention is arrested by the man's concubine. Although they are unable to exchange so much as a word, love blossoms between them, a love that is conveyed in a number of recondite messages. How their secret affair develops is told in this remarkable love story.

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Memoirs of a Geisha

A seductive and evocative epic on an intimate scale, that tells the extraordinary story of a geisha girl. Summoning up more than twenty years of Japan's most dramatic history, it uncovers a hidden world of eroticism and enchantment, exploitation and degradation. From a small fishing village in 1929, the tale moves to the glamorous and decadent heart of Kyoto in the 1930s, where a young peasant girl is sold as servant and apprentice to a renowned geisha house. She tells her story many years later from the Waldorf Astoria in New York; it exquisitely evokes another culture, a different time and the details of an extraordinary way of life. It conjures up the perfection and the ugliness of life behind rice-paper screens, where young girls learn the arts of geisha - dancing and singing, how to wind the kimono, how to walk and pour tea, and how to beguile the most powerful men. A must for anyone visiting Kyoto.

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Hokkaido Highway Blues

It had never been done before. Not in 2,000 years of Japanese recorded history had anyone followed the Cherry Blossom Front from one end of the country to the other. Nor had anyone hitchhiked the length of Japan. But, heady on sakura and sake, Will Ferguson bet he could do both. The resulting travelogue is one of the funniest and most illuminating books ever written about Japan. And, as Ferguson learns, it illustrates that to travel is better than to arrive.

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Japan Through the Looking Glass

A series of meticulous investigations gradually uncovers the multi-faceted nature of a country and people who are even more extraordinary than they seem. The account encompasses religion, ritual, martial arts, manners, eating, drinking, hot baths, geishas, family, home, singing, wrestling, dancing, performing, clans, education, aspiration, sexes, generations, race, crime, gangs, terror, war, kindness, cruelty, money, art, imperialism, emperor, countryside, city, politics, government, law and a language that varies according to whom you are speaking. Clear-sighted, persistent, affectionate, unsentimental and honest - Alan Macfarlane shows us Japan as it has never been seen before.

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Photo by Oskar Vertetics on Unsplash