A Wonderful Canon: 5 of the Best Japanese Historical Fiction Books for Beginners

Japanese historical fiction is as rich and diverse as the country itself, with authors covering every aspect of Japanese culture and tradition against important moments in the country’s history.

If you’re just beginning your journey into Japanese historical fiction books, you will be forgiven for being slightly overwhelmed with the breadth of works to get stuck into.

With this in mind, here are five amazing Japanese historical fiction books to get you started.

1.  An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro

An Artist of the Floating World is a tragic yet sumptuous novel that deals with guilt in the face of post-WWII Japan. Narrated by Masuji Ono, a painter conflicted by his past dealings with the Japanese imperialism government, the novel follows Ono’s memories of the “floating world”, a world of drink and debauchery that provides him solace and torment as he narrates the tale.

2.  The Waiting Years by Fumiko Enchi

Set in 19th Century Asakusa and Fukushima prefectures, The Waiting Years is an incredibly rich novel that details the lives of a government official and his wife, Tomo, who he has sent to Tokyo in order to find him a younger mistress.

Tomo may appear cool, calm and collected on the outside, but in reality she is distraught, though remains dutiful to her insatiable husband. As time goes on, he continues to collect new mistresses, with each playing an important role in the final years of the family’s status.

3.  Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Everyone has at least heard of Memoirs of a Geisha, thanks in part to its highly successful 2005 Hollywood adaptation, but all book lovers know one thing and that is that the film version never lives up to its original literary counterpart.

The same goes for the gorgeous Memoirs of a Geisha, the runaway bestseller about a beautiful geisha in the period before, during and after WWII. Memoirs of a Geisha is a wonderful novel that details the allure and vanity of the geisha culture, where nothing is more important than appearance and where women are taught to seduce powerful players.

This is one of the ultimate historical fiction novels to give you an insight into Japanese culture throughout the war period.

4.  The Street of a Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama

A stunning novel, and one that truly encapsulates the artistic foray into the changing nature of Japan in the WWII period, The Street of a Thousand Blossoms follows the lives of two Japanese brothers as they navigate the war and the plans it had for Japan.

Brothers Hiroshi and Kenji, as they work to become masters of their respective trades in mask-making and sumo wrestling. However, when Pearl Harbour occurs, their lives, like the lives of millions of compatriots, are thrown on a different course, one which they must navigate into the post-war period, with tragedy and hope in abundance.

5.  Shogun by James Clavell

Shogun tells the tale of the legendary John Blackthorne, a navigator who, upon arriving in Japan, comes across the unstoppable Toranaga, a powerful feudal lord with massive ambitions, as well as Lady Mariko, who dedication to country is severely tested when she comes across the intruder Blackthorne.

An epic novel full of passion and struggle, Shogun is one of history’s most popular Japanese historical fiction bestsellers, and serves as a fascinating insight into the nature of a changing world.

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