My must-have books about Japan

Here’s a list of my favourite books about Japan. They have influenced me and taught me a lot about Japanese culture: cooking, travel, design and art. Check them out. A great way to spend those cool Autumn evenings.

Flavor and Seasonings: Dashi, Umami and Fermented Foods

by The Japanese Culinary Academy

COOKING · buy it from Amazon

It could be considered the bible of the Japanese cuisine. It’s written by Murata Yoshihiro, who is an icon in Japan, he is a chef of a legendary kaiseki restaurant in Kyoto called Kikunoi, also he is an author of many Japanese books and a director of Japanese culinary academy.

The book covers all the fundamentals of the subject, providing information that’s necessary to understand the cuisine and its cultural context. It features sections on: kaiseki; dashi and umami; Japanese soy sauce, miso, and sake for cooking; and much, much more. This book is really a must-read to understand Japanese cuisine and it’s secrets.

Rice, Noodle, Fish: Deep Travels Through Japan’s Food Culture

by Matt Goulding

DEEP TRAVEL · buy it from Amazon

American author Matt Goulding is an award-winning writer of over 20 books, including the food-obsessed travel series he published with Anthony Bourdain.

The book explores Japan’s most intriguing culinary disciplines in seven key regions, from the kaiseki tradition of Kyoto and the sushi masters of Tokyo, to the street food of Osaka, and the ramen culture of Fukuoka.

It’s really a profound trip throughout Japan. This book affected me immensely, because Matt not only has a deep understanding of Japanese cuisine and culture, but also he is a really brilliant writer. This book is a must-read if you want to gain a deeper understanding of Japan.

In Praise of Shadows

by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki

AESTHETICS · buy it from Amazon

In Praise of Shadows is an essay by Tanizaki Junichiro, one of the greatest novelists in Japan. It’s an essay on Japanese aesthetics from interior design to architecture, it discusses a sense of beauty that is specific to Japan.

For me, this book has been really life-changing, especially a paragraph where the author is perfectly describing the importance of shadows in the Japanese aesthetics.

“Whenever I see the alcove of a tastefully built Japanese room, I marvel at our comprehension of the secret of shadows, our sensitive use of shadow and light. For the beauty of the alcove is not the work of some clever device. An empty space is marked off with plain wood and plain walls, so that the light drawn into it forms dim shadows within emptiness. There is nothing more.”


by Kenya Hara

DESIGN · buy it from Amazon

Kenya Hara is one of the leading graphic designers in Japan. In his book “White”, he explores the essence of “White”, which he sees as being closely related to the origin of Japanese aesthetics — symbolizing simplicity and subtlety. It discusses how “emptiness” and “subtlety” are so ingrained in the Japanese culture that it influences every aspect of the Japanese way of living, from its religious rituals, art, architecture, to language and communication.

“There is no such thing as “white”. Rather, “white” exists solely in our perception. Therefore, we must not attempt to search for “white”. Instead, we must search for a way to feel the whiteness. Through this process, we gain an awareness of a white that is slightly whiter than the white we experience normally. This in turn makes us aware of the surprising diversity of whiteness found in Japanese culture: we come to understand words such as silence and empty space, and distinguish the hidden meanings contained in them. As we achieve this rapport with white, our world glows more brightly, and its shadows deepen…”

This book is essential for someone who is learning or trying to understand Japanese design.

Japan. The Cookbook

by Nancy Singleton Hachisu

COOKING · buy it from Amazon

James Beard Award-nominated author Nancy Singleton Hachisu is widely respected as an authority on Japanese cooking, both in Japan and the US. This book is very exhaustive, very well researched, very thick and extensive on various Japanese recipes from Nancy’s life in a Japanese farm where she has lived for over 30 years. For the recipes she uses a lot of vegetables, her recipes really reflect the essence of Japanese cuisine. The book presents over 400 recipes including pickles, stir-fries and one pots, to create what Nancy calls ‘a curated experience of Japan’s culinary framework from a specific moment in time’, researched during travels across the country and discussions with ‘chefs, local grandmothers and artisanal makers of traditional food’.

Japanese Home Cooking

by Chihiro Masui and Hanae Kaede

COOKING · buy it from Amazon

An excellent Japanese home cooking book by Chihiro Masui, who is an author of more than 20 cookbooks published in Japan and France. Also by Hanae Kaede who has an incredible knowledge on Japanese cuisine.

In this book, the techniques and ingredients of Japanese cuisine are explained very clearly, the book gives great detailed instructions with pictures to match, including a little background and info about the dish. It has easy as well as more difficult recipes. It also has a good range of types of foods, it includes cold starters, soups, steamed and grilled dishes, as well as sweets.

Food Sake Tokyo

by Yukari Sakamoto

ULTIMATE TOKYO GUIDE · buy it from Amazon

Chef, sommelier, journalist, restaurant consultant and a tour guide living in Tokyo, who I met when the first time I was visiting Tsukiji market and she was my guide. She has an incredible knowledge of everything in Tokyo, from the best ingredients you can find, deserts and ramen to “Depachikas” (food halls) where you can eat really really well. Yukari in her book guides the reader through the gourmet delights of Tokyo — from the world’s largest fish market to the Kappabashi kitchenware district. The book demystifies the ingredients, traditional dishes, and culture surrounding all things culinary in Tokyo. It’s really a must if you go to Japan.


by The Monocle magazine

DEEP TRAVEL · buy it from Amazon

Monocle’s latest book which was published this year is an ardent paean to Japan. It’s published by this iconic magazine founded by Tyler Brûlé who has a very unique understanding of Japanese culture as he spent a lot of time there. This book is really an exhaustive guide, covering everything about Japan from art to culture, to food, to business, to city guides. It is packed with insights and fully illustrated with stunning photography. This time features the best in writing and photography from Monocle’s coverage of Japan over the years.

It’s a must-have, it’s a beautiful book to have on your coffee table, as well a very useful one.

Sushi and Beyond: What the Japanese Know About Cooking

by Michael Booth

DEEP TRAVEL · buy it from Amazon

It’s an English author’s journey throughout Japan and throughout its kitchens. Food and travel writer Michael Booth sets off to take the culinary pulse of contemporary Japan and he and his young family travel the length of the country — from bear-infested, beer-loving Hokkaido to snake-infested, seaweed-loving Okinawa.

Informative and easy read. Besides the food, it also contains the right level of background, history and culture. I found his observations spot-on about the Japanese and their reverence for certain Japanese ingredients and foods.

This book was published in 2009 and it had a huge impact on me, because he has covered Japan through foreigner’s eyes, but with a big know-how and knowledge.

The Japanese Issue

by Fool magazine


This Fool magazine’s first hardcover book, which came out very recently, is really done well. Can see that they worked on it a lot and put a lot of effort. It’s mainly focussed on food, very nice and very aesthetically pleasing. The publishers didn’t try to cover everything, every aspect of Japanese culture — it would be an impossible task, this book is presenting some interesting and wonderful people, artisans, from all parts of the country, north to south, east to west, ocean to mountains and city to countryside. The magazine features address Japanese microseasons, the French-Japanese connection. kaiseki, naturally fermented sake, soba noodle mastery, and Japanese home cooking.

Another Kyoto

by Alex Kerr

ART & CULTURE · buy it from Amazon

Alex Kerr is an American writer, antiques collector and Japanologist. In the book he presents a fascinating dialogue on different aspects and attributes of Japanese art, architecture, culture and custom. It’s a very calming read; informative, well-researched, and well-written.

“Wabi” was born from the identity crisis in the 15th century “and this moment arose from the idea that everything in the world comes in three levels, formal, semi-formal and informal.” They were named Shin, Gyo and So. The best example of Shin would be palatial Ming Porcelain, Gyo- something in the middle (see stoneware or Korean ceramics) and So -clunky, earthenware objects like the genius of Raku tea bowls. What in the beginning was a rebellious act against the foreign influence, with time, “So” aesthetics became beautiful and better than “Shin”. “The concept of imperfection-something broken, something worn-very “So” and not “Shin”- came to be revered as the highest aesthetic.” This immense history and centuries-long evolution is the reason why Japanese contemporary ceramics are so rich, diverse and stunning.