Posted on by Vincent Trivett

One ride on Tokyo's seemingly endless miles of train tracks and you will see how incredible the Japanese capital's reading culture is. Plenty of people read on their phones, and it isn't uncommon to wrap the book jacket in paper, concealing the title.

What is everyone reading?

Japanese literature is vast, but here are a few amazing books that can really introduce an English speaker to the city, its people and history.

Great Tokyo Books

The Wind Up Bird Chronicle - Haruki Murakami


Murakami was once regarded as a pop star by Japan's literary establishment, but this very Western-style surreal book garnered respect even from critics and brought the author to even greater international prominence. In this bizarrely coherent narrative, an unemployed regular fellow's quiet suburban reality is interrupted when he loses his cat and confronts the gruesome histories and magical realist forces ruining his life.

No Longer Human - Osamu Dazai


The dark story of a young man who felt alienated by humanity from a young age descends into drugs, alcohol, violence, madness and a double suicide (from which he alone survives) while making money as a cartoonist. Not a good beach read, but a good introduction to 1920s Tokyo and sociopathy.

Tokyo Year Zero - David Peace


This novel by British crime novelist David Peace brings us back to a time when Tokyo was a dirty place full of hungry people whose entire world was destroyed in this noir thriller. A year after the historic surrender to the United States, Detective Minimi hits the beat with worn-out soles to solve a gruesome murder as he struggles with the chaos and deprivation around him and his own past.

Naomi - Junichiro Tanizaki

A salaryman in early 20th century Tokyo becomes obsessed and enamored with a westernized woman named Naomi. He tries to raise the 15-year-old to be his perfect woman, funding her Western education in arts and languages. Naomi eventually dominates his life and plays him for a fool but he is satisfied. Naomi is a dark portrait of the "Modern Girl" trope of the Taisho era.

In The Miso Soup - Ryu Murakami


Frank, a strange American with plastic skin enlists the services of a Japanese guide to the sex clubs of Kabukicho. He turns out to be a resourceful serial killer. Murakami's novel drifts between horrific gore fests and comedy.