5 Best Japanese Lifestyle Books in 2024

Books are essential for understanding any culture. They explain thousands of years of history and traditions.

Discover the heart of Japan through five remarkable books, each offering a unique perspective on its rich tapestry. 

Disclosure : Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

From “WA” by Stefania Piotti and Rossella Mennegazzo to Pico Iyer’s “A Beginner’s Guide to Japan,” these reads open a window into the essence of Japanese life. 

Join the cross-generational tale of “Pachinko” by Min Jin Lee, savor culinary adventures in Matt Goulding’s “Rice Noodle Fish,” and embrace the poignant storytelling of Banana Yoshimoto’s “Kitchen.” 

As we explore these literary gems, we learn about the Japanese lifestyle and reflect on our journey through the pages.

japanese book in hand

WA: The Essence of Japanese Design by Stefania Piotti and Rossella Mennegazzo

It is a book in which the Japanese concept of “WA” is explained in detail. It is about finding harmony with the community’s help in a social manner.

The book explains the importance of putting the group’s needs before yours. It also discusses the qualities of a Japanese individual in great detail.

Stefania Piotti wrote this book, which contains 250 different photographs.

These photographs show the native culture. They show bento boxes, traditional teapots, and calligraphy. They also include sliding doors, kimonos, butterfly stools, and more.

The overall look and feel of the books are aesthetic and are pleasing to the eyes of the reader.

Traditional Japanese art is captured by arranging the illustrations on craft paper.

What I think

I enjoyed “WA: The Essence of Japanese Design” by Stefania Piotti and Rossella Mennegazzo. 

The book impressed me and other readers, as evidenced by its high rating on Amazon. 

What captivated me the most was the genuine portrayal of authentic Japanese design from ancient to modern times. The visuals, particularly the ceramic images with skillful lighting, were captivating. 

Despite my preference for clay, yet the book managed to engage me fully. I found the exploration of diverse design materials interesting. 

Overall, “WA” is a valuable read for Japanese design enthusiasts.

A Beginner’s Guide to Japan: Observations and Provocations by Pico Iyer

The writer of this book, Pico Iyer, spent 32 years in Japan before writing about the country and how a foreigner can make it their home.

This book tells the personal stories of the writer, who is a foreigner. It shows how the writer dealt with different situations and adapted to the country’s culture after many years of trying.

The writer talked to many Japanese people to fully understand and explain the culture well in a book.

This writing is fantastic and can help you thoroughly understand the Japanese lifestyle and culture. 

What I think

I appreciated Iyer’s unique perspective and found his guidance through Japan’s landscapes, from lively cities to cultural nuances like love hotels and literature, enriching.

The tweet-length musings and unconventional structure of the book provided a quick and engaging glimpse into Japanese life. 

The acceptance of societal imperfections was particularly unique, offering a distinctive initiation into the complexities of Japan.

The book left me with a profound sense of shared humanity, making it a memorable and thought-provoking read.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

It is a New York Times bestseller and looks at a cross-generational outlook of the Japan of the 20th century.

In the 1930s, a young Korean lady became pregnant by her lover and got involved with a sick minister. This story is based on the experiences and observations of Korean immigrants.

The lady follows the minister to Japan, leaving her life behind. 

It is a tale of a strong lady in a foreign land who finally makes peace with her decisions and takes another culture and country as her own.

This powerful story is about an immigrant who made sacrifices. A Japanese woman showed compassion and made the immigrant feel secure and protected in a new place.

What I think

“Pachinko” explores Korean life under Japanese rule, delving into moral values and the immigrant experience. 

Much like the Pachinko game, the narrative reflects life’s unpredictable dynamics. 

From my point of view, the novel revealed a hidden historical conflict, challenging perceptions and promoting respect for diverse cultural identities. 

Today, where assumptions can mislead, “Pachinko” is a thought-provoking reminder to approach others with an open mind. It’s a riveting read for those craving a nuanced perspective on history and human connections.

Rice Noodle Fish: Deep Travels Through Japan’s Food Culture by Matt Goulding

This book is the Best Travel Book of the Year award winner announced by the Society of American Travel Writers, and it is worth reading.

Matt Goulding, who co-founded Roads & Kingdom, wrote a fantastic guidebook that vividly shows the true colors of Japanese culture.

The writer’s explanation of everything would stun you, even if you only know little about Japan.

The book’s story pulls you into each situation. It makes you feel like you’re seeing it happen right in front of you. That’s what makes this book so beautiful.

The writer’s research and attention to detail in this magnificent work are outstanding. They have gone to great lengths to present an accurate picture to the readers.

You would learn about the savory realms of ramen shops and the sizzling delights of okonomiyaki counters to the devoted craftsmanship of shokunin and the culinary mastery of individuals who have dedicated their lives to perfecting the art of a single dish.

Apart from the overall storytelling, there are also amazing photos in the book that would make you fall in love with this brilliant effort.

What I think

“Rice Noodle Fish” by Matt Goulding has a solid 4.35 rating on Goodreads.

I found it to be a captivating food and travel guide across Japan, showcasing cities, towns, and rural areas. 

What stood out to me were Goulding’s interviews with chefs, restaurateurs, and farmers, reminding me of Anthony Bourdain’s style.

The book’s engaging narrative, stunning photography, and diverse content made it a delightful read. 

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

Banana Yoshimoto, a celebrated Japanese author, wrote this book. She is considered one of the best contemporary authors in the world.

The story revolves around an orphan who searches for the meaning of life after losing her grandmother tragically. She finds peace in the home of a classmate.

The classmate’s mother comforts her during her pain, but tragedy strikes when she regains control of her life.

It is a story of love and grief, happiness and tears, struggle and failure. The interesting turns in the story make it all the more special.

The writer presented the Japanese culture and lifestyle in a fictional story. Even non-fiction literature lovers would fall in love with it.

What I think

Banana Yoshimoto’s minimalist style might not appeal to everyone, but I find it pure magic.

“Kitchen,” with its two novellas, immerses you in 1990s urban Japan with quirky characters and a postmodern touch.

If you enjoy “Amelie,” you’ll resonate with the sparse, poignant tale of a “wounded” woman finding solace in city kitchens.

Fair warning: Yoshimoto’s endings pack a punch, but if you’re up for it, any of her books are a must-read, in my opinion!

5 Best Japanese Lifestyle Books in [year] 1

My Journey through the Pages of Japanese Lifestyle Books

Reading Japanese books helped me understand Japanese culture better. It also made me consider my values and how I see the world.

Reading the lifestyle books mentioned above is a transformative and enriching experience. 

Here’s my take on how these books contribute to a deeper understanding of Japanese culture:

Cultural Insight and Nuances:

Books about lifestyle in Japan show how people live there and what their customs and daily routines are like. Even in 2023, these books give insights into the culture. 

By reading these books, you can understand the small details of Japanese life. You may even understand why tipping taxi drivers in Japan is not a thing.

Philosophical Perspectives:

Books about the Japanese lifestyle often explore the philosophies that shape how people live in Tokyo and other parts of Japan.

Studying concepts such as “wa,” “omotenashi,” and “mono no aware” helps us grasp Japanese behavior and community rules.

It’s like discovering the unique ingredients that make up their way of life!

Personal Narratives and Connections:

Authors share personal stories and experiences. This helps readers connect with the material.

Firsthand accounts offer a human element. They bridge the gap between cultures and foster empathy for the diverse experiences within Japanese society.

Culinary Journeys:

Japanese lifestyle books often explore food culture. They explain the importance of meals, traditional ingredients, and dining rituals.

Food is culturally important in Japan. It gives us a deep look into their communal life.

Social Harmony and Interconnectedness:

Lifestyle books emphasize the value placed on social harmony in Japan. 

The best books show how the Japanese prioritize the group’s well-being over individual desires. 

They emphasize unity and cooperation in both community practices and individual roles.

Some books address the challenges and adaptations faced by Japan from the Meiji period to the modern era. 

Readers can better understand Japanese society by exploring how cultural traditions and contemporary lifestyles coexist.

This helps them appreciate the dynamic nature of society and its ability to integrate the old and the new.

Inspirations for Personal Growth:

Japanese lifestyle books often contain elements of self-improvement and mindfulness. 

Ideas like “ikigai” (finding purpose) and “kintsugi” (embracing imperfections) teach us important lessons.

These ideas are valuable to anyone, no matter their culture. They connect with readers who want to grow personally and live more mindfully.