Historical novel set mainly in Asia, London and USA
Ten Great Books set in KYŌTO
11th October 2021
Kyōto is the latest location for our ‘Ten Great Books Set In…’ series. Ten great books set in Kyōto. Kyōto, once the capital of Japan, is a city on the island of Honshu. It’s famous for its numerous classical Buddhist temples, as well as gardens, imperial palaces, Shinto shrines and traditional wooden houses. It’s also known for formal traditions such as kaiseki dining, consisting of multiple courses of precise dishes, and geisha, female entertainers often found in the Gion district.
‘to jump off the stage of Kiyomizu’ Kyōto proverb – the Kiyomizu is a stage in a temple set over a 13m drop. ‘Resolve on action in a do or die situation’
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
Chiyo-chan is a nine year old girl from a small fishing village,who has experienced a simple life until her Mother becomes fatally ill. She is sent by her Father to Gion, one of the Geisha areas of districts of Kyoto. She grows into the most stunning Geisha Sayuri and this is her story…
A Single Rose by Muriel Barbery
The temples and teahouses of Kyoto are the scene of a Frenchwoman’s emotional awakening in the stunning new novel by international bestseller Muriel Barbery.
Rose has turned 40, but has barely begun to live. When the Japanese father she never knew dies and she finds herself an orphan, she leaves France for Kyoto to hear the reading of his will.
In the days before Haru’s last wishes are revealed, his former assistant, Paul, takes Rose on a tour of the temples, gardens and eating places of this unfamiliar city. Initially a reluctant tourist and awkward guest in her late father’s home, Rose gradually comes to discover Haru’s legacy through the itinerary he set for her, finding gifts greater than she had ever imagined.
This stunning novel from international bestseller Muriel Barbery is a mesmerizing story of second chances, of beauty born out of grief and roses grown from ashes.
Claws of the Cat by Susan Spann
When a samurai is brutally murdered in a Kyoto teahouse, master ninja Hiro has no desire to get involved. But the beautiful entertainer accused of the crime enlists the help of Father Mateo, the Portuguese Jesuit priest who Hiro is sworn to protect, leaving the master shinobi with just three days to find the killer and save the girl and the priest from the dead man’s vengeful son. The investigation plunges Hiro and Father Mateo into the dangerous waters of Kyoto’s floating world, where they quickly learn that everyone from the elusive teahouse owner to the dead man’s dishonored brother has a motive to keep the samurai’s death a mystery. A rare murder weapon favored by ninja assassins, a female samurai warrior, and a hidden affair leave Hiro with too many suspects and far too little time. Hiro must use his ninja skills in a secret mission designed to reveal the assassin’s identity and save the Jesuit from execution. But the mission uncovers a host of secrets that threaten not only Father Mateo and the teahouse, but the very future of Japan.
One Hot Summer in Kyoto by John Haylock
A different side of Japan is depicted by John Haylock, who has spent many years in the country and shows the reader a very different side in this novel. A man takes a trip to Kyoto after shipping his wife and children back to England and he embarks on multiple relationships
A Geisha’s Journey: My Life as a Kyoto Apprentice by Komomo, Naoyuki Ogino
This is the story of a contemporary Japanese teenager who, in a search for an identity, became fascinated with the world of geisha, and discovered in herself the will and the commitment to embark on the many years of apprenticeship necessary to become one.
It is also the story of a young Japanese photographer who grew up overseas, and who also was captivated by the traditional lives of these women who choose to dedicate themselves to their art. He began following and documenting the life of teenager Komomo as she studied and grew into her role.
Naoyuki Ogino’s photographs follow Komomo’s entire journey, from her first tentative visits after finding the geisha house on the internet through her commitment to the hard schedule of an apprentice, learning arts that go back centuries, all the way to the ceremony where she officially became a geiko, as Kyoto’s geisha are known, and beyond. From the cobbled streets where she walks in her elaborate dress to the inner sanctum of her dressing room, these pages offer a rare look at a unique, living art.
The photographs are accompanied by autobiographical text and captions by Komomo, as she shares her thoughts and emotions, and describes the day-to-day existence of a Kyoto apprentice. It is an illuminating view of seven years in the life of a very special young woman.
Geisha, a Life (Geisha of Gion) by Mineko Iwasaki
Celebrated as the most successful geisha of her generation, Mineko Iwasaki was only five years old when she left her parents’ home for the world of the geisha. For the next twenty-five years, she would live a life filled with extraordinary professional demands and rich rewards. She would learn the formal customs and language of the geisha, and study the ancient arts of Japanese dance and music. She would enchant kings and princes, captains of industry, and titans of the entertainment world, some of whom would become her dearest friends. Through great pride and determination, she would be hailed as one of the most prized geishas in Japan’s history, and one of the last great practitioners of this now fading art form.
In “Geisha, a Life”, Mineko Iwasaki tells her story, from her warm early childhood, to her intense yet privileged upbringing in the Iwasaki okiya (household), to her years as a renowned geisha, and finally, to her decision at the age of twenty-nine to retire and marry, a move that would mirror the demise of geisha culture. Mineko brings to life the beauty and wonder of Gion Kobu, a place that “existed in a world apart, a special realm whose mission and identity depended on preserving the time-honored traditions of the past.” She illustrates how it coexisted within post-World War II Japan at a time when the country was undergoing its radical transformation from a post-feudal society to a modern one.
The Old Capital by Yasunari Kawabata
The Old Capital is one of the three novels cited specifically by the Nobel Committee when they awarded Kawabata the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1968. With the ethereal tone and aesthetic styling characteristic of Kawabata’s prose, The Old Capital tells the story of Chieko, the adopted daughter of a Kyoto kimono designer, Takichiro, and his wife, Shige.
Set in the traditional city of Kyoto, Japan, this deeply poetic story revolves around Chieko who becomes bewildered and troubled as she discovers the true facets of her past. With the harmony and time-honored customs of a Japanese backdrop, the story becomes poignant as Chieko’s longing and confusion develops.
The Temple of the Golden Pavilion by Yukio Mishima
Because of the boyhood trauma of seeing his mother make love to another man in the presence of his dying father, Mizoguchi becomes a hopeless stutterer. Taunted by his schoolmates, he feels utterly alone untill he becomes an acolyte at a famous temple in Kyoto, where he develops an all-consuming obsession with the temple’s beauty. This powerful story of dedication and sacrifice brings together Mishima’s preoccupations with violence, desire, religion and national history to dazzling effect.
Untangling My Chopsticks: A Culinary Sojourn in Kyoto by Victoria Abbott Riccardi
Two years out of college and with a degree from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, Victoria Riccardi left a boyfriend, a rent-controlled New York City apartment, and a plum job in advertising to move to Kyoto to study kaiseki, the exquisitely refined form of cooking that accompanies the formal Japanese tea ceremony. She arrived in Kyoto, a city she had dreamed about but never seen, with two bags, an open-ended plane ticket, and the ability to speak only sushi-bar Japanese. She left a year later, having learned the language, the art of kaiseki, and what was truly important to her.
Through special introductions and personal favors, Victoria was able to attend one of Kyoto’s most prestigious tea schools, where this ago-old Japanese art has been preserved for generations and where she was taken under the wing of an American expatriate who became her mentor in the highly choreographed rituals of this extraordinary culinary discipline.
During her year in Kyoto, Victoria explored the mysterious and rarefied world of tea kaiseki, living a life inaccessible to most foreigners. She also discovered the beguiling realm of modern-day Japanese food–the restaurants, specialty shops, and supermarkets. She participated in many fast-disappearing culinary customs, including making mochi (chewy rice cakes) by hand, a beloved family ritual barely surviving in a mechanized age. She celebrated the annual cleansing rites of New Year’s, donning an elaborate kimono and obi for a thirty-four-course extravaganza. She includes twenty-five recipes for favorite dishes she encountered, such as Chicken and Egg Rice Bowl, Japanese Beef and Vegetable Hotpot, and Green-Tea Cooked Salmon Over Rice.
The Office of Gardens and Ponds by Didier Decoin
The village of Shimae is thrown into turmoil when master carp-catcher Katsuro suddenly drowns in the murky waters of the Kusagawa river. Who now will carry the precious cargo of carp to the Imperial Palace and preserve the crucial patronage that everyone in the village depends upon?
Step forward Miyuki, Katsuro’s grief-struck widow and the only remaining person in the village who knows anything about carp. She alone can undertake the long, perilous journey to the Imperial Palace, balancing the heavy baskets of fish on a pole across her shoulders, and ensure her village’s future.
So Miyuki sets off. Along her way she will encounter a host of remarkable characters, from prostitutes and innkeepers, to warlords and priests with evil in mind. She will endure ambushes and disaster, for the villagers are not the only people fixated on the fate of the eight magnificent carp.
But when she reaches the Office of Gardens and Ponds, Miyuki discovers that the trials of her journey are far from over. For in the Imperial City, nothing is quite as it seems, and beneath a veneer of refinement and ritual, there is an impenetrable barrier of politics and snobbery that Miyuki must overcome if she is to return to Shimae.
What an amazing selection of books there is in Kyoto! If you have any to add to the list, please do so in the Comments below…
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