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Ten Great Books set in Tokyo

10th February 2021

Tokyo is the latest place for us to visit in our ‘Great books set in’ series. Ten great books set in Tokyo.

‘If you go to Tokyo, I think it becomes very obvious that there’s this almost seamless mixture of popular culture and Japanese traditional culture.’ – Kazuo Ishiguro

‘If Japan is enigmatic, then Tokyo is the heart of that riddle, its rhythm and essence so utterly alluring that it demands to be explored. It has a depth that keeps travellers in a constant state of rapture and delight. Whatever your vice, Tokyo has you covered.’ – Michael Ryan & Luke Burgess  

Postcards from TokyoTen Great Books set in Tokyo by Wendy Nelson Tokunaga

These six short stories are all inspired by Tokyo, a magical place that writer Wendy Nelson Tokunaga has observed both first-hand and from afar.

A Tokyo teenager obsessed with becoming an idol singer despite her mother’s trepidations. An American bar hostess searching for solace yet unable to escape her own demons. An unlikely cross-cultural friendship that is deepened through the way of tea. A Japanese single woman stuck in a rut who finds joy in a cluttered life. A pop star who makes a fatal mistake and has no choice but to pay the price. A San Francisco cat that becomes a stowaway in hopes of making it big in Japan.

Poignant but also often laced with humour, these mesmerising stories in Postcards from Tokyo (the first in a series of short story collections) are sure to both entertain and move readers.

The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami

When Hitomi takes a job on the cash register of a neighbourhood thrift store, she finds herself drawn into a very idiosyncratic community. There is Mr Nakano, an enigmatic ladies’ man with several ex-wives; Masayo, Mr Nakano’s sister, an artist who has never married; and her fellow employee Takeo, a shy but charming young man.

Every day, customers from the neighbourhood pass in and out as curios are bought and sold, each one containing its own surprising story. When Hitomi and Takeo begin to fall for one another, they find themselves in the centre of their own drama – and on the edges of many others.

A tender and affecting exploration of the mystery that lurks in the ordinary, this novel traces the seemingly imperceptible threads that weave together a community, and the knots that bind us to one another.

Last Stop Tokyo by James Buckler

Alex thought running away would make everything better. Six thousand miles from the mistakes he’s made and the people he’s hurt, Tokyo seems like the perfect escape. A new life, a new Alex.

The bright lights and dark corners of this alien and fascinating city intoxicate him, and he finds himself transfixed by this country, which feels like a puzzle that no one can quite explain. And when Alex meets the enigmatic and alluring Naoko, the peace he sought slips ever further from his grasp.

After all, trust is just betrayal waiting to happen and Alex is about to find out that there’s no such thing as rock bottom. There’s always the chance it’ll get worse . . .

The Cherry Blossom MurderTen Great Books set in Tokyo  by Fran Pickering

Behind the scenes a killer is lurking…

When Tokyo-based Londoner Josie finds a body under the cherry blossom, she sets out to track down the killer. But she finds that everyone has a secret and no one can be trusted as the questions pile up. What is sinister Ms Kato up to? Who is the strange man who waited for the victim and does glamorous actress Tammy know more than she should? And who could get through the locked door?

Josie must shatter the smooth surface of Japanese life to solve the puzzle and stop the fan club killer striking again

Tokyo on Foot by Florent Chavouet

This prize-winning book is both an illustrated tour of Tokyo rarely see in travel guides and an artist’s warm, funny, visually rich, and always entertaining graphic memoir.

Florent Chavouet, a young graphic artist, spent six months exploring Tokyo while his girlfriend interned at a company there. Each day he would set forth with a pouch full of colour pencils and a sketchpad, and visit different neighbourhoods. This stunning book records the city he got to know during his adventures. It isn’t the Tokyo of packaged tours and glossy guidebooks but a grittier, vibrant place, full of ordinary people going about their daily lives and the scenes and activities that unfold on the streets of a bustling metropolis.

Here you will find salarymen, hipsters, students, grandmothers, shopkeepers, policemen and other urban types and tribes in all manner of dress and hairstyles. A temple nestles amongst skyscrapers, the corner grocery store anchored a diverse collection of dwellings, cafés and shops.

Ten Great Books set in TokyoBlue Light Yokohama by Nicolás Obregón

Inspired by the still unsolved murder of a Japanese family in 2000, Blue Light Yokohama is 2017’s most original and gripping crime debut . . .

Setagaya ward, Tokyo
Inspector Kosuke Iwata, newly transferred to Tokyo’s homicide department, is assigned a new partner and a secondhand case.

Blunt, hard as nails and shunned by her colleagues, Assistant Inspector Noriko Sakai is a partner Iwata decides it would be unwise to cross.

A case that’s complicated – a family of four murdered in their own home by a killer who then ate ice cream, surfed the web and painted a hideous black sun on the bedroom ceiling before he left in broad daylight. A case that so haunted the original investigator that he threw himself off the city’s famous Rainbow Bridge.

Carrying his own secret torment, Iwata is no stranger to pain. He senses the trauma behind the killer’s brutal actions. Yet his progress is thwarted in the unlikeliest of places.

Fearing corruption among his fellow officers, tracking a killer he’s sure is only just beginning and trying to put his own shattered life back together, Iwata knows time is running out before he’s taken off the case or there are more killings . . .

The Cat and the City by Nick Bradley

In Tokyo – one of the world’s largest megacities – a stray cat is wending her way through the back alleys. And, with each detour, she brushes up against the seemingly disparate lives of the city-dwellers, connecting them in unexpected ways.

But the city is changing. As it does, it pushes her to the margins where she chances upon a series of apparent strangers – from a homeless man squatting in an abandoned hotel, to a shut-in hermit afraid to leave his house, to a convenience store worker searching for love. The cat orbits Tokyo’s denizens, drawing them ever closer.

The Silent Dead by Tetsuya Honda

Twenty-seven-year-old Detective Reiko Himekawa has an impressive ability to solve crimes. When a gruesomely slaughtered body wrapped in plastic is discovered, Reiko soon uncovers eleven other murders with a similar ‘signature’ and a reference to something called ‘strawberry night’, a group that recruits victims and murderers on the internet. To solve the case, Reiko is forced to reach back into her own troubled past.

Out by Natsuo Kirino

Four women work nights together at a bento box factory on the outskirts of Tokyo, and form a friendship based on their mutual desperation at the quality of their home lives. Yamamoto, a young wife and mother kills her abusive, philandering spouse, the four come together voluntarily to perform a most grisly act…

Roppongi by Nick Vasey

Roppongi is an ‘adventure-travel-fiction’ story, exploring the crazy and often dangerous world which is living and working as a foreigner in the Roppongi nightlife industry of Tokyo, Japan. The novel follows the (mis)adventures of its travel-addicted protagonist Zack, and in that respect is similar thematically to Alex Garland’s ‘The Beach’ or Gregory David Roberts’ ‘Shantaram.’ Accordingly, the reader is viscerally transported into the surreal realms of Roppongi, as Zack attempts to come to terms with a series of life-changing events unfolding at rapid pace. In the process, the novel punches through the impossibly glamorous surface of Roppongi and plunges the reader deep into its seedy underbelly … showing a disturbing side of Japan not often written about in the English language.

Enjoy your literary trip to Tokyo – and let us know in the Comments below any other books you would add to the list!

Andrew and Tony for the TripFiction team

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