The best Japanese books in translation

Expand your literary horizons with these brilliant Japanese books in translation.

From titles you may already know to exciting new discoveries, here's our edit of some of the best books by Japanese authors available in English. 

The Kamogawa Food Detectives

by Hisashi Kashiwai

Book cover for The Kamogawa Food Detectives

Translated by Jesse Kirkwood

What’s the one dish you’d do anything to taste just one more time? Father and daughter duo Nagare and Koishi Kamogawa run a very special restaurant. Through careful investigations, they exactly recreate a dish from their customers' pasts. From the widower looking for a specific noodle dish that his wife used to cook, to a first love's beef stew, the restaurant of lost recipes provides a link to the past, the keys to forgotten memories and a way to a more contented future. 

Breasts and Eggs

by Mieko Kawakami

Book cover for Breasts and Eggs

Translated by Sam Bett and David Boyd

This literary debut is a must-read for fans of feminist literary fiction. On a hot summer’s day in a poor suburb of Tokyo we meet three women: thirty-year-old Natsuko, her older sister Makiko, and Makiko’s teenage daughter Midoriko. Each woman is grappling with their own anxieties, and their relationships with each other. Mieko Kawakami paints a radical picture of contemporary working-class womanhood in Japan as she recounts the heartbreaking stories of three women who must survive in a society where the odds are stacked against them.

Before the Coffee Gets Cold

by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Book cover for Before the Coffee Gets Cold

Translated by Geoffrey Trousselot

In a small back alley in Tokyo, there is a café which has been serving carefully brewed coffee for more than one hundred years. But this coffee shop offers its customers a unique experience: the chance to travel back in time. This opportunity is not without risks: customers must sit in a particular seat, they cannot leave the café, and finally, they must return to the present before the coffee gets cold. Toshikazu Kawaguchi’s beautiful novel has stolen the hearts of readers the world over. Through it, we meet four visitors to the café and explore the age-old question: what would you change if you could travel back in time?

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The Cat Who Saved Books

by Sosuke Natsukawa

Book cover for The Cat Who Saved Books

Translated by Louise Heal Kawai

This international bestseller is a heart-warming story about finding courage, caring for others, and the tremendous power of books (even short ones). After the death of his grandfather, Rintaro is devastated. It seems he will have to close Natsuki Books, the tiny second-hand bookshop his grandfather owned which has long been Rintaro's safe haven. Then, a talking tabby cat called Tiger appears and asks Rintaro for help. The cat needs a book lover to join him on a mission. Together, they embark on three magical adventures to save books from people who have imprisoned, mistreated and betrayed them. 

Convenience Store Woman

by Sayaka Murata

Book cover for Convenience Store Woman

Translated by Ginny Tapley Takemo

Submerge yourself in the life of Keiko – a Japanese woman who has never quite fitted in with her peers and has grown up trying to fulfil the ‘normal’ roles expected of her. Since the age of eighteen she’s been working at a convenience store, where she finds solace in monotonous tasks, and feels like she’s finally “pulled off being a ‘person’”. But at thirty-six social pressures have started to shift and the job she’s found such pride in is no longer satisfying others’ expectations. Murata’s writing is hilariously deadpan, zany and moving. The book is beautifully saturated with Japanese culture but with a premise that is entirely cross-cultural.


by Shusaku Endo

Book cover for Silence

Translated by William Johnston

Father Rodrigues sets sail for Japan on a determined mission to help the brutally oppressed Japanese Christians and to discover the truth behind unthinkable rumours that his famous teacher Ferreira has renounced his faith. Once faced with the realities of religious persecution Rodrigues himself is forced to make an impossible choice: whether to abandon his flock or his God.

A passion project for director Martin Scorsese, the film adaptation of Shusaku Endo's story stars Liam Neeson, Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield.

Rental Person Who Does Nothing

by Shoji Morimoto

Book cover for Rental Person Who Does Nothing

Translated by Don Knotting

Have you ever met someone who does 'nothing' for a living? Introducing Shoji Morimoto. After being told by his boss that he contributed nothing to the company he worked for and that it made no difference whether he showed up or not, Shoji started to wonder whether a person who 'does nothing' could still have value in the world. Perhaps he could turn ‘doing nothing’ into a service? With one tweet, Rental Person was born. In Rental Person Who Does Nothing, Morimoto chronicles his extraordinary experiences in his unique line of work and reflects on how we consider relationships, jobs and family in our search for meaningful connection.

The Memory Police

by Yoko Ogawa

Book cover for The Memory Police

Translated by Stephen Snyder

On the island, if something disappears, it no longer exists. It can be burned in the garden, thrown in the river or handed over to the Memory Police and soon enough, the island forgets it ever existed. But what happens to the people who are unable to forget, and struggle to hide their memories? An enthralling Orwellian novel about the terrors of state surveillance.

Norwegian Wood

by Haruki Murakami

Book cover for Norwegian Wood

Probably the best known work by one of Japan's best known authors. When he hears her favourite Beatles song, Toru Watanabe recalls his first love Naoko, the girlfriend of his best friend Kizuki. Immediately he is transported back almost twenty years to his student days in Tokyo, adrift in a world of uneasy friendships, casual sex, passion, loss and desire – to a time when an impetuous young woman called Midori marches into his life and he has to choose between the future and the past.