The Best Japanese History Books of 2021

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Are you looking for the best Japanese History books to get you through your latest assignment? Are you struggling to find a concise history of Japan that you can use for your history course? No matter what you’re looking for, we’ll try to make your search as simple as possible.

Imagine writing what you think is the best paper of your academic career only to find out that the information in it is false. Instead of using quality resources, you took all your data from what you thought was a legitimate website, and it turned out not to be. Don’t let this be you.

This list contains a multitude of books to get you through your school work and maybe even your free time. The books in this list all boasts a variety of styles and themes. Some cover their personal experience with Japan, whereas others stick directly to the facts. If you are wondering how to pick the best materials to use when searching for the best books about Japan, we will help you with that too. All you must do is keep reading.

If you want to just get back to studying, get our top pick for Japanese history books here.

Our Top Favorite
A History of Japan to 1334
Our Top Runner Up
A Concise History of Japan (Cambridge Concise Histories)
Our Top Value Pick
Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II
Book Title
A History of Japan to 1334
A Concise History of Japan (Cambridge Concise Histories)
Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II
Prime Eligible?
Our Top Favorite
A History of Japan to 1334
Book Title
A History of Japan to 1334
Prime Eligible?
Our Top Runner Up
A Concise History of Japan (Cambridge Concise Histories)
Book Title
A Concise History of Japan (Cambridge Concise Histories)
Prime Eligible?
Our Top Value Pick
Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II
Book Title
Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II
Prime Eligible?

Last update: 2021-04-16

Our Favorites for Best Japanese History Books

A History of Japan to 1334 by George Sansom

A History of Japan to 1334 is a highly-recommended text for anyone seeking information on Japan and its origins. It’s author, George Sansom, was a historian who paid close attention to Japanese society and its culture. This text is the first from a 3-volume set presenting information on Japan’s Origins in a narrative style.

What Makes it Unique:

  • The text focuses more on political and social information rather than the arts.
  • A History of Japan to 1334also provides readers with a view into the royal life as well as Japan’s first beginnings.
  • This is an excellent text for any historian, especially those particularly studying far East Asia. However, for those without a vested interest, this may be a hard text to get through. Japanese names may be hard for many readers.
  • The text opens with general information about Japan. This includes culture, origins, religion, and government. All the information is presented in chronological order.

Why Choose This Japanese History Book:

  • If you are looking for a highly detailed and heavily researched text, this is the perfect option. Though the books get better as time progresses, that is a common characteristic of historical writing. As time progresses, more resources are available to historians to use, and therefore they can craft better text.
  • Many readers find that this text would make an excellent reference text and is an essential text if you are interested in Japanese culture.
  • If you are looking to continue your journey through Japanese history, it is highly recommended that you continue with the next two books within the trilogy. This gives you not only a broader perspective of Japanese history but also allows you to get more into George Sansom’s smooth writing style.

On Sale
A History of Japan to 1334
A History of Japan to 1334
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • George Sansom (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Last update: 2021-04-16


The Making of Modern Japan by Marius B. Jansen

The Making of Modern Japan covers the early history of Japan starting in the 1600s and ending in the present day. This text was first published in 2002; therefore, “present” refers to the early 2000s. This is a text that may intimidate some as it is a scholarly read and quite lengthy but overall worth the read.

What Makes it Unique:

  • The Making of Modern Japan includes roughly 20 chapters with 10 of them geared toward the Edo period, which lasted approximately 1600-1868, 5 on the Meji period when encompasses 1868 – 1912, and the rest being geared towards the present day.
  • The book debunks several myths about things that are considered Japanese. This is an excellent text to help readers genuinely understand Japan. The book presents an academic tone but is not merely for students or individuals in academia.
  • The tone of the texts sounds more of a lecture than a history book. The text pushes students to do more resources on their own; the text is just a starting point for exploration.
  • Each chapter includes an annotated bibliography that students can refer to and find resources for their studies.

Why Choose This Japanese History Book:

  • This is most certainly a text for someone with a vested interest in Japan’s history. Much of the information in the text is by no means an overview.
  • The Making of Modern Japan is a beautifully written introduction text to Japanese history. The author offers a neutral stance on areas where she could have pushed a specific position, and it is appreciated.
  • This is a text which has proven to be meticulously investigated to provide readers with the most accurate and highest quality information.

The Making of Modern Japan
The Making of Modern Japan
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Jansen, Marius B. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Last update: 2021-04-16


Lost Japan: Last Glimpse of Beautiful Japan by Alex Kerr

Lost Japan: Glimpse of Beautiful Japan is a text which touches on Japanese culture while Alex Kerr still writes about his personal life. He gives readers a view into the beauty and enchantment of Japan, in this personal love letter. It was originally written in Japanese and later translated into English. With this text, Alex Kerr was the first foreigner to be awarded the Gakugei Literature Prize.

What Makes it Unique:

  • The author uses his personal experiences as a catalyst for the information he provides. He provides readers with what it’s like to live and thrive in Japan. There are chapters about traditional Japanese housing, as well as chapters about modernization. You can also see Kerr’s distaste for wires and telephone poles throughout the text as well.
  • The text is written in simple language that is easy for all readers to comprehend. His book represents a love for a culture which he believes is slowly dying.
  • Alex Kerr uses his storytelling abilities to get readers drawn into its pages. Readers find it refreshing to read about the joy, which many of the topics seem to bring the author. The text is the author’s way of pleading with the new and more “modern Japan” to not forget the old parts.

Why Choose This Japanese History Book:

  • If you are someone who has been teaching history to both western students and Asian students, this is an excellent text to bridge the gap as it is written by an American who has lived in both Japan and Asia.
  • The author finds balance in talking about subjects that may be hot or cold for some readers or even overall difficult to explain. This includes the relationship Japanese people have with kanji.
  • The author does not paint the image that Japan has no work to do or that it is merely the greatest ever. Instead, he describes the issues of the country beautifully and without bashing the country.

On Sale
Lost Japan: Last Glimpse of Beautiful Japan
Lost Japan: Last Glimpse of Beautiful Japan
  • PENGUIN GROUP
  • Kerr, Alex (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Last update: 2021-04-16


Runner Ups for Best Japanese History Books

A Concise History of Japan (Cambridge Concise Histories) by Brett L. Walker

A Concise History of Japan is just what its name eludes to, a shortened look at Japan’s history without details on every event. Brett L Walker writes the text, he is an American educator who has written several texts regarding Japan and the Japanese lifestyle. The book tackles several different themes throughout Japanese culture, including an array of environmental concerns.

What Makes it Unique:

  • The book uses archaeology remains to trace the early parts of Japanese culture, including the samurai, civil conflict, and life of the imperial court.
  • A Concise History of Japan is a series of short illustrated essays. They are historical introductions to a variety of countries for students, travelers, and historical enthusiasts.
  • The text explicitly opens with its contents, which showcase a listing of the illustrations and maps you will find throughout the book as well as a time-ordered list of the chapters.
  • The text’s conclusion is not one that you will typically find in history books. Instead, it ends with a note about climate change and how it affects the Japanese land — the text talks of the country’s industrial decision making and its economic development.
  • A Concise History of Japan uses several narratives and stories to tell the history of Japan.

Why Choose This Japanese History Book:

  • The text accurately captures the Japans’s history, telling all the right stories in a concise format. The book does a great job of providing high-level overviews of events in history. The book packs heaps of information into a small package.
  • The pictures also aid in completing the image that the author paints with words. Pictures include that of early hunter/gatherer pottery, temples, prominent figures, and much more.
  • The book is an excellent read for students and provides a broad perspective of history. This a text which is often assigned in history classes, and most students rave that it is a pleasure to read.

On Sale
A Concise History of Japan (Cambridge Concise Histories)
A Concise History of Japan (Cambridge Concise Histories)
  • Walker, Brett L. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 359 Pages - 03/02/2015 (Publication Date) - Cambridge University Press (Publisher)

Last update: 2021-04-16


A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present by Andrew Gordon

A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present attempts to provide a portrait of Japan over the last two decades. It begins during the era of the Tokugawa Family overlordship. This is a text heavily used in classes and history courses that most students find informative and enjoyable to read. This beautifully written text covers the major events in Japan’s history. The author presents the information in a manner that invites the reader to indulge in the countries past to fully understand its present and future.

What Makes it Unique:

  • The book follows two major themes. These themes include modernity and connectivity. The text aims to tell the unfolding modern story that has happened and is happening in Japan. The book also touches on how several other places impacted or affected Japan as a whole.
  • Gordon also touches on how capitalism impacted the 19th and 20th centuries in Japan by examining the citizens and the government. Social class relations are also an area of study that comes into play.
  • The book not only identifies the diversity and the global touchpoints of japan, but it also includes information on the distinctions that make Japan unique.

Why Choose This Japanese History Book:

  • If you are looking for a text which aims to keep learning continuous, this is it. oxfordjapan.org is the companion site to this book. It contains translated versions of historical documents, study questions, and a variety of other online resources.
  • This often a text used in history class and would serve as an excellent reference text. The author keeps readers engaged by streamlining his presentation of information. Though this means less detail in some areas, the payoff is still outstanding. Instructors may assign reading from the textbook and may ask students to do further research to bridge any gaps.

On Sale
A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present
A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present
  • Gordon, Andrew (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 464 Pages - 07/05/2019 (Publication Date) - Oxford University Press (Publisher)

Last update: 2021-04-16


Value Picks for Best Japanese History Books

Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II by John W. Dower

Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II tells the story of Japan during six years of being occupied by America. This event affected nearly every sector of Japanese life in the most exciting ways that many could not imagine. The text presents the turbulence between the east and the west as well as manipulations happening within the governing parties and even the lives of everyday people. This is a Pulitzer prize-winning text that is much worth the time to read for the sheer amount of effort put into it.

What Makes it Unique:

  • The author opens by describing the beginning of a period that, to many, was a nightmare. This nightmare began in 1853 with an onset of American warships and ended the same way in 1945.
  • The text uses a collection of accounts to make history more personal. Chapter One, titled Shattered Lives, gives readers a glimpse into the aftermath not just on a historical level but on a human level.
  • The book gives you a glimpse into Japan’s rebuilding era. Many wonder how a country which was ruined by defeat and destruction could grow so immensely and so quickly.

Why Choose This Japanese History Book:

  • This is an excellent text for students looking to find out “what happened next” after WWII. The author finds a way to marry all of the perspectives around to provide a comprehensive and truthful account of what occupancy and post-occupancy looked like in Japan.
  • Overall, Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II shows how the people of Japan and the country embraced defeat to become the powerhouse that we see presently. Many readers have coined this text as a masterpiece and have learned significantly more about Japan because of it.

On Sale
Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II
Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II
  • W W Norton Company
  • Dower, John W. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Last update: 2021-04-16


How to Choose the Best Japanese History Book for You

Now that you have read about some of the best books about Japan, it is time to determine what text is best for you. However, how should that be done? Do you know?

Selecting a text when they all seem to be so thorough and full of information can be hard and a daunting task, but it is not impossible. We will give you some tips on finding books for your next history class or maybe only for your next assignment. These tips can also interchangeably be applied to an array of topics.

There are enormous possibilities when choosing a Japanese textbook. So many options that choosing the right one may mean that you need a little extra help.

Figure out your intention.

One important thing that you will need to recognize and identify is your intention. You should be answering questions like what is this text for and how will I use it? Are you writing a paper? Is this for a class assignment or a required reading?

All of these will help you identify the type of text you are looking for as it will vary by need. Depending on the length of your assignment, chances are you won’t need a lengthy and overwhelmingly in-depth text to obtain the information you need. Scale your expectations by need.

Know your time and topic.

If you are looking for the best books on modern Japan, it will serve you a disservice to look at texts which cover Japan’s origins in-depth but gloss over modern parts of history. The period you are looking for should be evident in your search results and the books which you are considering.

Another characteristic which you should use to narrow your search is the topic. There are several forums and articles all over the internet, which can offer you texts based on the specific topic you are looking for. You should not be reading war books if you are doing work more closely aligned with arts and literature.

Language barriers?

There are several texts which have been translated in English, which were originally written in Japanese. If you are not able to read Japanese books or have found a text which is written in Japanese that you would like to explore, there are several options for finding the text translation. There is no reason for you not to find an insightful and informative text.

Wrapping Up the Best Japanese History Books

If you have made it this far, we hope that you have found a text that has not only piqued your interest but that you love and is useful. If you haven’t, don’t worry, there are several books out there that may do the trick. All you must do is apply the tips mentioned in the article.

These are some great books on this list, some of which can easily be considered the best books on Japanese history. A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present is one text that does an excellent job of providing a concise history of Japan. This is a book that is heavily used in the classroom and often a required text for many students.

If you are looking for a more untraditional text, Lost Japan: Glimpse of Beautiful Japan, uses the author’s personal experiences in conjunction with Japanese history to tell the story of Japan. He, in essence, writes a love letter to Japan. These are only two great texts from the list. There are several others for you to explore.

Overall, finding the best Japanese history book depends on your needs. It can be a great addition to your study materials as well as being an excellent resource for getting acclimated to the other cultures. Hopefully, this list gave you some options which you weren’t aware of and normally wouldn’t have seen.

If you enjoyed this post, you’ll love our history book reviews here.

Here are a few other history book reviews you may find interesting:

> The Best Books about Canada

> The Best Chinese History Books

> The Best Greek History Books

> The Best Korean History Books

> The Best Roman History Books

> The Best Russian History Books

Professor Conquer
Professor Conquer

Professor Conquer started Conquer Your Exam in 2018 to help students feel more confident and better prepared for their tough tests. Prof excelled in high school, graduating top of his class and receiving admissions into several Ivy League and top 15 schools. He has helped many students through the years tutoring and mentoring K-12, consulting seniors through the college admissions process, and writing extensive how-to guides for school.

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