Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden, 1997
This poignant tale of Chiyo Sakamoto’s time as a geisha in Kyoto during the mid 20th century is a stunning work of literary art.
Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami, 2000
A moving novel about a young friendship and romance that changes in the wake of a shared tragedy.
The Old Capital, Kawabata Yasunari, 1962
The Old Capital is one of three novels cited by the Nobel Committee when they awarded Kawabata the Nobel Price for Literature in 1968. The novel tells the story of Chieko, the adopted daughter of a Kyoto Kimono designer. You could trace her many walks and daily goings around Kyoto on a city map and follow it step by step – This book could serve the visitor as a “Kyoto guide”.
The Pillow Book, Sei Shonagon, 1002
Classical portrait of court life in tenth century Kyoto – written by lady-in-waiting Sei Shonagou as a diary.
The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Mishima Yukio, 1965
Fictionalization of the burning of the most famous Kyoto temple –the Kinkaku-ji. The pavilion dated from before 1400 and had not been destroyed by fire as so many Kyoto temples had – the arson in 1950 – committed by a young Buddhist shocked Japan.
A Thousand Cranes, Yasunari Kawabata, 1952
This 1952 Nobel Prize–winning novel by Yasunari Kawabata is a tale of deep emotions. At a tea ceremony where Kikuji mourns the death of his parents, he finds himself in the midst of an unexpected relationship that leads to further misfortune.
The Elephant Vanishes, Haruki Murakami, 1993
This collection of 17 short stories demonstrates Murakami’s ability to fuse the real with the surreal, while focusing on the themes of loss and solitude.
In Praise of Shadow, Tanizaki Junichiro (1886 – 1965), 1933
Essays on aesthetics, classical of the collision between shadows of traditional Japanese interior and the light of modern age. It really is a look into the Japanese mind set.
Diary of Lady Murasaki, Murasaki Shikubu. 1996
Lady Murasaki, the author of the famous “Tale of Genji”(the first novel ever written) offers a glimpse of her daily life in court – another lady of Heian court (794-1185) – She was the Companion of the very young empress Shoshi.
Kyoto Encounters, Thomas Rimer & Stephen Addiss, 1995
An introduction to the city of Kyoto by native and foreign writers throughout the Centuries with photos by twenty local photographers.
The Lady and the Monk, Pico Iyer, 1992
Modern tale of “a monk and a lady” in 20th century Kyoto. Iyer begins by traveling to Kyoto to study Zen Buddhism, starts a friendship with a Kyoto housewife and mother of two, she is fascinated by him and the west. This book leads the reader through the four seasons of Kyoto.
Geisha of Gion, Mineko Iwasaki, 2003
One of the most famous geishas of the mid-20th century, Mineko Iwasaki reveals the story of her life in Gion. The book corrects some misconceptions from Arthur Golden’s bestselling Memoirs of a Geisha, which Iwasaki was interviewed for.
A Year in Japan, Kate Williamson, 2006
American Kate Williamson spent a year in Kyoto on a fellowship studying visual culture. Here, she details her findings, from the broad to the specific, which she accompanies with beautiful watercolors.
Book of Tea, Kakuzo Okakura, 1906
The Book of Tea links the role of tea to the aesthetic and cultural aspects of Japan. Although the themes of the book are central to the Japanese way of life, Kakuzo wrote the book to address a Western audience. Kakuzo’s interpretation of the tea ceremony demonstrates the parallels between tea and Japanese simplicity, which can be seen most clearly in the country’s art and architecture.
In a Japanese Garden, Lafcadio Hearn, 1892
This essay, written by Irish author Lafcadio Hearn, gives an outsider’s perspective on the Japanese garden in the late 19th century.
In Praise of Shadow, Junichiro Tanizaki, 1933
This essay focuses on Japanese aesthetics, describing subjects from architecture and food to the esoteric, like patterns of grain in old wood or lacquerware in candlelight. Tanizaki uses these descriptions, coupled with the themes of light versus dark and modern versus traditional, to explain the differences between Western and Japanese aesthetics.
Rikyu, Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1989
The award-winning Rikyu centers around a Japanese tea master in the 16th century as he tries to stay diplomatic in political fray, but ultimately must face societal issues.