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5 Best Japanese History Books 2021

Looking for the best Japanese history books? Well, check out the list of top history books from Japan that will give you an insight on Japanese history. Read further to know more. 

The origin of Japan and the Japanese people can be traced back to the Yayoi people. The first came and began settling down in Japan between1000 BC and 300 BC. They soon began mixing with the Jomon culture. 

Japan has a rich, yet troubled and complicated history. Its past is marked by the rise and fall of empires, wars, new traditions coming up and old ones dying out and so many more important events that have shaped the country and influenced the world. 

Best Japanese History Books: Quick Summary 

Best Japanese History BooksAuthor
The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War IIIris Chang
Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War IIJohn W. Dower
HiroshimaJohn Hersey
War without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific WarJohn W. Dower
The Book of Five RingsMiyamoto Musashi

The poorly translated pieces of history that are found in museums do no justice to the history of Japan. History books have a bad reputation of being boring and an absolute drag to read. But I’m here to change that thought process.

Whatever your reason is to learn about Japanese history, finding the right kind of these best Japanese history books is important. 

Which is the best Japanese history book? 

“The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II” was written by Iris Chang and published in 1997. It is a best selling non fiction book that sheds light on the Nanking Massacre that occurred during 1937- 1938 and is a sad and brutal tale of the atrocities done by the Japanese army. . This controversial book is a must read for anyone interested in the history of Japan. It’s available on Amazon for sale. 

From age-old Japanese traditions to wars, there are plenty of Japanese history books that cover important events of Japanese history. And no, they are not like your history books from school. 

Here is a list of the best Japanese history books that are suitable for history buffs as well as casual readers. 

Best Japanese History Books

The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II

best books about japan

Author: Iris Chang

Year of publication: 1997

“The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II” was written by Iris Chang and published in 1997. It is a best selling non fiction book that sheds light on the Nanking Massacre that occurred during 1937- 1938 and is a sad and brutal tale of the atrocities done by the Japanese army.

This controversial book is a must read for anyone interested in the history of Japan. It’s one of the best Japanese history books of all times.

The Nanking Massacre also known as the Rape of Nanking was a series of murders and rapes that were committed by Imperial troops in Nanking, China during the Second Sino- Japanese War. 

The book is based on interviews and real life accounts of Japanese soldiers who committed these atrocities, Chinese victims and eyewitnesses, and a group of Europeans and Americans who helped save many lives. 

Chang’s work received much acclaim as well as criticism. The book was the first to show the extent of the crimes for what they truly were and give the brutal details of the massacre. 

A large part of the research for her book was taken from the diaries of John rabe and Minnie Vautrin. Chang spent about two years researching before she wrote her book. Before publication, Rana Mitter, a well known historian, and Christine Jessen- Klingenberg reviewed the book. 

Since she didn’t conduct any part of her research in Japan, Chang was exposed to criticism from Japan. Japan was quick to defend itself and stated that the numbers of rapes and murders were inaccurate. 

Chang was the victim of a lot of backlash and hate from Japanese ultranationalists. She received death threats and hate mail regularly and this contributed to her already deteriorating mental health. She eventually took her own life. 

Related: Best Japanese Children Books in English

Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II

japanese history textbook

Author: John W. Dower

Year of publication: 1999

An enthralling read by John W. Dower, “Embracing Defeat” is an important read if you want to know about what Japan went through after World War II.

The book covers important events like the administration of Douglas MacArthur, the Tokyo war crime trials, Hirohito’s controversial Humanity Declaration, and the drafting of the new Constitution of Japan. 

The book is a result of extensive research by Dower and contains many illustrations from documentaries. It’s amongst best Japanese history books.

This beautiful unpacking of Japan’s defeat and reconstruction is a must read for anyone interested in Japan’s war history. 

Dower’s work has been the recipient of much acclaim and has won many awards, including the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for General Non- Fiction, the 1999 National Book Award, and the 2000 Bancroft Prize.

Hiroshima

ancient japanese history books

Author: John Hersey

Year of publication: 1946

The atomic bombing of Hiroshima is one of the most famous events in the history of Japan. The tragic event resulted in the death of 129,000 to 226,000 civilians. 

John Hersey’s “Hiroshima” is often considered to be one of the first examples of new journalism. He uses fictional storytelling methods to report non fictional events. 

Hersey was a war correspondent and was one of the first Western journalists who visited Hiroshima after the bombing. He was sent there to write an article on the impact of the bombing for The New Yorker. For this, he interviewed many witnesses and his article placed six of these witnesses in the spotlight.

After receiving much acclaim and many requests for a reprint, the article was published as a book. It’s one of the best Japanese history books to know about Hiroshima attracks.

The book gave the horrifying details of the destruction left in the wake of the bombing. The book contains the experiences of two doctors, a Protestant minister, a widowed seamstress, a young female factory worker, and a German Catholic priest. 

Each chapter of the book contains events from the morning of the bombing to a year after. An extra chapter was added to later editions which shares the aftermath 40 years after the bombing took place. 

War without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War

best books on japanese culture

Author: John W. Dower

Year of publication: 1986

Another masterpiece by John W. Dower, “War without Mercy” covers the view of the Japanese and their Western adversaries during the Pacific War. 

Through this book, Dower brings to light the racist foundations of the Second World War. After the events of Pearl Harbour, Japanese- American soldiers were sent to concentration camps even though there was no evidence of conspiracy. 

He portrayed a contrast between the racism faced by the Japanese people at the hands of Westerners and their attitude towards Germans. 

“War without Mercy” has four sections. Section one shows the patterns of a race war. Section two gives a Western perspective on the war while part three gives a Japanese perspective. Part four is an epilogue about these viewpoints.

This book gives readers a hidden dimension of the Pacific War and sheds light on American and Japanese songs, propaganda films, slogans, cartoons and other important aspects of that time. It’s among the best Japanese history books.

The Book of Five Rings

history of japan book pdf

Author: Miyamoto Musashi

Year of publication: around 1645

“The Book of Five Rings”  or “Go Rin No Sho” is a 1645 text on Japanese swordsmanship (kenjutsu) and martial arts in general. It is not exactly a history book of Japan, but it is a book about a very important aspect of Japanese history and culture. 

This book may be slightly more complicated to read and grasp. The chapters or “books” are Musashi’s teachings that he gave to his students at his dojo.

The five books are a reference to the belief that just as there are different physical elements in life, there are also different elements in battle. It’s amongst the best Japanese history books to buy.

The five books included are “The Book of Earth”, “The Book of Water”, “The Book of Fire”, “The Book of Wind”, and “The Book of Void”. 

How did we choose the best Japanese history books?

Our in-house team of history buffs went over 25 different Japanese history books and rated them based on the style of writing, clarity, ease of reading, understandability, and international reviews. After a critical review, we have put together this list of the best Japanese history books. 

While researching these books, we found that “The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II” is the best Japanese history book. Written by Iris Chang, this book throws light on the unforgivable atrocities committed by the Japanese army. 

Best Japanese History Books: FAQs:

What is the oldest Japanese book?

The Buddhist Diamond Sutra is the oldest Japanese book. It was printed in 868 AD and is made up of six sheets of text and woodcut illustrations. It is also believed to be the oldest printed book in the world.

How old is Japanese culture?

The origin of Japanese culture goes back to the Yayoi people who first came to Japan somewhere between 1000 BCE and 300 CE. The Yayoi spread and mixed with the Jomon culture. Present- day Japanese are considered to be about 80% Yayoi and 20% Jomon.

What is the oldest period in the history of Japan?

The Jomon Period which began between14,500 and 14,000 BC and ended around 300BC is the earliest era in the history of Japan.

What is the best book on Japanese history?

Some of the best books on Japanese history are:
– The Rape of Nanking
– Embracing Defeat
– Lost Japan
– War without Mercy
– Hiroshima
– The Rising Sun
– The Making of Modern Japan
– The Book of Five Rings

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The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II

Looking for the best Japanese history books? Well, check out the list of top history books from Japan that will give you an insight on Japanese history. Read further to know more. 

URL: https://www.amazon.com/Rape-Nanking-Forgotten-Holocaust-World/dp/0465068367

Author: Iris Chang

Editor's Rating:
5
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