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Best Japanese Novels 2021

Top Novels From Japan

Here I have the best Japanese novels recommendations for you! Stop and check out!

Best Japanese Novels: Summary

Best Japanese Novels Authors Editor’s Rating
The Housekeeper and the Professor – $12.59 Yoko Ogawa 4/5
I am a Cat – $15.00 Soseki Natsume 3.5/5
Kafka on the Shore – $15.66 Haruki Murakam 4.1/5
Out – $8.07 Natsuo Kirino 3.8/5
Strange Weather in Tokyo – $14.95 Hiromi Kawakami 3.5/5
Snow Country – $10.26 Yasunari Kawabata 3.7/5
Kitchen – $2.60 Banana Yoshimoto  3.9/5
Rashomon – $6.00 Ryunosuke Akutagawa 3.7/5
Convenience Store Woman – $13.49 Sayaka Murata  4/5
The Eighth Day – $118 Mitsuyo Kakuta  3.8/5

Kill two birds with one stone — Expand your knowledge of the Japanese culture this year and also get some quality reading done with some of the best Japanese novels ever written.

I find it quite unfair when I see Japanese literature being popularized only in poetry, haikus and comics like manga.

When in reality, the Japanese culture and the country is home to some of the most brilliant, engaging, tear-jerking literature in the world.

Originally, these books are all written in Japanese and are painstakingly and laboriously translated into English for the rest of the world.

I can assure you that because of the time-consuming process that it is, the Japanese books that are selected for translation are curated among the best.

Among those, I have handpicked some of the best Japanese novels that I think you will enjoy.

Best Japanese novels

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

best novels from japan

The book is translated by Stephen Snyder

When a car accident robs the math ‘professor’ of the ability to remember anything beyond 80 minutes, a ‘housekeeper’ needs to be hired to take care of him.

His memory was as tumbled down as the cottage he lived in, where he spent all day doing math puzzles and every once in a while glancing at his suit that had a note stuck to it: My memory only lasts 80 minutes.

His housekeeper has to introduce herself to him every morning. Accompanying her is her sweet little boy, whom the professor refers to as Root.

This was because his flat headedness reminded him of the symbol of the square root. Even though there isn’t much to remember, the relationship between the three is quite exquisite and heart warming.

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I am a Cat by Soseki Natsume

The book is translated by Aiko Ito and Graeme Wilson

This cat has never caught a mouse. You’d think its observation and preying skills are bad, but I just think it puts it to good use somewhere else — in being catty.

Residing in the home of an English professor, this nameless feline creature listens to the conversations of the upper-middle-class people from the Meji area. 

The book is mostly a sardonic and satirical perspective about the follies, eccentricities, and weaknesses of humans around him.

The narrator, the cat, made it very clear in the first sentence of the book: “I am a cat. As yet I have no name.”

Think of its mockery, in the sense that what humans know about themselves is just as little as what cats know about themselves.

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Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

best japanese novels

The book is translated by Philip Gabriel

After I read Kafka on the Shore, I couldn’t quite look at a bottle of Johnnie Walker whiskey with a straight face. Odd?

Yes. Blame it on Murakami. Only someone like him can make it so disturbingly fascinating. It is the best Japanese novels I’ve ever read.

You’ll experience reading a piece of literature that is far away from the constraints of space and time.

It can be confusing to alternate between Murakami’s multiple concepts at once, but that they boil down to one thing in the end. 

In this book, you’ll find that the cats know more than humans, fish fall down from the sky and somehow the protagonist finds a mysterious connection with his teacher from school. 

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Out by Natsuo Kirino

The book is translated by Stephen Snyder

What is a murder mystery if it isn’t topped off with sex and ultra violence. It is even better if the maiming party is a woman. Out is one of the best Japanese novels.

Natsuo Kirino, known as the queen of Japanese crime really blew heads off with this book and in this book. It is one of the best Japanese novels across the globe.

This novel narrates the story of a violent murder that takes place in the suburbs of Tokyo.

The abusive husband had to die at the hands of his wife. The cover-up involved a few co-workers and friends and a constant feeling of dismay.

This is a story about escaping close calls, strained friendships and passing the blame, and of course, solving a crime, or rather, getting away with a crime.

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Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami

bestseller novels from japan

The book is translated by Allison Markin Powell

This book, in the simplest way, paints a portrait of the lives of two people. Tsukiko and Sensei. This book is about an unprecedented meeting of Tsukiko with her old professor from the school, whom she refers to as sensei, at a sake bar.

In the short span of this book, the author slowly unpacks multiple nuances where a chance meet-cute turned into a causal friendship and then transformed into a peculiar kind of romance.

The depiction of the two characters seems as f it is written by two different authors because of how different a person they seem to embody. In this work, Kakakami has outdone herself.

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Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata

The book is translated by Edward Seidensticker

Yasunari Kawabata is one of Japan’s few Nobel prize-winning authors, respected for his skill and admired for his charm.

Snow Country, arguably one of his most beautifully penned books, captures the love between a geisha and a man from Tokyo. The man and the geisha both live in Onsen, a mountainous region.

It has been told that several of the experiences and feelings and the aesthetics encapsulated in this book are from the time he spent on a trip to Yuzawa Onsen in Niigata Prefecture. 

As the snow blanketed the whole region, the geisha didn’t remove one invisible blanket of truth. She gave her whole self to him, knowing that it could turn into nothing more than a fleeting affair.

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Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

The book is translated by Megan Backus

Kitchen is a novella about grief and loss. The book depicts a very real understanding of the process of grief and it takes over us. She has a gripping sense of mourning and that showed as you turned each page.

Yoshimoto has gone out of her way to avoid any melodrama and pronounced outburst and kept it rather simple.

The muted tone of the novel shows a peek into the lives of someone who has just suffered loss, finds their way and navigates to find love and friendship. 

Something about the style and the shortness of the book makes it sympathetic and something you’d want to clutch close to your heart as you flip over the last page.

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Rashomon by Ryunosuke Akutagawa

The book is translated by Takashi Kojima

Rashomon is a ruined gate found near Southern Kyoto. The story unfolds as a servant finds himself at the gate of Rashomon facing a dilemma. Whether they should starve to death or fight to survive.

Racked by tumbling thoughts, he stumbles upon a woman at the same gate who has already made her choice.

Without ruining more for you, I’ll tell you this: This is a book about how people change their morals in desperate times, whether it is to fight or to survive.

Akutagawa has written many books, some of which were so brilliant that they decided to name a prize after him: the Akutagawa Prize. Read it and you’ll know why it’s one of the best Japanese novels.

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Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

The book is translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori

An asexual woman in her 30s is hounded about how empty her life must be without a man. This book is about this woman, who for the past eighteen years of her life, loved and thrived at her job as a convenience store clerk.

Every day her friends and family tell her she’s not normal. To get them off her back, she ‘adopts’ a man and invites him to live with her.

The book is written with such passive aggression and sarcasm, it could bite you! Definitely, one of the best Japanese novels

The Eighth Day by Mitsuyo Kakuta

japanese author novels

The book is translated by Margaret Mitsutani

The eighth Day is one of the best Japanese novels that was only translated in 2010. The woman protagonist of the novel is having an affair with a co-worker who is already married.

She has a lot going on in her life: not only did she suffer an abortion, but she also kidnapped a six-month-old baby of her co-worker.

She escapes with the little baby and seeks refuge in a religious commune. Fifteen years later, the girl baby tries to escape and find her real family.

The most interesting thing about the book is that it has been told from the perspective of both the victim and the kidnapper.

Which is the best Japanese Novel?

I’ve read all the best Japanese novels and I found Kafka on the Shore be be the best.

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami is an extremely engrossing tale about a boy who is a teenager and runs away from home. The story has elements of fantasy, magic realism combined with fiction. It has been translated to various languages like English, Spanish etc.

Great Reads from Japan

Here these recommendations of best Japanese novels helped you. Please add these to your to-read list and experience a whole different world when you read them!

Also Read:

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  2. Best Japanese Dramas To Watch On Netflix 2021
Kafka on the Shore

Here I have the best Japanese novels recommendations for you! Stop and check out!

URL: https://amzn.to/3uEPjGT

Author: Haruki Murakami

Editor's Rating:
4.1
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