Top 16 Japanese Authors You Must Read

Delve into the history and culture of Japan by exploring the works of these 16 Japanese authors. 

The rich history of the people of Japan creates a perfect stage for beautiful stories and poetry. Many of the works of Japanese authors study the culture of the people of Japan and its history. From having the first novel ever written to many novelists who had their work turned into movies, you will find a rich selection of books to read if you explore these authors more fully.

Best Japanese Authors

Popular and Historic Japanese Authors

if you are looking for something to read that will engage your love of history and exotic culture, you may find that the writers that come from Japan are the perfect fit. Yet, with over a thousand years of written history and many translations available, how can you choose? This list of top writers is a good starting point:

Top Japanese Authors
By Takashi Mukoda – https://www.flickr.com/photos/138667019@N07/25162292173/in/dateposted-public/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47528402

1. Ryunosuke Akutagawa

Known as the father of the Japanese short story,  Ryunosuke Akutagawa wrote tales based on historic Japanese folklore retold with modern psychology elements. Even though he died at just 35, he had over 150 stories to his name. Today, he is one of the most widely translated Japanese authors, with several films based on his stories, and Roshomon is one of his most famous stories.

Rashomon and Other Stories
  • Akutagawa, Ryunosuke (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 48 Pages - 02/27/2021 (Publication Date) - Must Have Books (Publisher)

2. Yukio Mishima

Over his literary career, Yukio Mishima wrote 34 moves, 50 plays, and 25 collections of short stories. Mishima’s work was so crucial to the world of Japanese literature that he was considered for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1968 and is known as one of the most influential Japanese writers of the 20th century. His famous novels include The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea, The Temple of the Golden PavilionConfessions of a Mask, and Sun and Steel.

Confessions of a Mask
  • Yukio Mishima (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 256 Pages - 01/17/1958 (Publication Date) - New Directions (Publisher)

3. Banana Yoshimoto

Banana Yoshimoto is the pen name for a Japanese writer named Mahoko Yoshimoto. Her first novel, Kitchen, had over 60 printings in Japan and two film adaptations. Her entire body of works, including 12 novels and seven collections of essays, has sold over six million copies worldwide.

Kitchen
  • Hardcover Book
  • Banana Yoshimoto (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 152 Pages - 11/28/1993 (Publication Date) - Grove Press (Publisher)

4. Ryu Murakami

Joi Ito, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Ryu Murakami‘s early life took a strong influence from hippy culture and his time in rock bands. As an adult, he moved to Tokyo to pursue art before discovering a passion for writing, and his first novel, Almost Transparent Blue, won the Akutagawa Prize in the 1970s. One of his best-known works is the psychological thriller In the Miso Soup.

In the Miso Soup
  • Murakami, Ryu (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 224 Pages - 03/28/2006 (Publication Date) - Penguin Books (Publisher)

5. Yoko Ogawa

Known for The Housekeeper and the Professor, The Memory Police, and The Diving Pool, Yoko Ogawa is a modern Japanese novelist. She has over 20 works of both fiction and nonfiction to her name. Her work has won several awards, and she also explores theses of math in her work. In addition, many of her books explore the role of women in Japanese society.

The Housekeeper and the Professor
  • Yoko Ogawa (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 192 Pages - 02/03/2009 (Publication Date) - Picador (Publisher)

6. Kenzaburo Oe

Winner of the 1994 Nobel Prize in Literature, Kenzaburo Oe started studying literature at age 18. After one of his sons was born with brain damage, his work began to take on the theme of disability, beginning with A Personal Matter, which was his own attempt to understand the trauma of having a disabled child. He also wrote scathing pieces about the Japanese involvement in World War II and the aftermath, and even as late as 2013 was organizing protests against nuclear power.

A Personal Matter
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Kenzaburo Oë (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 165 Pages - 01/13/1994 (Publication Date) - Grove Press (Publisher)

7. Natsuo Kirino

Born in 1951, Natsuo Kirino earned a law degree before turning her mind toward writing. After getting married in her mid-twenties, Kirino began writing, winning several awards for her Japanese novels. Out was her first work translated into English, and it also earned a nomination for the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Novel in 2004.

Out
  • Kirino, Natsuo (Author)
  • 11/28/2022 (Publication Date) - Vintages (Publisher)

8. Yasunari Kawabata

Yasunari Kawabata
UPI, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Born in 1899 to a poor family, Yasunari Kawabata was orphaned before the age of three and thus was raised by his grandparents. However, by the time he went to middle school, he knew he loved to write. One of his most well-known novels was his 1952 work entitled Thousand Cranes, which highlights the tea ceremony, an essential part of Japanese culture, in a story of passion and tragedy, and Snow Country is another popular work.

Sale
Thousand Cranes
  • Yasunari Kawabata (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 147 Pages - 11/26/1996 (Publication Date) - Vintage (Publisher)

9. Mieko Kawakami

Mieko Kawakami is a modern Japanese novelist known for her book Breasts and Eggs, a New York Times bestseller. She entered the literary scene as a poet in 2006 and published a novella in 2007. Her works explore ethical questions and problems of modern society.

Sale
Breasts and Eggs: A Novel
  • Kawakami, Mieko (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 432 Pages - 03/23/2021 (Publication Date) - Europa Editions (Publisher)

10. Natsume Soseki

The government sent Natsume Soseki to Great Britain as “Japan’s first Japanese English literary scholar” in 1900. Then he started writing haiku, renku, and haitaishi for literary magazines in Japan. He then wrote several famous books, including Kokoro, Botchan, and Kusamakura. I Am a Cat was one of his most famous, and this satirical novel pokes fun at Japanese culture and its attempt to mix in Western culture in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

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I Am a Cat (Tuttle Classics)
  • Great product!
  • Soseki Natsume (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 638 Pages - 09/01/2001 (Publication Date) - Tuttle Publishing (Publisher)

11. Sayaka Murata

An avid reader as a child, Sayaka Murata turned that passion into a career as a writer. She spent much of her adult life working part-time as a convenience store clerk in Tokyo, and she turned that experience into one of her most-translated novels, Convenience Store Woman. Her work takes on themes of gender roles, parenthood, and sex, and many of her characters come from her people-watching working in the convenience store.

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Convenience Store Woman: A Novel
  • Murata, Sayaka (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 176 Pages - 09/17/2019 (Publication Date) - Grove Press (Publisher)

12. Hiromi Kawakami

Winner of the Akutagawa Prize, Hiromi Kawakami was born in 1958 and began her writing career soon after graduating from college by writing for a Japanese science-fiction magazine. Her first work of fiction was a series of short stories entitled Kamisama. Strange Weather in Tokyo is one of her most famous English translations.

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Strange Weather in Tokyo: A Novel
  • Kawakami, Hiromi (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 192 Pages - 11/14/2017 (Publication Date) - Counterpoint (Publisher)

13. Junichiro Tanizaki

One of Japan’s most prominent literary figures, Junichiro Tanizaki, lived from 1886 to 1965. Born to a wealthy family who owned a printing press, he was introduced to literature early. One of his most famous works, which also has a film adaptation, is A Cat, A Man, and Two Women.

A Cat, A Man, and Two Women
  • Tanizaki, Junichiro (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 180 Pages - 08/27/2015 (Publication Date) - New Directions (Publisher)

14. Kobo Abe

Kobo Abe is the penname for Japanese writer and playwright Kimifusa Abe, born in 1924. Though he published some poetry and plays early in his life, it was not until the publication of The Woman in the Dunes in 1962 that he gained acclaim worldwide for his work. His works are wild and imaginative, with quite a bit of fantasy woven into each page.

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The Woman in the Dunes
  • Abe, Kobo (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 256 Pages - 04/16/1991 (Publication Date) - Vintage (Publisher)

15. Murasaki Shikibu

Murasaki Shikibu was a lady-in-waiting of the Imperial Court of the Heian period, living from around 970 to 1015. She wrote The Tale of Genji, which is considered one of the first novels ever written. Unfortunately, little is known about her actual life, other than that she was widowed at a young age and had one child.

The Tale of Genji: (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)
  • Shikibu, Murasaki (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 1216 Pages - 11/26/2002 (Publication Date) - Penguin Classics (Publisher)

16. Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami
Haruki Murakami (signature), CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Finally, Haruki Murakami, author of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, rounds out the list. His first novel, Hear the Wind Sing, won an award, and after that, he was hooked on writing, publishing several novels, three short story collections, and a novella. Before he began his literary career, he ran a small jazz bar with his wife in Tokyo.

Sale
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel
  • a visionary novel by one of Japan's greatest living novelists, Haruki Murakami.
  • Haruki Murakami (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 607 Pages - 09/01/1998 (Publication Date) - Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group (Publisher)

Further reading for those interested in improving their writing skills:

Must-read storytelling books – Hone your storytelling skills with these helpful books.

How to write a story outline – Construct a perfectly balanced story.

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