mybest
Books, CDs, DVDs

Helping You Find the Best

Close
  1. TOP
  2. Books, CDs, DVDs
  3. 10 Best Japanese History Books UK 2023
  • 10 Best Japanese History Books UK 2023 1
  • 10 Best Japanese History Books UK 2023 2
  • 10 Best Japanese History Books UK 2023 3
  • 10 Best Japanese History Books UK 2023 4
  • 10 Best Japanese History Books UK 2023 5

10 Best Japanese History Books UK 2023

Do you want to learn more about Japanese culture? One of the best ways to understand a nation is to learn about the major events in its past. More than just dates and names to be mindlessly memorised, history is full of personal narratives that shape a society. Books can help to transport readers back in time, providing us with detailed knowledge about how people lived in different eras.

Whether you’re interested in military history like the emergence of samurai warriors in medieval Japan or, modern topics such as the issue of national identity after World War II, there's something out there for you! Allow us to guide you through the main historical periods and share our favourite Japanese history books to buy online. Ready to start reading?

Last updated 14/07/2023
mybest Editing Team
Guide
mybest UK
mybest Editing Team

A recommendation service that carefully researches each product and consults with experts across many disciplines. We are constantly creating new content to provide the best shopping experience from choosing ‘cosmetics’ to ‘food and drink’, ‘home appliances’ to ‘kids and baby’ products, reaching users all across the United Kingdom.

mybest Editing Team's Profile
…Continue reading

Table of Contents

How to Choose a Japanese History Book in the UK – Buying Guide

When choosing a book on Japanese history, you’ll want to make sure you pick something that’s not only informative but is also enjoyable to delve into. Before you begin browsing, take some time to determine your reading level and which topics interest you the most. 

1

Find a Book to Suit Your Level of Knowledge

Whether you’re a novice or an aficionado when it comes to Japanese history, finding a book that's suitable for your level of knowledge is crucial. We're here to help you select a read that's just right!

Beginner’s Guides and Quick Overviews Are Ideal for Those With a Casual Interest

Beginner’s Guides and Quick Overviews Are Ideal for Those With a Casual Interest
If you’re new to the world of Japanese history, it’s essential to pick something suitable for beginners that'll provide you with key dates and explain specialist vocabulary. Usually, this type of book will give you a general overview, covering the main historical events without too many unnecessary details. 

Those who want a quick read that they can casually enjoy alongside a cup of coffee can't go wrong with this type of book!

More Advanced, Academic Texts Will Benefit Students and Serious Learners

More Advanced, Academic Texts Will Benefit Students and Serious Learners
Students taking a history course or those who already have a good basic knowledge of Japan's past will likely want to purchase an academic text that goes into more detail. This kind of book will typically take an analytical approach and the best ones will examine historical events from a variety of perspectives.

Of course, academic tomes are generally longer and more expensive than beginner's guides, but they'll give you a much deeper understanding of Japanese history!

2

Which Period of Japanese History Are You Looking To Learn About?

As there are so many different periods of Japanese history, you may feel overwhelmed when browsing books on the subject. You might even want to focus on one particular era, especially if you're doing research for an essay or a school project. In this section, we'll cover the main periods - from prehistoric times to the present day.

Ancient (Jōmon and Yayoi)

Ancient (Jōmon and Yayoi)
Interested in ancient history? Jōmon (10000 BC - 800 BC) and Yayoi (800 BC - 300 AD) were the main prehistoric periods in Japan. During Jōmon, the majority of people were hunter-gatherers who lived in tribes. Moving into the Yayoi era, farming (particularly rice agriculture) became the main way of life.

As you may expect, not many books are dedicated specifically to these eras and those that are tend to fall into the category of art history or archaeology, as there was a rich culture of ceramic and textile production during these times. In fact, the earliest Japanese pottery that has been discovered by archaeologists is from Jōmon!


If you want to learn more about the everyday life of ordinary people though, you'll need to seek out a book that provides an overview of Japanese history instead - these should have at least one section on the Jōmon and Yayoi periods.

Classical (Nara and Heian)

Classical (Nara and Heian)
The classical periods are important to read about if you love Japanese culture, particularly literature. Key works of poetry such as the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki, which detail Japan’s creation myth, were produced in the Nara period (710-794 AD). The most famous Japanese novel of all time, The Tale of Genji, was written during the Heian period (794-1185 AD).

The majority of general history books will cover these periods since they are essential for understanding the rise of Japanese popular culture. Chapters specifically about Heian society are likely to thrill fiction fans, as they discuss how the influence of the Imperial court led to the production of literature that still captivates readers to this day.

Medieval (Kamakura and Muromachi)

Medieval (Kamakura and Muromachi)
If you want to learn more about military history, we suggest checking out a book on the medieval periods. The Kamakura period (1185-1333 AD) marked the emergence of samurai warriors and two major battles against the invading Mongols. 

The subsequent Muromachi period (1336-1573 AD) was characterised by constant conflict between the different Japanese states and saw the infamous feudal lord Oda Nobunaga overthrowing the government - an event which historians describe as the first step towards the unification of Japan.


Books focused on these eras hence discuss military strategies and battles, particularly those of the samurai. The provincial wars during these periods also tend to be covered in most general Japanese history texts.

Feudal (Edo/Tokugawa)

Feudal (Edo/Tokugawa)
The Edo period (1603-1868 AD), also known as the Tokugawa period, is another great era to read about if you're a fan of the Japanese arts. In comparison to Muromachi, Edo was relatively peaceful so cultural output was at an all-time high - haiku poetry, bunraku puppet plays, and kabuki theatre all became popular during this era.

Since this period was such a fantastic time for culture, most general history books cover it. Some more specialised texts look at the lives of ordinary people during this time too, giving you an insight into the bustling world of Edo.

Restorative (Meiji)

Restorative (Meiji)
1868 is a date which is likely familiar to those with even just a little knowledge of Japanese history. The first year of the Meiji period (1868-1912 AD) sparked a number of radical changes in society. In particular, industrialisation and modernisation occurred during this period, leading Japan to be recognised by Europe and America as an equal power.

If you’re keen to learn about modern history and how Japan became Westernised during the Meiji Restoration, then we definitely recommend picking up a book that covers this period!

The 20th Century (Taishō, Shōwa, and Heisei)

The 20th Century (Taishō, Shōwa, and Heisei)

Lastly, we move into more recent history: the 20th century. The very short Taishō period (1912-1926) produced famous writers such as Tanizaki Jun’ichirō and Akutagawa Ryūnosuke, while the Shōwa period (1926-1989) was characterised by the outbreak of the Second World War in the latter half. 


Hence, most books about the Shōwa period examine Japan’s role in World War II, as well as the country’s occupation by American forces. Since these are controversial historical events, we should mention that it’s important to be aware some authors may be biased about certain issues.


In the following Heisei era (1989-2019), Japan experienced an exceptionally high rate of economic growth, but this “bubble economy” soon collapsed. Heisei also saw the global rise of Japanese popular culture such as television, fashion, and video games. If contemporary Japanese economic and cultural history interests you the most, you should start here!

3

Deciding on a Format to Suit Your Lifestyle

Deciding on a Format to Suit Your Lifestyle

Own an eReader like a Kindle or a Fire tablet? Digital versions of books tend to be much cheaper than physical copies and you can even highlight sentences in them if you're doing research for a project.


Audiobooks are also a fantastic option for those who learn best through listening, or people who like to multitask rather than sitting down with a book - you can hear all about samurai battle tactics while you're tackling the washing up! 

Was the Buying Guide helpful?

10 Best Japanese History Books in the UK

That's our basic guide to the different periods of Japanese history out of the way - now it’s time to check out our recommendations! Here are the top 10 books that you can buy online to further your knowledge!
Popularity
Products
Image
Click to purchase
Key features
1

Conrad Totman

1. A History of Japan (Second Edition) – Conrad Totman

Conrad Totman 1. A History of Japan (Second Edition) – Conrad Totman 1枚目

The Perfect Pick for Readers at Any Level!

2

Christopher Harding

2. Japan Story: In Search of a Nation, 1850 to the Present – Christopher Harding

Christopher Harding 2. Japan Story: In Search of a Nation, 1850 to the Present – Christopher Harding 1枚目

A Concise Yet Engaging Examination of Modern Japan

3

John Dower

3. Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Aftermath of World War II – John Dower

John Dower 3. Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Aftermath of World War II – John Dower 1枚目

Explores Japanese-American Relations and National Identity

4

Marius B. Jansen

4. The Making of Modern Japan – Marius B. Jansen

Marius B. Jansen 4. The Making of Modern Japan – Marius B. Jansen 1枚目

Logical, Thorough, and Suitable for History Newbies

5

Amy Stanley

Amy Stanley  1枚目

Provides an Intimate Account of Edo Life

6

Donald Keene

Donald Keene  1枚目

An Illuminating Portrait of the Meiji Period

7

Herbert P. Bix

6. Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan – Herbert P. Bix

Herbert P. Bix 6. Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan – Herbert P. Bix 1枚目

The True Story of Japan’s Most Controversial Emperor

8

Karl Friday

7. Samurai, Warfare and the State in Early Medieval Japan – Karl Friday

Karl Friday 7. Samurai, Warfare and the State in Early Medieval Japan – Karl Friday 1枚目

An In-Depth Look at Japanese Warrior Culture

9

Jonathan Clements

8. A Brief History of Japan: Samurai, Shogun and Zen, the Extraordinary Story of the Land of the Rising Sun – Jonathan Clements

Jonathan Clements 8. A Brief History of Japan: Samurai, Shogun and Zen, the Extraordinary Story of the Land of the Rising Sun – Jonathan Clements 1枚目

Compact Enough to Take on Your Travels

10

William Wayne Farris

10. Japan to 1600: A Social and Economic History – William Wayne Farris

William Wayne Farris 10. Japan to 1600: A Social and Economic History – William Wayne Farris 1枚目

A Short but Detailed Guide to Early Japanese Society

If you don't see the product you're looking for, you can request that it be listed.
No.1

Conrad Totman1. A History of Japan (Second Edition) – Conrad Totman

1. A History of Japan (Second Edition) – Conrad Totman Image 1
Source:amazon.co.uk
Reference price
£29.19
Reference price
£29.19

The Perfect Pick for Readers at Any Level!

This impressive work spans the entirety of Japanese history, from ancient times to the present day. Covering areas such as geography, politics, economy, and culture, Conrad Totman explains how each has played a significant part in shaping Japan. This book is therefore suitable for both total beginners and knowledgeable readers who want to learn more about a particular period.

As this is a large volume that might be tricky to read cover to cover, Totman has divided it into four sections - each corresponding to Japan’s main eras. These sections are then split into further subsections, meaning that readers can easily flip to a period that interests them. The accessibility of this book, combined with the sheer range of topics covered, makes it our top pick!
Was this Ranking helpful?
No.2

Christopher Harding2. Japan Story: In Search of a Nation, 1850 to the Present – Christopher Harding

2. Japan Story: In Search of a Nation, 1850 to the Present – Christopher Harding Image 1
Source:amazon.co.uk
Reference price
£10.65
Reference price
£10.65

A Concise Yet Engaging Examination of Modern Japan

In this fantastic book, Christopher Harding takes the reader on a lively tour of the past 150 years of Japanese history. In particular, he examines the effects of Westernisation on Japanese society and makes astute observations about how Japan fits into the world today, including the fetishisation of Japanese culture by Western nations.

Concise yet full of fascinating information, this book is essential reading if you want to learn more about modern Japanese history. It’s also a very affordable option, so you won’t break the bank in your quest for knowledge!
No.3

John Dower3. Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Aftermath of World War II – John Dower

3. Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Aftermath of World War II – John Dower Image 1
Source:amazon.co.uk
Reference price
£12.65
Reference price
£12.65

Explores Japanese-American Relations and National Identity

In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, John Dower explores the effects of Japan’s World War II defeat and the subsequent American occupation between 1945 and 1952. He chronicles the emotions felt by ordinary people who faced complete economic and social devastation, and discusses how the Japanese public’s sense of national identity was affected by feelings of shame and betrayal.

Dower’s work is meticulously researched, with many photographs and illustrations. Whilst sympathetic to the hardships faced by Japanese citizens, Dower is also refreshingly critical of the government’s part in this suffering. This book is therefore ideal for those who want an unbiased analysis of how the American occupation affected Japanese society.
No.4

Marius B. Jansen4. The Making of Modern Japan – Marius B. Jansen

4. The Making of Modern Japan – Marius B. Jansen Image 1
Source:amazon.co.uk
Reference price
£26.99
Reference price
£26.99

Logical, Thorough, and Suitable for History Newbies

Marius B. Jansen’s comprehensive book begins in 1600 and charts the social, economical, and political changes that occur right up until the end of the 20th century. Changes that Jansen analyses include institutional reforms during the Edo period, the industrialisation of Japan during the Meiji period, and the post-war amendments made during the American occupation.

Although this is quite a long read, Jansen covers a wide range of historical periods and discusses numerous topics in remarkable detail. We love that this book is structured in a logical format, making it an uncomplicated read for newcomers to the subject.
No.5

Amy Stanley

 Image 1
Source:amazon.co.uk
Reference price
£9.99
Reference price
£9.99

Provides an Intimate Account of Edo Life

Amy Stanley's book, which was published this year, provides readers with an intimate insight into life for lower-class women during the Tokugawa period. Based on the diaries and letters of Tsuneno, the daughter of a Buddhist priest, it follows her journey from the countryside to the bustling capital city of Edo, now known as Tokyo. 


This ambitious account not only takes you through Tsuneno's personal trials and tribulations, but it allows readers to time-travel back to 19th century Edo - a world of creativity where literature and theatre were used as a form of protest against the Tokugawa government. Those looking to enhance their knowledge about life and art under shogunal rule can't go wrong with this riveting read!

No.6

Donald Keene

 Image 1
Source:amazon.co.uk
Reference price
£19.75
Reference price
£19.75

An Illuminating Portrait of the Meiji Period

While many books have been written about the Meiji Restoration, few have delved into the story of the Emperor Meiji himself - who was the first Japanese ruler to ever meet a European! Renowned scholar Donald Keene's painstaking research explores every aspect of Meiji's life, especially the clash between his personal commitment to peace and the emergence of Japan as a modern, militarised state.


This is another hefty tome with over 900 pages, so it probably won't interest casual readers. For those eager to learn more about one of the most pivotal periods of Japanese history though, this book is just the ticket!

No.7

Herbert P. Bix6. Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan – Herbert P. Bix

6. Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan – Herbert P. Bix Image 1
Source:amazon.co.uk
Reference price
£11.65
Reference price
£11.65

The True Story of Japan’s Most Controversial Emperor

Herbert P. Bix’s award-winning and controversial biography follows Emperor Hirohito’s transformation from a young, passive ruler to a strong-willed military leader during the Second World War. Focusing on Hirohito’s wartime role and his alliance with America during the occupation, Bix provides readers with a new insight into the decisive actions of Japan’s figurehead.

At almost 900 pages, this is a rather lengthy book and we find it rather surprising and disappointing that it lacks a bibliography. Nevertheless, this book is highly recommended for those who wish to deepen their understanding of Japanese wartime history.
No.8

Karl Friday7. Samurai, Warfare and the State in Early Medieval Japan – Karl Friday

7. Samurai, Warfare and the State in Early Medieval Japan – Karl Friday Image 1
Source:amazon.co.uk
Reference price
£28.99
Reference price
£28.99

An In-Depth Look at Japanese Warrior Culture

Interested in military history? This definitive work by Karl Friday is the first in-depth study of the samurai to be published in English. Drawing on a vast number of references, including primary sources in the Japanese language, Friday provides readers with a thorough look at the tactics and techniques used in medieval warfare.

One minor criticism of this text is that it could benefit from more illustrations and diagrams, to enhance the reader’s understanding of military weapons and strategies. Despite this, Friday’s book is very insightful and will appeal to anyone wanting to learn more about the samurai.
No.9

Jonathan Clements8. A Brief History of Japan: Samurai, Shogun and Zen, the Extraordinary Story of the Land of the Rising Sun – Jonathan Clements

8. A Brief History of Japan: Samurai, Shogun and Zen, the Extraordinary Story of the Land of the Rising Sun – Jonathan Clements Image 1
Source:amazon.co.uk
Reference price
£9.62
Reference price
£9.62

Compact Enough to Take on Your Travels

If you’re looking for a book that will summarise Japan’s major historical events in a fun and engaging manner, Jonathan Clements’ guide is ideal! This slim volume condenses 5000 years of history into approximately 300 pages, but is still highly informative.

Whilst this simplified version of history won’t be suitable for students or researchers, it’s perfect for younger readers or for travellers on their first trip to Japan. The paperback version is even compact enough to slot into your backpack, or you can download the audiobook to listen to on your travels!
No.10

William Wayne Farris10. Japan to 1600: A Social and Economic History – William Wayne Farris

10. Japan to 1600: A Social and Economic History – William Wayne Farris Image 1
Source:amazon.co.uk
Reference price
£23.95
Reference price
£23.95

A Short but Detailed Guide to Early Japanese Society

William Wayne Farris’ book follows Japan’s shift from a hunter-gatherer society to an agrarian (farming) way of life. While Farris mostly focuses on social and economic changes, he does also mention some political and cultural developments, enabling readers to understand the bigger picture.

Since this text only goes up to the 17th century, it's very specific and unfortunately doesn't cover most of the major events in later Japanese history. Still, it's a good choice if you're passionate about ancient history and archaeology!

More Non-Fiction Books to Help You Learn About the World

More Non-Fiction Books to Help You Learn About the World

If you're keen to expand your knowledge of the world even further, we've got more great book recommendations for you! Click the links below to see our favourite non-fiction reads about politics and Black history.

Summary

Whether you’re new to Japanese history or looking to expand your existing knowledge, we’re certain that our recommendations will help you to find the best book for your needs. Once you start reading, you’ll become a history buff in no time!


Author: Nicola McClements

Top 5 Japanese History Books

No. 1: Conrad Totman1. A History of Japan (Second Edition) – Conrad Totman

No. 2: Christopher Harding2. Japan Story: In Search of a Nation, 1850 to the Present – Christopher Harding

No. 3: John Dower3. Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Aftermath of World War II – John Dower

No. 4: Marius B. Jansen4. The Making of Modern Japan – Marius B. Jansen

No. 5: Amy Stanley

View Full Ranking
The descriptions of each product are referenced from content available on manufacturer, brand, and e-commerce sites.
  1. TOP
  2. Books, CDs, DVDs
  3. 10 Best Japanese History Books UK 2023
mybest

We connect users with the best tried and true products,
tested by our in-house guides and backed by expert insight.

Copyright mybest All Rights Reserved.