• Top 10 Best Japanese History Books in the UK 2021 1
  • Top 10 Best Japanese History Books in the UK 2021 2
  • Top 10 Best Japanese History Books in the UK 2021 3
  • Top 10 Best Japanese History Books in the UK 2021 4
  • Top 10 Best Japanese History Books in the UK 2021 5

Top 10 Best Japanese History Books in the UK 2021

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?

This Article's Contributors

mybest Editing Team
  • Last updated: 04-04-2022
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. 

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!

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!

Deciding on a Format to Suit Your Lifestyle

Deciding on a Format to Suit Your Lifestyle

Lastly, you should think about the kind of format you prefer to learn from. In addition to physical books like hardbacks and paperbacks, nowadays you can also buy digital versions of most texts in the form of eBooks or audiobooks.


If you usually read at home or at a desk, then a sturdy hardback is perfect for flipping through. They're a bit heavy to carry around though, so those who want something more lightweight that they can pop into their bag will probably prefer a paperback.

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! 

Top 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!

10

William Wayne FarrisJapan to 1600: A Social and Economic History

£23.95

Level Beginner
Period Jōmon - Edo
Year of Publication 2009
Number of Pages 264
Formats AvailableHardback, paperback, eBook
9

Jonathan ClementsA Brief History of Japan: Samurai, Shogun and Zen

£9.62

Level Beginner
Period Jōmon - Heisei
Year of Publication 2017
Number of Pages 304
Formats Available Paperback, eBook, audiobook
8

Karl FridaySamurai, Warfare and the State in Early Medieval Japan

£28.99

Level Intermediate
Period Heian - Kamakura
Year of Publication 2003
Number of Pages 252
Formats Available Hardback, paperback, eBook
7

Herbert P. BixHirohito and the Making of Modern Japan

£11.65

Level Intermediate
PeriodShōwa - Heisei
Year of Publication 2016
Number of Pages 880
Formats AvailableHardback, paperback, eBook, audiobook
6

Donald KeeneEmperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912

£19.75

LevelIntermediate
PeriodMeiji
Year of Publication2005
Number of Pages928
Formats AvailableHardback, paperback, eBook
5

Amy StanleyStranger in the Shogun's City: A Woman’s Life in Nineteenth-Century Japan

£9.99

LevelBeginner
PeriodEdo
Year of Publication2020
Number of Pages352
Formats AvailableHardback, eBook
4

Marius B. JansenThe Making of Modern Japan

£26.99

Level Beginner
Period Edo - Heisei
Year of Publication 2002
Number of Pages 936
Formats AvailableHardback, paperback, eBook
3

John DowerEmbracing Defeat: Japan in the Aftermath of World War II

£12.65

Level Intermediate
PeriodShōwa
Year of Publication 2000
Number of Pages 688
Formats AvailableHardback, paperback, audiobook
2

Christopher HardingJapan Story: In Search of a Nation, 1850 to the Present

£10.65

Level Beginner
Period Meiji - Heisei
Year of Publication 2018
Number of Pages 528
Formats AvailablePaperback, eBook, audiobook
1

Conrad TotmanA History of Japan: Second Edition

£29.19

Level Beginner
Period Jōmon - Heisei
Year of Publication 2004
Number of Pages 720
Formats Available Paperback, eBook

Compare the Best Japanese History Books

Image
1
Conrad Totman A History of Japan: Second Edition 1

Conrad Totman

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

Christopher Harding

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

John Dower

4
Marius B. Jansen The Making of Modern Japan  1

Marius B. Jansen

5
Amy Stanley Stranger in the Shogun's City: A Woman’s Life in Nineteenth-Century Japan 1

Amy Stanley

6
Donald Keene Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912  1

Donald Keene

7
Herbert P. Bix Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan  1

Herbert P. Bix

8
Karl Friday Samurai, Warfare and the State in Early Medieval Japan  1

Karl Friday

9
Jonathan Clements A Brief History of Japan: Samurai, Shogun and Zen 1

Jonathan Clements

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

William Wayne Farris

Name

A History of Japan: Second Edition

Japan Story: In Search of a Nation, 1850 to the Present

Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Aftermath of World War II

The Making of Modern Japan

Stranger in the Shogun's City: A Woman’s Life in Nineteenth-Century Japan

Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912

Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan

Samurai, Warfare and the State in Early Medieval Japan

A Brief History of Japan: Samurai, Shogun and Zen

Japan to 1600: A Social and Economic History

Features

The Perfect Pick for Readers at Any Level!

A Concise Yet Engaging Examination of Modern Japan

Explores Japanese-American Relations and National Identity

Logical, Thorough, and Suitable for History Newbies

Provides an Intimate Account of Edo Life

An Illuminating Portrait of the Meiji Period

The True Story of Japan’s Most Controversial Emperor

An In-Depth Look at Japanese Warrior Culture

Compact Enough to Take on Your Travels

A Short but Detailed Guide to Early Japanese Society

Price£29.19£10.65£12.65£26.99£9.99£19.75£11.65£28.99£9.62£23.95
Level Beginner Beginner Intermediate BeginnerBeginnerIntermediate Intermediate Intermediate Beginner Beginner
Period Jōmon - Heisei Meiji - HeiseiShōwa Edo - HeiseiEdoMeijiShōwa - Heisei Heian - Kamakura Jōmon - Heisei Jōmon - Edo
Year of Publication 2004 2018 2000 200220202005 2016 2003 2017 2009
Number of Pages 720 528 688 936352928 880 252 304 264
Formats Available Paperback, eBookPaperback, eBook, audiobookHardback, paperback, audiobookHardback, paperback, eBookHardback, eBookHardback, paperback, eBookHardback, paperback, eBook, audiobook Hardback, paperback, eBook Paperback, eBook, audiobookHardback, paperback, eBook
Link

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

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