One of the oldest civilizations in the world, Japan has a rich and colourful history dating back several centuries. Here we have mentioned 10 best books on Japanese history. We’ve gathered the best non-fiction books on the history of Japan and listed their merits.

A History of Japan by George Sansom

A History of Japan
A History of Japan

This is a three volume work by eminent Japanese historian Sansom, which tackles the ancient history of Japan from the beginnings of Japanese civilization to the 19th century. While Samson’s ‘Short Cultural History of Japan’ looked at the various aspects of culture, this book has more sociopolitical threads. The structure of society and the nature of politics and power in ancient Japan will however leave you breathless.

Embracing Defeat by John Dower

Embracing Defeat
10 Best Books on Japanese History – Embracing Defeat

This book views the second world war from the perspective of not the victors but the vanquished. Additionally, it is almost a modern classic and winner of the Pulitzer Prize – full of sensitive and meticulous research. This book tackles the meeting point of the east and the west in the most formative period of Japanese history.

Lost Japan by Alex Kerr

Lost Japan by Alex Kerr
History of Japan – Lost Japan by Alex Kerr

Japanologist Alex Kerr’s work is a sensitive meditation on the heart and soul of the lived experience in Japan. However, with modernity rearing its ugly head in Japan, fraught with nostalgia, Kerr seeks solace in Japanese tradition. This book then becomes a chronicle of ancient Japanese traditions which are a crucial part of Japanese history.

Japan Story by Christopher Harding

Japan Story by Christopher Harding
Japan Story by Christopher Harding

This book traces the recent history of Japan from the dawn of the twentieth century up till the present day. We view this transformation of time from the perspective of the Japanese – writers, artists, pilots and even gangsters. This people’s history is one worth looking it, not just for the facts it presents but for the way it presents them.

A Brief History of the Samurai by Jonathan Clements

A Brief History of the Samurai
History of Japan – A Brief History of the Samurai

No list of Japanese history books can ever be complete without the mention of the legendary warriors the world knows as Samurai. This book, in particular, provides a comprehensive history of the warrior case, from the overarching power structures to the nitty-gritties of art and culture.

A History of Popular Culture in Japan
10 Best Books on Japanese History – A History of Popular Culture in Japan

As the title suggests, this book chronicles the history of mass-oriented cultural commodities and ideas from the seventeenth century to the present day. This offers an exclusively unique look at the history of Japan, in terms of what was considered ‘cool’ and what wasn’t.

Japan: A Short Cultural History by George Sansom

Japan: A Short Cultural History
Japan: A Short Cultural History

Like previously mentioned, this is a brief history of the cultural transformations from ancient to modern Japan. From art and architecture to religion and institutions, this book covers it all, and abridges a mammoth history into a short, definitive volume.

Lost Histories by Kirsten Ziomek

10 best books on Japanese history - Lost Histories by Kirsten Ziomek
Lost Histories by Kirsten Ziomek

This book takes a look at an oft-overlooked aspect of Japanese history, yet one which is equally rich and colourful. This is the colonial history of Japan. Kirsten, in this book looks at how Japan colonized East Asia, and what the ramifications of that imperialism were for Japan itself. This book analyses history with an eye for detail, especially visual.

Japan: A Documentary History by David Lu

History of Japan - Japan: A Documentary History
History of Japan – Japan: A Documentary History

This is a holistic view of Japanese history from the nascence of Japanese cilvilization to the Tokugawa period. It covers almost all aspects of traditional history – political, social, economic, religious, mythological and more. Plus the two volume version presents an accessible yet detailed account of Japanese history.

The Cambridge History of Japan by Donald Shively and William McCullough

10 best books on Japanese history - The Cambridge History of Japan
10 Best Books on Japanese History – The Cambridge History of Japan

This multi-volume work is perhaps one of the most intensive and detail-oriented accounts of all periods of Japanese history, by reliable historians. However, this might be a little too much for the average reader interested in the subject. This is perhaps more suitable for students of history and academicians of history, who want to delve deeply into the subject.

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