Japan, all periods, Bibliography

copyright 1997 by Historical Novelists Center


Be sure and check The Cultural Atlas of Japan as an opener.

Much of the current ninja stuff from the likes of Paladin Press is a fantasy cult unto itself, but if you want to write a novel set in their world, then we bet you already have a lot of their books. The Charles E. Tuttle Company of Rutledge, Vermont, publishes a tremendous number of Japanese works in translation and scholarly English-language work: a copy of their catalog is a bibliography in itself. Also recommended are the Japan Travel Bureau Books sponsored by the Japanese government.

We could not locate but one good book on costume, and that slim, but perhaps we haven't tried hard enough because we lazily just check in with Kabuki Hawai'i or the Honolulu Academy of the Arts when we have a question. See the monograph in this section. However, there is a new one out that is pretty good.

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Barnes, Gina L.

China, Korea and Japan: The Rise of Civilization in East Asia ****
Thames & Hudson, London
Combines early history with archeaology to show how the area emerged and developed from the 700's. T1

Bird, Isabella L. (Isabella Lucy), 1831-1904

Unbeaten Tracks in Japan
Unusual viewpoint of a female Victorian traveller. T2

Bottomley, I. & Hopson, A.P.

Arms and Armor of the Samurai, The History of Weaponry in Ancient Japan
New York, Brompton Books Corp., 1988
Relatively complete overview of feudal Japanese warfare. T2

Chamberlain, B. H.

Go To Project GutenbergThe Invention of a New Religion *****!
1912, now from Project Gutenberg
This emeritus professor of Japanese and Philology at the Imperial University of Tokyo writes about the recent invention of "bushido" (which he points out is in no dictionary before 1900, and so certainly not central to Japanese culture) and re-invention of Shinto at the same time. Required reading to remove the film of 20th C ideals from your interpretations. If you click on the title, it will download T2

Ebersole, Gary L.

Ritual Poetry and the Politics of Death in Early Japan ***
Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ, 1989; 338 pg
A bit dry, but information on the period before 794 is very hard to come by, so grit your teeth and take it in small doses. T3

Fenollosa, Ernest F.

Epochs of Chinese and Japanese Art
1913; now from Dover Publications, Inc., New York
Includes Tibetan and Korean art. T2

Gillis, Irvin Van Gorder, and Pai Ping-ch'i

Japanese Personal Names ***
Edwards Brothers, 1943; available in photocopy reproduction from University Microfilms International, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Primarily two lists, one by Japanese kanji characters, the others in Latin letters, with a four-digit code for telegraphic work. Of the 3411 personal names, a whole 60 are female. T1

Japanese Surnames ***
Edwards Brothers, 1943; see above
A companion volume with the same layout. T1

Harada Jiro

The Lessons of Japanese Architecture: 165 Photographs ****
1939; now from Dover Publications, Inc., New York
Taken in the 1930's, but mostly of traditional and historic buildings. If your characters are there in the Thirties, super! T3

Hibbett, Howard

The Floating World in Japanese Fiction ****
Charles E. Tuttle, Rutland, VT, 1959; 232 pgs, index
A good overview of the Tokugawa rakes and wantons of the "floating world" of the late 1600s and early 1700s. Fascinating introduction, followed by translations of the actual fiction. T2

Ingraham, Holly

People's Names: A Cross-cultural Reference Guide to the Proper Use of Over 40,000 Personal and Familial Names in Over 100 Cultures *****!
McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, Jefferson, NC; 1997; 613 pgs, index, select annotated bibliography
The Japanese section, in the Contemporary half, touches on some historical and contemporary matters, and discusses when to use or not use "-san" after a name, also "-chan" and "-sama." Gives 200 personal names each for men and women, and 2700 family names, most to be constructed off tables. T1

Kaemmerer, Eric

Trades and Crafts of Old Japan *****!
Charles E. Tuttle, VT, 1961
Get a real idea of the variety of work done in town and countryside. T2

Kawakatsu Ken-ichi

Kimono: Japanese Dress *****!
Japan Travel Bureau Books, Tokyo, 1947; 145 pg, 56 photos, 3 in colour, 14 cuts
Part of the Tourist Library Series, this slim, handy (5x7) volume is dense with information, precise and accurate, with photos of reconstructed costumes from the earliest periods. Our single complaint is that it does not make clear to the foreigner how these garments are fastened and adjusted (see the link at the end to the monograph, "Getting Dressed in Edo" to supply the lack). There is the inevitable sigh that it was not larger and even more detailed. Required reading. T1

Leung, W.-T, R.K. Pecot, and B. K. Watt

Composition of Foods Used in Far Eastern Countries ****
USDA Handbook No. 34, 1952; 62 pg, no index
Nutritional values of buffalo milk and meat, edible bird's nests, gingko seeds, sagopalm flour, etc. Out of print, but you can photocopy it at the library. T3

Mass, Jeffrey Pl, ed.

The Origins of Japan's Medieval World: Courtiers, Clerics, Warriors and Peasants in the 14th Century ****
Stanford University Press, Stanford CA, 1997
Covering parts of both the Kamakura period and the period of the Northern and Southern Courts, this is a long-needed overview of all levels of society in the horrible and exciting age of civil war. T2

Matsuya Company

Japanese Design Motifs ***
Dover Publications, Inc., New York
This is a very complete collection of "mon" or family crests. These circular, stylized designs are associated with different families, like the three pawlonia leaves of the Tokugawa. Mon are always worn on men's formal costume, and may be used on lacquered boxes, the tsuba of swords, the split banners that often fill the top of a fixed doorway, the back of a mirror, ad infinitum. HOWEVER, who owns which is not noted in this text. T3

Mitford, A. B., Lord Redesdale

Tales of Old Japan *****!
Charles E. Tuttle, Rutland, VT, 1966; 429 pg, no index
First published in 1871, with woodcut illustrations by Japanese artists. Ranges from accounts of a formal suicide to to the tale of the 47 Ronin, from fairy tales to the proper ceremonies for weddings and comings-of-age, not excluding Buddhist sermons. T1

Miyake Shuutaro

Kabuki Drama ****
Japan Travel Bureau, Tokyo, 1938, 1964; 157 pg, index
A compact little guide to the major plays, with a good number of photos and drawings of the characters. Kabuki is sometimes a better guide than history to how your Tokugawa-era characters ideally should think and act. T2

Miyamoto Musashi

A Book of Five Rings (Go Rin No Sho) ***
The Overlook Press, Woodstock, NY; original 1643, translation 1974, by Victor Harris
A text by the greatest sword-fighter of Japan, written after he had retired to Buddhist monkhood. Heavy on tying everything into the theory of the universe with occasional practical flashes. T3

Morris, Ivan I.

The World of the Shining Prince; Court Life in Ancient Japan *****!
Knopf, 1964; Penguin, 1969; now from Kodansha International, NY, 1994, new intro by Barbara Ruch; 336 pg, bibliography, index
Recommended reading before you read the Tale of Genji (the shining prince) so that you are familiar with the Heian Court world (794-1185) in which he moves, with its football, incense-guessing, and intricate rituals of symbolic gifts and allusive poetry. Good for anyone who wants to understand the basis in all periods of the kuge (court nobles) who struggled so long with the samurai for power, with greater or lesser success, until the collapse of the Shogunate. T2

Murasaki Shikibu

The Tale of Genji ***
Doubleday Anchor Books, 1955, from Houghton-Mifflin, NY, 1929; translation by Arthur Waley; 253 pages
Often called the world's first novel, this was written by a lady of the Imperial court, tracking the amourous adventures of her fictional prince. This is called the first of a series of novels, but more often considered the first part of a single work. Otherwise, it is like separating out one of the several "books: (not volumes) into which The Lord of the Rings is divided. T3

Nakajima Bun

Japanese Etiquette ****
Japan Travel Bureau Books, Tokyo; 242 pg
Part of the Tourist Library. Indispensable in a polite society, which Japan is. T1

Okakura Kakuzo, 1862-1913

The Book of Tea

Omori, Annie Shepley, and Kochi Doi, translators

Diaries of Court Ladies of Old Japan ***
Houghton Mifflin Company, NY, 1920; 201 pg, no index, chronology
Selections from the Sarashina Diary, the diary of Murasaki Shikibu, and that of Izumi Shikibu, as thick with poems as their minds were. A few illustrations. T1

Osprey Military Books

The worst book out by Osprey still gets three stars. The best are five stars and a bang. These are each a dense, military monograph on weapons, tactics, strategy, and history, with some little cultural background. Rarely at libraries, you will usually find these where military miniatures are sold. T2

Perkins, George W.

The Clear Mirror: A Chronicle of the Japanese Court During the Kamakura Period (1185-1333) ****
Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA; 1998
We are awaiting this eagerly. Perkins has done the translation of the Japanese classic and added valuable notes and an introduction. T2

Salmonson, Jessica Amanda

The Encyclopedia of Amazons: Women Warriors from Antiquity to the Modern Era *****!
Paragon House, NY, 1991; 290 pg, no index, bibliography
A good many of the entries in this work are for female samurai, like Tomoe Goezen or Tachibana Hime. Especially in the periods of civil war, women were a great deal more than geishas outside the home. T2

Sansom, George B.

A History of Japan To 1334 *****
A History of Japan 1334-1615 *****!
A History of Japan, 1615-1867 *****!

Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA, respectively 1958, 1961, 1963
Far more detailed than any single volume work. If occasionally a bit scholarly, not fatally so. Details of who was where doing what is vital to novelists, as it rarely is to anyone else but military scientists. T2

Sasamori Junzo, and Gordon Warner

This is Kendo: the Art of Japanese Fencing ***
Charles E. Tuttle Co., Rutland, VT, 1964
Good description of basic terms and methods and etiquette, clearly and simply written without mysticism, yet still dealing with the kendo mind-set. Interesting in conjunction with Miyamoto Musashi. T2

Slesin, Suzanne, et al

Japanese Style ****
Clarkson N. Potter
800 photos overflow from 300 pages, images of traditional houses and palaces to modern apartments, inside and out. T2

Smith, Bradley

Japan: A History in Art ****
Simon & Schuster, NY, 1964; bibliography, no index; list of art
Coffee-table lap-breaker, with calligraphy on oriental papers at each chapter beginning and textured endpapers, this richly aesthetic book is also very informative, especially as a first book or early in your studies. More concentration on the Imperial court rather than the samurai than most, and a good deal in the Nineteenth Century -- indeed, the long noses arrive about midway in the mass of pages. Chronology starts each chapter. T1

Smith, Lawrence

Ukiyoe: Images of Unknown Japan *****!
Dover Publications, Inc., NY; 184 pg, 250 prints
Picture book of the Floating World. Many artists, detailed captions. T3

Strange, Edward R.

Hiroshige's Woodblock Prints: A Guide ****
Dover; 336 pgs, 54 illos, 16 color
Good introduction to the ukiyo-e master, (1797-1858) T3

Stewart, Basil

A Guide to Japanese Prints and Their Subject Matter ****
Dover; 576 pg; 274 illos

Terry, T. Philip

Terry's Guide to the Japanese Empire ****
Houghton Mifflin Company, NY & Boston, 1933
Period guide books of the thousand-page pocket variety can be great! This has history, customs, maps, sightseeing (with tales of the sites), stores, temples, mines, newspapers, architecture, et al. Also prices and steamship routes. Mr. Terry also regularly published a Guide to Mexico. Bookfinders can sometimes locate these for you, at much lower prices than Baedecker's. T2

Tourist Industry Bureau, (Japanese) Ministry of Transportation

Japan, the Official Guide ****
Japan Travel Bureau, Tokyo, 8th revised edition, 1961
Again, packed full of handy information and historical and cultural articles. When a book is describing the author's country's Medieval habits, it often doesn't matter if it is fifty years old to us. T1

Waley, Arthur

The No Plays of Japan *****!
Grove Press, NY, 1920; 319 pg, index
One illo shows the layout for a 1464 performance for the Shogun by Onami's troupe; such plans are all you get. Superb translation, retaining as much as possible of the yugen in English. The Introduction is a very deep explanation of the aesthetic as well as the development. T3

Whitehouse, Wilfrid, and Eizo Yanagisawa, translators

Lady Nijo's Own Story; the Candid Diary of a 13th Century Japanese Imperial Concubine *****!
Charles E. Tuttle, Rutland, VT, 1974; 397 pg, no index
From adolescence at court, to retirement as a wandering Buddhist nun, this is a window into the peculiar world of Kyoto, with the rule of "retired" Emperors, the sexual games and ennui, and some odd incidents of magic and haunting. T2/3

Yamanaka, Norio

The Book of Kimono ****
An excellent new book out in softback on Japanese costume, with a modern slant. Covers the accessories like cords and scarves as well as care and wearing. T1


Western music usually derives from the ancient Greek theories of harmony. Asian music is based on Chinese theory. Nonetheless, you may find Japanese among the more accessible forms of Asian music, though it still takes getting used to. Best to repeat a single song many times until it starts to become a familiar tune, rather than noise, to you. Listening through a couple of albums once each won't do much for you.

Adorjan, Andras, and Ayako Shinozuki

Lyrical Melodies of Japan ***

CD or Cassette

Performed on European flute and harp, you may find this an approachable introduction if the more authentic sound remains impenetrable. Includes some folk-dance favorites like "Moon Over the Deserted Castle."

Takasago Katsumasa

Flower Dance ****

This LP may be out in cassette or CD. It contains such favorites with "folk dance" aficionados (as opposed to the "art dance" of kabuki or noh, but they all use the same general aesthetic) as the title cut or "Kuroda Bushi."

Yize Shinichi

Japanese Koto Classics *****!

This is the extremely Japanese stuff, performed on the koto (equal parts zither and concert harp). If it sounds jangly or unformed to you at first, put it on eternal repeat as background music while you read your research books, so your subconscious can absorb it. In a day or three you will find yourself hearing the melodies emerge from their completely non-western structures. It is more approachable than many forms of high-art jazz.


While we couldn't imagine suggesting novels for you to read as research, some of the best historical films give such an excellent view of landscape, architecture, interior, pastimes, even manners, that they are worth seeing for the atmosphere of being there. Then there are the travelogues that save you the cost of a research trip. Most documentaries on subjects are only the equivalent of a 100-page YA book on the subject, but occasionally they are much better.

Carra, Lucille

The Inland Sea *****!

Voyager, 1991; laserdisc, 57 min.

Not your usual moving snapshot travelogue. Often referred to as a cinepoem, shots of rare beauty give you coverage of the western coasts of the islands, with Donald Richie's poetic voice-over

Inagaki Hiroshi

The Samurai Trilogy *****! v.1: Musashi Miyamoto; v.2: Duel at Ichijoji Temple; v.3: Duel at Ganryu Island

1954, 1955, 1956; 92, 102, 102 min.

Based on the best-selling novelization of the life of Musashi Miyamoto (see his Book of Five Rings, above), Toshiro Mifune stars in a fast-moving series of meditations and sword-battles. Recommended viewing.

Mizoguchi Kenji

Osaka Elegy ***

1936; 71 min.

For once set in its own period, this film gives a look at Japan before just before WW2 sets in seriously. The story of a girl's life ruined by her male relative's use of the social strictures on women.

Sansho the Bailiff ****

1954; 125 min.

A realistic recreation of 11th C. Japan, with a tale of revenge against the villain of the title.

Ugetsu ****

1953; 94 min

Made with a "period authenticity" consultant, this film is an excellent view of 16th Century Japan, if that is your period.

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Ancient History in Japan ***


A text brief on early Japan.


Ancient World Web *****!


Superb linksite, which it would be silly to try and duplicate here. Especially fine for including Asian, American, and African sections, not just Europe and the Near East.

"Equestrian Culture & Horse Racing in Japan" **


International Museum, of the Horse article. Primarily concerned with the modern Thoroughbred race horse, but gives some few notes on the native breed and care. Not terribly helpful.

To Essay on Japanese Clothing

To WW2 Pacific Theatre Bibliography

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