Japanese History Books

I’ve been living in Japan for about two years and a half now, and have been feeling like I should know more about the history of this place, since I’m probably gonna stick around for a while. So I thought it could be nice to start a topic on Japanese history books, in order to combine Japanese reading practice with history learning.

If anyone has any book recommendations, or want to share their journey as they learn about Japanese history, or just plain interesting history facts, this is the place for it! I recently bought myself a ビジュアル図鑑 (illustrated reference book) on Japanese history, so I’ll be sharing some of that as I read along.

Let’s get good at Japanese history! ^^


Well, you can’t hardly go past the 日本書紀 and 古事記, can you? :stuck_out_tongue:


Those look super interesting… and also super impossible to read ^^’


I’m very slowly suffering my way through this biography about my favorite samurai of all time (whose name I also shamelessly stole for my username here lol) . I’m super biased but my favorite period of Japanese history is the Bakumatsu. It’s so interesting because power shifts happened in the bat of an eyelash and everything affected everything.


Yeah, it seems like that was a particular turbulent time for Japan. I don’t know much about the details of Bakumatsu, so I’m looking forward to reading more about it! Kondo Isami looks like a pretty intense dude O:


Scott Morton has some of the best books on East Asian history out there. Here’s his short, accessible book on Japanese history. https://www.amazon.com/Japan-History-W-Scott-Morton/dp/0071412808/ref=sr_1_3?keywords=japan+history+culture&qid=1557752940&s=gateway&sr=8-3

1 Like

I’ve read this one and really liked it. It covers all the history in a concise but clear manner, and you’ll get a good understanding about Japan’s history.

1 Like

This manga series is a very basic overview of Japanese history, prehistoric through 1950 or so. It’s aimed at kids so has furigana and is easier to follow!


I just started working my way through these e-books:

they’re short essays/poems about historical events and figures. they include vocab broken down, and the stories in just japanese, and in just english, and also MP3 files of the japanese so you can shadow along


Yeah this series looks pretty neat! I was considering reading through this series first actually! However, I’ve been reading a few manga series in Japanese, and while it helps for spoken Japanese, it doesn’t have as much explanatory text, which is what I want to focus on… so that’s why I opted for a zukan instead. But I might just read it anyway, cause it looks fun and the artstyle is cute ^^

1 Like

Oh wow! That looks really useful * o * The explanations save the trouble of looking stuff up online all the time too!

1 Like

He’s awesome!! What I love so much about him is that he wasn’t born into the samurai class but a farming family. He worked so hard.

Wow, this looks awesome! I’m gonna check it out. Thanks for the link!

The Japan History Podcast is pretty good; I’d maybe prefer a bit more social history in the mix


I have a Detective Konan history manga where he travels back to the Jomon period to learn history. I should actually read it.


I’ve been binging this podcast for the past few days - just got to episode 100. Some very interesting stuff!

Your comment lead me to find these and I am forever grateful:


Super interested in these - thanks!

Plus: “Detective Conan: 1000 Difficult Words to Learn for 10 Year Olds” :smile_cat:

1 Like

Similarly, there is also a Doraemon series on Japanese history!

They actually have loads of educational manga like this (with topics such as world history, famous people, inventions, geography, animals, proverbs/sayings, foreign languages etc. …)


I’ve also been wanting to read more about Japanese history, but I was under the impression that many Japanese-written books don’t really tell the full story. Therefore I’ve been trying to find more factually accurate books, but no luck there yet.

Is this more or less than any country telling their own history?

I just finished How to Hide an Empire. As an American, it does a great job of exploring the ignored parts of U.S. history … but it is an exceptional book and not the norm.

I don’t know that Japanese books stand out on this point.


If this means that all countries do this to the same extent, then, no. From what I’ve heard about Japanese history, especially what is taught in primary and middle/high school, it tends to skim over many important things that would make Japan look bad. (Examples are treatment of inhabitants of Hokkaido and Okinawa, but also battles in China)

To be honest, for me it’s not common that history books and classes skip the darker parts of history. Maybe my high school was exceptional, but I really don’t think so.

Either way, I’m hoping to find factually accurate books about Japanese history.

The book you mentioned about U.S. history sounds very interesting, I’ll save it for later :slight_smile: