If you enjoy reading short novels or Japanese literature, you are in the right place. I’ve been working on this Japanese books under 200 pages for a while now, and I think it is ready. I know there are many excellent books out there that are not mentioned here, but these 20 books are real beauties, and they deserve to be read.
I love Japanese literature. So I read lots of Japanese authors, and I want to read even more. (I even have a Japanese Literature reading project!) On the other hand, I have many other reading projects, so I thought reading Japanese books under 200 pages would help me discover new authors and make an excellent source for fellow readers.
I didn’t want to add Kazuo Ishiguro’s A Pale View of the Hills on this Japanese books under 200 pages list because Ishiguro is very well known and highly read by readers all over the world. So, Japanese books under 200 pages list includes lesser-known authors. But, and this is a huge but, I couldn’t help myself with some of the famous and well-known authors and added them to Japanese books under 200 pages list. They are on the list for the sake of the readers who are new to Japanese literature. And I must mention I love them a lot.
As with all of my lists on this blog, Japanese books under 200 pages is also diverse. You’ll find novels about love, war, social criticism, obsession, cats, the weirdos, the loners, haiku and essay and many, many more.
These beautiful Japanese books under 200 pages would make excellent companions on train rides or short flights. I wouldn’t say I like carrying a massive book in my bag when I go out, so I always have a rather thinner and smaller book with me. And some of the Japanese books under 200 pages on this list will help you discover new authors, and I hope they’ll become your favourites.
20 Beautiful Japanese Books Under 200 Pages
In Praise of Shadows – Junichiro Tanizaki
If you love reading essays, choose this one among Japanese books under 200 pages. This is an enchanting essay on aesthetics by one of the greatest Japanese novelists. Tanizaki’s eye ranges over architecture, jade, food, toilets, and combines an acute sense of the use of space in buildings, as well as perfect descriptions of lacquerware under candlelight and women in the darkness of the house of pleasure. The result is a classic description of the collision between the shadows of traditional Japanese interiors and the dazzling light of the modern age.
Territory of Light – Yuko Tsushima
Territory of Light is the luminous story of a young woman, living alone in Tokyo with her three-year-old daughter. Its twelve, stand-alone fragments follow the first year of her separation from her husband. The novel is full of light, sometimes comforting and sometimes dangerous: sunlight streaming through windows, dappled light in the park, distant fireworks, dazzling floodwater, desaturated streetlamps and earth-shaking explosions. The seemingly artless prose is beautifully patterned: the cumulative effect is disarmingly powerful and images remain seared into your retina for a long time afterwards. This excellent book among Japanese books under 200 pages will make you think about light and spaces.
Convenience Store Woman – Sayaka Murata
Keiko Furukura had always been considered a strange child, and her parents always worried how she would get on in the real world, so when she takes on a job in a convenience store while at university, they are delighted for her. For her part, in the convenience store she finds a predictable world mandated by the store manual, which dictates how the workers should act and what they should say, and she copies her coworkers’ style of dress and speech patterns so that she can play the part of a normal person.
However, eighteen years later, at age 36, she is still in the same job, has never had a boyfriend, and has only few friends. She feels comfortable in her life, but is aware that she is not living up to society’s expectations and causing her family to worry about her. When a similarly alienated but cynical and bitter young man comes to work in the store, he will upset Keiko’s contented stasis—but will it be for the better?
Sayaka Murata brilliantly captures the atmosphere of the familiar convenience store that is so much part of life in Japan. With some laugh-out-loud moments prompted by the disconnect between Keiko’s thoughts and those of the people around her, she provides a sharp look at Japanese society and the pressure to conform, as well as penetrating insights into the female mind. Convenience Store Woman is a fresh, charming portrait of an unforgettable heroine that recalls Banana Yoshimoto, Han Kang, and Amélie. One of the most popular contemporary choices among Japanese books under 200 pages.
The Housekeeper and the Professor – Yoko Ogawa
He is a brilliant maths professor with a peculiar problem – ever since a traumatic head injury seventeen years ago, he has lived with only eighty minutes of short-term memory.
She is a sensitive but astute young housekeeper who is entrusted to take care of him.
Each morning, as the Professor and the Housekeeper are reintroduced to one another, a strange, beautiful relationship blossoms between them. The Professor may not remember what he had for breakfast, but his mind is still alive with elegant equations from the past. He devises clever maths riddles – based on her shoe size or her birthday – and the numbers reveal a sheltering and poetic world to both the Housekeeper and her ten-year-old son. With each new equation, the three lost souls forge an affection more mysterious than imaginary numbers, and a bond that runs deeper than memory. An excellent choice among Japanese books under 200 pages.
Snow Country – Yasunari Kawabata
Nobel Prize recipient Yasunari Kawabata’s Snow Country is widely considered to be the writer’s masterpiece, a powerful tale of wasted love set amid the desolate beauty of western Japan.
At an isolated mountain hot spring, with snow blanketing every surface, Shimamura, a wealthy dilettante meets Komako, a lowly geisha. She gives herself to him fully and without remorse, despite knowing that their passion cannot last and that the affair can have only one outcome. In chronicling the course of this doomed romance, Kawabata has created a story for the ages, a stunning novel dense in implication and exalting in its sadness. Love winter reads? Read this one among Japanese books under 200 pages.
Kitchen – Banana Yoshimoto
Kitchen juxtaposes two tales about mothers, transsexuality, bereavement, kitchens, love and tragedy in contemporary Japan. It is a startlingly original first work by Japan’s brightest young literary star and is now a cult film.
When Kitchen was first published in Japan in 1987 it won two of Japan’s most prestigious literary prizes, climbed its way to the top of the bestseller lists, then remained there for over a year and sold millions of copies. Banana Yoshimoto was hailed as a young writer of great talent and great passion whose work has quickly earned a place among the best of modern literature, and has been described as ‘the voice of young Japan’ by the Independent on Sunday. One of my favourites among Japanese books under 200 pages.
A Personal Matter – Kenzaburo Oe
Kenzaburo Oe, the winner of the 1994 Nobel Prize for Literature, is internationally acclaimed as one of the most important and influential post-World War II writers, known for his powerful accounts of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and his own struggle to come to terms with a mentally handicapped son. The Swedish Academy lauded Ōe for his “poetic force [that] creates an imagined world where life and myth condense to form a disconcerting picture of the human predicament today.”
His most personal book, A Personal Matter, is the story of Bird, a frustrated intellectual in a failing marriage whose utopian dream is shattered when his wife gives birth to a brain-damaged child. If you’re going to read only one book from Japanese books under 200 pages list, make sure it is this one.
The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches – Matsuo Basho
‘It was with awe
That I beheld
Fresh leaves, green leaves,
Bright in the sun’
When the Japanese haiku master Basho composed The Narrow Road to the Deep North, he was an ardent student of Zen Buddhism, setting off on a series of travels designed to strip away the trappings of the material world and bring spiritual enlightenment. He writes of the seasons changing, the smell of the rain, the brightness of the moon and the beauty of the waterfall, through which he sensed the mysteries of the universe. These writings not only chronicle Basho’s travels, but they also capture his vision of eternity in the transient world around him.
The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea – Yukio Mishima
The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea tells the tale of a band of savage thirteen-year-old boys who reject the adult world as illusory, hypocritical and sentimental, and train themselves in a brutal callousness they call “objectivity.” When the mother of one of them begins an affair with a ship’s officer, he and his friends idealize the man at first; but it is not long before they conclude that he is in fact soft and romantic. They regard their disappointment in him as an act of betrayal on his part, and react violently. Mishima is a genius! And you have to read this book among Japanese books under 200 pages.
Snakes and Earrings – Hitomi Kanehara
Lui is nineteen years old, beautiful and bored. When she meets AMa in a bar she finds herself mesmerised by his forked tongue and straight-away moves in with him and has her own tongue pierced.
Determined to push her boundaries further, she asks Ama’s friend Shiba to design an exquisite tattoo for her back. But what Shiba demands as payment for the tattoo leads Lui into a brutal and explicit love triangle like no other. Then, after a violent encounter on the back streets of Tokyo, Ama vanished and Lui must face up to her choices…
This prize-winning cult classic was an instant bestseller and sold over a million copies when it was first published in Japan. It is a shockingly gripping tale of pleasure and pain, light and darkness and love and hate. An intriguing choice among Japanese books under 200 pages.
The Waiting Years – Fumiko Enchi
In the late nineteenth century, Tomo, the faithful wife of a government official, is sent to Tokyo, where a heartbreaking task is awaiting her. From among hundreds of geishas and daughters offered up for sale by their families she must select a respectable young girl to become her husband’s new lover. Externally calm, but torn apart inside, Tomo dutifully begins the search for an official mistress. A must-read among Japanese books under 200 pages.
The Guest Cat – Takashi Hiraide
One of my favourites among Japanese books under 200 pages. A couple in their thirties live in a small rented cottage in a quiet part of Tokyo. They work at home as freelance writers. They no longer have very much to say to one another.
One day a cat invites itself into their small kitchen. She is a beautiful creature. She leaves, but the next day comes again, and then again and again. New, small joys accompany the cat; the days have more light and colour. Life suddenly seems to have more promise for the husband and wife; they go walking together, talk and share stories of the cat and its little ways, play in the nearby garden. But then something happens that will change everything again.
The Guest Cat is an exceptionally moving and beautiful novel about the nature of life and the way it feels to live it. The book won Japan’s Kiyama Shohei Literary Award, and was a bestseller in France and America. If you’re looking for a calm yet magical book choose this one among Japanese books under 200 pages.
The Emissary – Yoko Tawada
Japan, after suffering from a massive irreparable disaster, cuts itself off from the world. Children are so weak they can barely stand or walk: the only people with any get-go are the elderly. Mumei lives with his grandfather Yoshiro, who worries about him constantly. They carry on a day-to-day routine in what could be viewed as a post-Fukushima time, with all the children born ancient—frail and gray-haired, yet incredibly compassionate and wise. Mumei may be enfeebled and feverish, but he is a beacon of hope, full of wit and free of self-pity and pessimism. Yoshiro concentrates on nourishing Mumei, a strangely wonderful boy who offers “the beauty of the time that is yet to come.”
A delightful, irrepressibly funny book, The Emissary is filled with light. Yoko Tawada, deftly turning inside-out “the curse,” defies gravity and creates a playful joyous novel out of a dystopian one, with a legerdemain uniquely her own. An interesting choice among Japanese books under 200 pages.
People From My Neighbourhood – Hiromi Kawakami
Looking for an interesting story among Japanese books under 200 pages? Take a story and shrink it. Make it tiny, so small it can fit in the palm of your hand. Carry the story with you everywhere, let it sit with you while you eat, let it watch you while you sleep. Keep it safe, you never know when you might need it.
In Kawakami’s super short ‘palm of the hand’ stories the world is never quite as it should be: a small child lives under a sheet near his neighbour’s house for thirty years; an apartment block leaves its visitors with strange afflictions, from fast-growing beards to an ability to channel the voices of the dead; an old man has two shadows, one docile, the other rebellious; two girls named Yoko are locked in a bitter rivalry to the death.
Small but great, you’ll find great delight spending time with the people in this neighbourhood. A good choice among Japanese books under 200 pages.
If Cats Disappeared from the World – Genki Kawamura
If you love cats, you have to read this one among Japanese books under 200 pages list.
Our narrator’s days are numbered. Estranged from his family, living alone with only his cat Cabbage for company, he was unprepared for the doctor’s diagnosis that he has only months to live. But before he can set about tackling his bucket list, the Devil appears with a special offer: in exchange for making one thing in the world disappear, he can have one extra day of life. And so begins a very bizarre week . . .
Because how do you decide what makes life worth living? How do you separate out what you can do without from what you hold dear? In dealing with the Devil our narrator will take himself – and his beloved cat – to the brink. Genki Kawamura’s If Cats Disappeared from the World is a story of loss and reconciliation, of one man’s journey to discover what really matters in modern life. A good choice among Japanese books under 200 pages.
Strangers – Taichi Yamada
If you like interesting stories, you’ll love this among Japanese books under 200 pages.
Middle-aged, jaded and divorced, TV scriptwriter Harada is forced to set up home in his office, situated in a high-rise apartment block overlooking Tokyo’s busy Route 8. One night, nostalgic for his lost childhood, he decides to visit the entertainment district of Asakusa, the city’s dilapidated old downtown area, and there, at the theatre, he meets a man who looks exactly like his long-dead father.
So begins Harada’s ordeal, as he’s thrust into a reality where his parents appear to be alive at the exact age they had been when they died so many years before. Although they may be apparitions, he takes solace in seeing them, in spite of the damage it seems to do to his health. Can Kei, the mysteriously fragile neighbour with whom Harada begins a tentative relationship, save him from the ghosts of his past? A good choice among Japanese books under 200 pages.
A Guru Is Born – Takeshi Kitano
Having lost his job and his girlfriend, Kazuo becomes a member of a religious sect, after seeing the Guru heal an old woman in a wheelchair. He soon discovers the secrets of success in the sect are much the same as the business world, the power of suggestion playing a larger role than faith.
When the Guru unexpectedly dies, Kazuo is nominated to continue the sect as the new Guru. If you want a look into Japanese cults, choose this one among Japanese books under 200 pages.
The Wild Geese – Ogai Mori
In The Wild Geese, prominent Japanese novelist Ogai Mori offers a poignant story of unfulfilled love, set against the background of the dizzying social change accompanying the fall of the Meiji regime. The young heroine, Otama, is forced by poverty to become a moneylender’s mistress. She is surrounded by skillfully-drawn characters―her weak-willed father, her virile and calculating lover (and his suspicious wife), and the handsome student who is both the object of her desire and the symbol of her rescue―as well as a colorful procession of Meiji era figures―geisha, students, entertainers, unscrupulous matchmakers, shopkeepers, and greedy landladies.
Like those around her, and like the wild geese of the titles, Otama yearns for the freedom of flight. Her dawning consciousness of her predicament brings the novel to a touching climax. A classic among Japanese books under 200 pages.
Tokyo Ueno Station – Miri Yu
Born in Fukushima in 1933, the same year as the Emperor, Kazu’s life is tied by a series of coincidences to Japan’s Imperial family and to one particular spot in Tokyo; the park near Ueno Station – the same place his unquiet spirit now haunts in death. It is here that Kazu’s life in Tokyo began, as a labourer in the run up to the 1964 Olympics, and later where he ended his days, living in the park’s vast homeless ‘villages’, traumatised by the destruction of the 2011 tsunami and enraged by the announcement of the 2020 Olympics. A touching read among Japanese books under 200 pages.
Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure – Hideo Furukawa
A highly underrated book among Japanese books under 200 pages. “As we passed from the city center into the Fukushima suburbs I surveyed the landscape for surgical face masks. I wanted to see in what ratios people were wearing such masks.
I was trying to determine, consciously and unconsciously, what people do in response. So, among people walking along the roadway, and people on motorbikes, I saw no one with masks. Even among the official crossing guards outfitted with yellow flags and banners, none. All showed bright and calm. What was I hoping for exactly? The guilty conscience again. But then it was time for school to start. We began to see groups of kids on their way to school. They were wearing masks.”
“Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure” is a multifaceted literary response to the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown that devastated northeast Japan on March 11, 2011. The novel is narrated by Hideo Furukawa, who travels back to his childhood home near Fukushima after 3/11 to reconnect with a place that is now doubly alien.
His ruminations conjure the region’s storied past, particularly its thousand-year history of horses, humans, and the struggle with a rugged terrain. Standing in the morning light, these horses also tell their stories, heightening the sense of liberation, chaos, and loss that accompanies Furukawa’s rich recollections.
A fusion of fiction, history, and memoir, this book plays with form and feeling in ways reminiscent of Vladimir Nabokov’s “Speak, Memory” and W. G. Sebald’s “The Rings of Saturn” yet draws its own, unforgettable portrait of personal and cultural dislocation. An incredible choice among Japanese books under 200 pages.
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Did you read any of the Japanese books under 200 pages on this list? If you think other books should be there, please share them in the comments section.