Travel Japan from Home!

We're really happy to welcome Stanfords to our blog today as part of the 2021 London Bookshop Crawl online.

Stanfords is a world-famous map and travel bookshop in Covent Garden Garden and has been proudly independent since it was established in 1853. It has been an essential first port of call for adventure and armchair travellers alike for more than a century but in the last year, with travel halted, its booksellers’ expertise has been especially cherished by customers asking for recommendations to specific locations so they can travel the world by book. Here, Jude from Stanfords takes us on a trip to Japan with some of her favourite book recommendations.

People in kimonos walking down a tree lined avenue. Photo credit Jude Brosnan.


by John Hersey

Published in 1946, only a year after the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, John Hersey tells the accounts of six men and women who survived the blast. As a journalist, Hersey manages to convey the events as factual, while also effectively portraying portray the heartbreaking and horrific scenes of this moment in history. The book also goes beyond the immediate fallout to show the steps that were taken to begin the rebuilding of Hiroshima. We all know about what happened at Hiroshima but this is a real insight into the feelings and fears of the people affected who were left in the dark. This book is short and succinct; I read it on the bullet train to Hiroshima and it gave a huge amount of perspective on the place.

Hokkaido Highway Blues

by Will Ferguson

This is a good one to read ahead of Hanami season, when Japanese people go to view the cherry blossom and mark the end of winter. While teaching in Japan, Will Ferguson announced on a sake-fuelled night that he would hitchhike through Japan following the wave of blooming cherry blossoms.Ferguson is hilarious and his tale of making his way through Japan and the characters he meets at times strays from the preconceived notions of a reserved nation, as he explores further than the exterior and goes inside homes and is welcomed by families. This is a very funny travelogue that, if you haven’t visited Japan, will explain its geography, and, if you have been, it will reveal things that you definitely will not have seen.

Dance Dance Dance

by Haruki Murakami

It would be a travesty if I didn't include a book by Haruki Murakami. The author is quoted as saying Dance, Dance, Dance is his favourite. Published in 1988 and translated into English in 1994, this book was originally part of a series but has become known and loved as a standalone book.

The unnamed narrator dreams about the Dolphin Hotel in Sapporo where he went with a past lover. It's a confusing Noir-like place, full of contradictions that hosts a plethora of offbeat characters. Amidst all this the narrator questions life, as he struggles to accept the advanced capitalist mayhem of society surrounding him.The past and present overlap wonderfully in this absurd and surreal story that rings true and speaks to the heart of human nature.

Convenience Store Woman

by Sayaka Murata

Shortlisted for the 2019 Edward Stanford Travel Writing Award for Fiction, with a Sense of Place

A wonderfully visceral piece of fiction showing a unique perspective. Keiko has never really fitted in. At school and university people find her odd and her family worries she'll never be normal. To appease them, Keiko takes a job at a newly opened convenience store. Here, she finds peace and purpose in the simple, daily tasks and routine interactions. But in Keiko's social circle it just won't do for an unmarried woman to spend all her time stacking shelves and re-ordering green tea. As pressure mounts on Keiko to find either a new job, or worse, a husband, she is forced to take desperate action.

A Guide to Japan

by Pico Iyer

Winner of the Edward Stanford Travel Memoir of the Year 2020

How does a sushi bar explain a Japanese poem? Why do Japanese couples plan matching outfits for their honeymoon? Why are so many things in Japan the opposite of what we expect?

After thirty-two years in Japan, Pico Iyer knows the country as few others can. In A Beginner's Guide to Japan, he dashes from baseball games to love-hotels and from shopping malls to zen temple gardens to find fresh ways of illuminating his adopted home. Playful and surreptitiously profound, this is a guidebook to a Japan few have ever seen before.

The Bells of Old Tokyo: Travels in Japanese Time

by Anna Sherman

Shortlisted for the 2020 Edward Stanford Travel Writing Award's Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year.

For over 300 years, Japan closed itself to outsiders, developing a remarkable and unique culture. During its period of isolation, the inhabitants of the city of Edo, later known as Tokyo, relied on its public bells to tell the time. In her remarkable book, Anna Sherman tells of her search for the bells of Edo, exploring the city of Tokyo and its inhabitants and the individual and particular relationship of Japanese culture - and the Japanese language - to time, tradition, memory, impermanence and history. The Bells of Old Tokyo presents a series of hauntingly memorable voices in the labyrinth that is the metropolis of the Japanese capital:

The Japanese: A History in Twenty Lives

by Christopher Harding

From the acclaimed author of Japan Story, this is the history of Japan, distilled into the stories of twenty remarkable individuals. The vivid and entertaining portraits in Chris Harding's enormously enjoyable new book take the reader from the earliest written accounts of Japan right through to the life of the current empress, Masako. We encounter shamans and warlords, poets and revolutionaries, scientists, artists and adventurers - each offering insights of their own into this extraordinary place. For anyone new to Japan, this book is the ideal introduction. For anyone already deeply involved with it, this is a book filled with surprises and pleasures.

Hiking and Trekking in the Japan Alps and Mount Fuji: Northern, Central and Southern Alps

by Tom Fay and Wes Lang

This book guides you to the magnificent Japan Alps, which stretch across the middle of the main island of Honshu, and iconic Mount Fuji. The guide describes nine day-walks and thirteen treks of 2-8 days covering the North, Central and South Alps, as well as the four main routes up Mount Fuji and a further route on neighbouring Mount Kurodake. The Japan Alps and Mount Fuji boast a well-developed walking infrastructure, and the routes make use of the many mountain huts and campgrounds. Some also include the opportunity to visit a traditional hot-spring bath for a refreshing soak after your hike. You will find all the information you will need to plan a successful walking or trekking holiday, with a wealth of advice on travel, bases, accommodation and facilities. There are additional notes on plants and wildlife, the history of hiking in Japan and safety in the mountains, as well as full mountain-hut listings.

Vegan JapanEasy

by Tim Anderson

Japanese cooking is often inherently plant-based, it's uniquely vegan-friendly. Flavours of Japanese cuisine are usually based in fermented soybean and rice products, and animal products were seldom used in cooking throughout much of Japanese history. Yes, there is fish in everything, in the form of dashi, but you can easily substitute this with a seaweed and mushroom-based version that's every bit as delicious. This book won't so much teach you how to make dubious 'vegan versions' of Japanese meat and fish dishes – because it wouldn't be good, and there's no need! Instead, it will tap into Japan's wealth of recipes that are already vegan or very nearly vegan – so there are no sad substitutions and no shortcomings of flavor.

Stanfords also has an annual Edward Stanford Travel Writing Award which celebrates the best travel writing in the world. Find out more about it here You can also find more great recommendations on the Book of the Year shortlist here.

They also have 23 free author talks available on Youtube as part of this year's Stanford's Travel Writers Festival so do make sure to check those out too!

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