8 heartwarming Japanese books to read this winter

By Jessica Esa

It’s getting to that time of year again — the days are getting shorter, the weather is growing colder, and the urge to dive under the kotatsu is becoming stronger. And nothing pairs an escape into a cozy heated table than a warm cup of rooibos tea and a good read. But which books are the ones that will warm your heart enough for your mind to escape the cold? We love these eight Japanese books filled with wholesome and heartwarming themes featuring adventurous journeys and snowy scenes to get lost in and you won’t need to brave the cold at all.

1. "The Guest Cat" by Takashi Hiraide

A charming story set in a sleepy Tokyo suburb. A married couple in their thirties has long lost that spark in their marriage — until a stray cat finds its way into their home and breathes new life into the family dynamic. The unexpected feline creates a routine for them, gives them a shared topic to talk about as a couple, and brings joy and a united focus to their life. A lovely tale that displays the immense impact of having something two people care for together, a story that’ll stay in your heart long after the last page.

Translated by: Eric Selland

2. "Snow Country" by Yasunari Kawabata

Get lost in snowy Japan — Shimamura, a married man from Tokyo who is tired of the city takes a train to a remote village where the geisha Komako works at a mountain resort. After meeting her on a previous trip to the resort, he believes that she is the love of his life and travels back to the mountains to be with her. A beautiful love story begins to unravel but Komako’s life of seclusion and servitude as a geisha offers them no freedom as a couple. Kawabata romanticizes the scenery of snowy Edo Japan while giving us fascinating insight into the life of a geisha during this period.

Translated by: Edward G. Seidensticker

Click here to read more.

© Savvy Tokyo

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Two of them grab my attention, and I might buy one of them to read. I ungratefully wish the article had recommended more new, modern fiction.

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Snow Country, along with Sound of the Mountain by the same author, was the Japanese novel that got me into Japanese literature in the first place, and now I've got a bookcase full of Japanese fiction (in translation). Both are beautiful books and I'm very pleased to see at least one of them on the list. Sweet Bean Paste is one of the best books I've read in the past couple of years or so, and the only other book I've read on this list I didn't like, Guest Cat. Far too twee for my liking. Don't care for Banana Yoshimoto or Murakami (his novels anyway) but I think I'll give the Didier Decoin book a go. That looks interesting.

Since this list includes books about Japan written by non-Japanese, I'd like to give a plug for David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, set in Nagasaki when Dejima was a trading post. Beautiful realization of time and place, and a bittersweet love story to boot. And nothing by Kazuo Ishiguro? What about A Pale View of Hills?

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