Whether you're already on the road, or in the preparation stages, there's nothing nicer than reading a book set in the spots that you're about to see. Here are some favourites from, or set in, Japan:
A Tale for the Time Being
Ruth Ozeki's book is narrated by two women- one, Nao, a Japanese-American woman living in Tokyo, and contemplating suicide, and the second, Ruth, a novelist living a seemingly idyllic existence on an island off the coast of British Columbia. It's the kind of book that makes me want to write awful things like 'a structural tour-de-force' but it's also just incredibly good. You'll get a glimpse of a very certain side of modern-day Tokyo, a taste of rural life and a striking insight into World War II, as experienced by the kamikaze pilots.
Inheritance from Mother
Minae Mizumura deserves to be better known outside of Japan than she is, because discovering her books is a total treat. While she often plays with form and even format, this is a relatively straightforward novel, following Mitsuki Katsura through her embattled relationship with her mother, and laying waste to several ideas about selfless labour in the process.
Possibly best known as the author of Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell's second book is set in Japan, where he lived for eight years. The book follows young Eiji Miyake as he hunts for his father, taking a journey through his waking dreams. It's complex and entrancing, and hints at what's to come from the author, while providing a strange and surreal look at a country that can feel just that.
A short novel, and generally published bundled with an even shorter novella (Moonlight Shadow), Kitchen is a stunning debut from Banana Yoshimoto. Mikage Sakurai is struggling to cope after the death of her grandmother, and comes to live with a friend and his transgender mother. The atmosphere of tragedy is beautifully pitched, but it's the description of the food cooked and eaten that will draw you in completely.
Murakami fans will squabble over the choice of just one book to represent this prolific author, but tough, this is my personal favourite. It's gentle and delicate, possibly a retelling of the author's years at Tokyo University, and, like all of his books, quirky and distinctly unsettling. You can take a lot from this book, but one important lesson is that you should never pass up the chance to pop up to the top floor of a depachika for a quick, cheap meal.