Perhaps more than any other season, autumn is a time for reading. It’s a season of warm days and cold nights, where you can read beneath a tree as its leaves change color and keep reading by the fireside when the night draws in. To match this cozy and colorful feeling, here are a few Japanese novels to enjoy during the autumn months. Each one is full of love, warmth, sweetness, and sometimes a little sorrow. Perfect for those breezy days and chilly nights.
1. “Before the Coffee Gets Cold and Tales from the Cafe” by Toshikazu Kawaguchi (Translated by Geoffrey Trousselot)
One of the best autumn reads, Japanese or otherwise, Before the Coffee Gets Cold (and its sequel Tales from the Cafe) is a charming, wholesome, sweet selection of interconnected stories set in a single Tokyo cafe. This cafe is unique, however, in that it has the power to send customers back in time when they sit at the right table.
Each story in these books follows a customer (or sometimes a member of staff) who wishes to go back in time to meet someone they lost or learn something they never understood. The stories vary, but all are creative and heartwarming tales of love, loss, friendship, and family. The cafe’s staff begin to feel like family, and the lives of its customers become intimate tales that every reader will care deeply for.
2. “The Housekeeper and the Professor” by Yoko Ogawa (Translated by Stephen Snyder)
An outstanding story of love and kindness; The Housekeeper and the Professor is a unique book by an author known for her darker stories. While it is a story of love, this is not a love story. Like many Ogawa books, The Housekeeper and the Professor is about memory.
The titular professor is a once-brilliant mathematician who now has a damaged short-term memory. His newest housekeeper is a kindly young mother with a wide-eyed son, both of whom become enamored with the professor’s mind and unusual charm. They spent their days caring for, and growing to love, the old genius. It’s a tale that tugs on your heartstrings in a big way, and leaves you feeling soothed and warm.
3. “The Honjin Murders” by Seishi Yokomizo (Translated by Louise Heal Kawai)
A fantastic fireside choice, The Honjin Murders is a classic detective mystery novel set against a snow-covered backdrop. Its atmosphere prepared the reader for the upcoming winter months, and the gripping locked-room mystery compels readers to keep turning the page.
This was Yokomizo’s first mystery novel, and it introduced Japan’s answer to Sherlock Holmes: the eccentric young detective Kosuke Kindaichi. This novel is set in the picturesque Japanese wilderness, blanketed by snow and populated by charming, strange characters.
4. “The Forest of Wool and Steel” by Natsu Miyashita (Translated by Philip Gabriel)
Despite being set in the chilly countryside of Hokkaido, The Forest of Wool and Steel is the perfect autumn read thanks to how its enthusiastic and lovable cast of characters bring so much warmth to the cold landscape of Japan’s north.
The Forest of Wool and Steel follows the journey of a young man from high school student to master piano tuner. This journey is peppered with harsh lessons and burgeoning friendships with colleagues and clients alike. It’s the sweet, heartfelt relationships between this cast that make the novels such a relaxing autumn read.
5. “Spark” by Naoki Matayoshi (Translated by Alison Watts)
One of the best ways to keep warm during the changing seasons is to enjoy some warm-hearted literature, and few books feel as sweet and warm as Spark. This is a book about comedy and the people who make it. It’s about brotherhood and friendship, and all the ups and downs that a friendship weathers.
Spark is a short novel and a literary sensation which has sparked (no pun intended) a Netflix adaptation. Set in Osaka and populated by manzai comedians, Spark has a lot to teach its readers about this unique form of Japanese comedy, and about the complexities of friendship and entertainment. A charming novel in every sense.
6. “Kiki’s Delivery Service” by Eiko Kadono (Translated by Emily Balistrieri)
Everyone knows about the classic Ghibli movie Kiki’s Delivery Service, and almost everyone has seen it. But how about the delightful and beloved children’s book that inspired the film? Eiko Kadono’s original book recently received a fantastic new translation from Emily Balistrieri, and it is a wonderful read for kids of all ages.
Such a heartwarming tale as this one is a perfect read for autumn, sitting beneath an orange-leafed tree and reading about the wacky escapades of a young witch trying to charm her new neighbors and getting into all manner of hijinx along the way.
7. Ms Ice Sandwich by Mieko Kawakami (Translated by Louise Heal Kawai)
This slender novella from the author of the recently earth-shattering Breasts and Eggs makes for a delightful autumn-day read. Ms Ice Sandwich can be read in a single sitting as you relax on a park bench or curled up in the evening, and it will leave you feeling refreshed and soothed.
Following a snapshot of the life of a young boy who has become enamored with a woman who works at his local convenience store – a punky girl whom he refers to as Ms Ice Sandwich, partly for the color of her eyeshadow – this is a sweet tale of young love, growth, and responsibility.
8. “Goodbye Tsugumi” by Banana Yoshimoto (Translated by Michael Emmerich)
Banana Yoshimoto is known for her intimate relationship with love and death. Most of her books prominently feature these two themes, intertwined in some unique and meaningful way. While Goodbye Tsugumi is no different, the love it depicts provides the perfect warm feeling for an autumnal read.
Predominantly set in a small seaside town, with the cool ocean breeze tickling its characters’ skin, Goodbye Tsugumi explores the sisterly relationship of two cousins, one of whom (the titular Tsugumi) is desperately ill but full of vim and anger. The love their share is strained but strong, and its intensity leaves the reader feeling, very strongly, the value of love and friendship.
9. “Norwegian Wood” by Haruki Murakami (Translated by Jay Rubin)
Arguably Haruki Murakami’s best-known novel, Norwegian Wood is a perfectly-sized, perfectly-paced novel about young love, making mistakes, and mental health. It’s a heavy book that flits between feelings of freedom and suffocation, but it is definitely an autumn tearjerker.
Following the life of a young university student who lost his friend to suicide, the novel moves between Tokyo life and a remote mountain retreat, framed against thick forests. It’s easy to imagine this world in a perpetual autumn: breezy, darkening, and sometimes comforting.
10. “The Travelling Cat Chronicles” by Hiro Arikawa (Translated by Philip Gabriel)
Here’s another tearjerker of a novel, but it’s also one with so much heart and warmth. It’s a bittersweet novel that sometimes hurts and sometimes comforts its reader. Our titular cat, Nana takes a road trip across Japan with his owner, Satoru, as the owner can no longer keep the cat and is desperately searching for the right friend to become the cat’s new family.
This road trip quality adds a lot to the sense of camaraderie between Nana and his master, and everything is viewed through the eyes of this sardonic yet charming cat. The seasons change as the two journey across the Japanese landscape in this short and heartfelt novel.
11. “The Guest Cat” by Takashi Hiraide (Translated by Eric Selland)
The Guest Cat is another charming, slender book full of autumnal feeling. Set in a Tokyo suburb, The Guest Cat centers around the life of a settled married couple who have fallen into a dull routine. That routine is sparked into life by the introduction of a cat looking for love and comfort. The titular guest cat becomes something for the couple to care for and talk about each day.
This is a delightful short novel about the power that cats have to bring joy, laughter, and warmth into our lives. While it is another bittersweet novel, it still leaves the reader with a feeling of comfort and joy at the end, and is a fantastic read for those cool autumn nights.
12. “The Remains of the Day” by Kazuo Ishiguro
This is a bit of a wild card, given that Ishiguro is a British citizen who writes exclusively in English, and that this is a piece of British historical fiction. However, Ishiguro remains a Japanese writer, and Remains of the Day is one of the best autumn reads you could ever enjoy.
Set in a period of great change, as the aristocracy falls into obscurity, Stevens is a butler who is struggling to adapt to the changing world. A conservative in every sense, Stevens takes a journey across the English countryside, his thoughts wandering back through time to a world he knew, but which no longer exists. It’s a sweet, warming tale set against a backdrop of rolling English hills and sweet small towns.
Looking for other recommendations? Check the latest from our TW Book Club!