I think it greatly enhances a trip to read or watch something about it before, during and after a trip.  And it doesn’t have to be non-fiction — fiction or historical fiction are just as valuable.  They give you a sense of history and culture.  It also gives you a sense of time and place.  Buildings and sights cease to be just brick and mortar and become settings in a story.  History is no longer just facts and dates but the events that shaped people’s lives.

I just finished living in Japan and as a result it was often the subject of books and movies I chose to read as I traveled around the country.  Here are some of my favorites that I would recommend for your next trip:

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee – This is on a short list of one of the best books I have read in years.  It is a wonderful multi-generational book of Korean immigrants in Japan throughout the 20th century.  Japan and Korea have a complicated and long history and this fictional book gives some insight into that relationship.

pachinko

A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton – I read this book several years before moving to Japan and it is what made visiting Nagasaki a priority.  This book is a wonderful way to learn both about the bombing of Nagasaki as well as the unique history of the city.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami – Murakami is one of Japan’s most popular authors and you will find his books throughout Japan. This is the only one of his book’s I have read but it was outstanding.

a dictionary

Sho Gun (the book or movie) is a classic look at Japan’s classic era of the Sho Guns and samurai warriors.

Gung Ho (movie with Michael Keaton) – This probably seems like an unlikely candidate for the list. This is a mid-1980s comedy about car manufacturing.  However, the work ethic and Japanese culture is so realistic that I think it is worth recommending. gung ho

Lost in Translation (movie) – A fun movie with three main characters; one of which is the city of modern Tokyo!

Last Samurai (movie with Tom Cruise) – Another wonderful historic representation of the transition of Japan in the 1870s.

Hiroshima Maidens by Rodney Barker – This book is based on the true stories of children and young women injured during the WWII bombing of Hiroshima.

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Silence (movie by Martin Scorsese) which tells the about the persecution of Christians throughout Japan in the 16th and 17th century.

Others would also throw in Memories of a Geisha.  I didn’t love it, but it deserves a mention (and of course I did watch the movie a second time before going to Kyoto)

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