Children’s literature has many notable options when it comes to Japan. To help you find the right books for you and your young reader, we’ve compiled a list of the best kids books about Japan.
Our list includes board books, picture books, and chapter books. Board books are best for babies and toddlers from ages newborn to 2 or 3. Picture books are generally great options for toddlers and for preschool and kindergarten age children. Picture books are especially enjoyable for adults to read aloud with young kids. The chapter books on our list are generally best for elementary through early middle school age tween kids. You can filter to sort by the best book type for your kid.
When it comes to children’s stories about Japan, there are a variety of titles. This list covers everything, from classics like The Thirteenth Pearl to popular sellers like Kira-Kira to some of our favorite hidden gems like Yoko.
We hope this list of kids books about Japan can be a helpful resource for parents, teachers, and others searching for a new book! As you explore the list, please comment below to let us know what books you would add.
In this deeply moving nonfiction picture book, award-winning author Caren Stelson brings Sachiko Yasui’s story of surviving the atomic bombing of Nagasaki and her message of peace to a young audience.
Sachiko’s family home was about half a mile from where the atomic bomb fell on August 9, 1945. Her family experienced devastating loss. When they returned to the rubble where their home once stood, her father miraculously found their serving bowl fully intact. This delicate, green, leaf-shaped bowl—which once held their daily meals—now holds memories of the past and serves as a vessel of hope, peace, and new traditions for Sachiko and the surviving members of her family.
Mmm, Yoko’s mom has packed her favorite for lunch today—sushi! But her classmates don’t think it looks quite so yummy. “Ick!” says one of the Franks. “It’s seaweed!” They’re not even impressed by her red bean ice cream dessert. Of course, Mrs. Jenkins has a plan that might solve Yoko’s problem. But will it work with the other children in class? Now in paperback for the first time, this tender story from Rosemary Wells demonstrates the author’s uncanny understanding of the pleasures and pains of an ordinary school day.
In this Caldecott Medal-winning tale set in Old Japan, a lively little woman who loves to laugh pursues her runaway dumpling—and must outwit the wicked three-eyed oni when she lands in their clutches.
“The pictures are in perfect harmony with the humorous mood of the story. . . . It’s all done with a commendable amount of taste, imagination, and style.”—School Library Journal (starred review)
“A beautifully convincing tale.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Using elements of traditional Japanese art, the illustrator has made marvelously imaginative pictures.”—The Horn Book
“Lent’s pictures are a lively blend of finely detailed, delicate drawings and rip-roaring good humor.”—The Boston Globe
“A good read-aloud with lots of suspense.”—Learning
Awards: ALA Notable Children’s Book Child Study Association Book of the Year The Horn Book Fanfare
The great poet Basho lives in the woods and shares the cherries from his cherry tree with the local foxes. But one tricky fox becomes greedy––He uses his magic to turn three river stones into gold coins, and then tricks Basho into giving up all of the cherries. When the fox returns to gloat over his victory, he discovers that Basho is content. Wiser than the fox, Basho knows that a poem inspired by the beauty of the river stones is more valuable than gold. Oki S. Han’s watercolors evoke ancient Japan in this sequel to the New York Times bestseller Basho and the Fox.
Miso in my sippy cup, tofu in my bowl! From tekka maki to wasabi, tasty treats await young readers in this colorful, rhyming ode to Japanese cuisine. With pages full of tummy-tempting foods, the books in the World Snacks series are a delicious way to introduce even the littlest eaters to cuisines from all around the globe.
The Sound of Silence - “Do you have a favorite sound?”little Yoshio asks. The musician answers, “The most beautiful sound is the sound of ma, of silence.” But Yoshio lives in Tokyo, Japan: a giant, noisy, busy city. He hears shoes squishing through puddles, trains whooshing, cars beeping, and families laughing. Tokyo is like a symphony hall! Where is silence? Join Yoshio on his journey through the hustle and bustle of the city to find the most beautiful sound of all.
Patience, Miyuki - Miyuki wakes up early to say good morning to every flower in the garden, but there’s one sleepy flower that still hasn’t bloomed. Miyuki’s grandfather tells her that not every flower blooms at the same time, but she runs around, quickly, quickly, looking for water to wake the flower up. ‘Sometimes, Miyuki, sometimes it is not necessary to run, don’t you know? You must be patient, the journey is a bit long.’
Suki's Kimono - On her first day of first grade, despite the objections of her older sisters, Suki chooses to wear her beloved Japanese kimono to school because it holds special memories of her grandmother’s visit last summer.
Junko Tabei Masters the Mountains - From the world of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls comes the historical novel based on the life of Junko Tabei, the first female climber to summit Mount Everest. Junko is bad at athletics. Really bad. Other students laugh because they think she is small and weak. Then her teacher takes the class on a trip to a mountain. It’s bigger than any Junko’s ever seen, but she is determined to make it to the top. Ganbatte, her teacher tells her. Do your best. After that first trip, Junko becomes a mountaineer in body and spirit. She climbs snowy mountains, rocky mountains, and even faraway mountains outside of her home country of Japan. She joins clubs and befriends fellow climbers who love the mountains as much as she does. Then, Junko does something that’s never been done before… she becomes the first woman to climb the tallest mountain in the world.
Book four in this charming chapter book series, starring a spunky Japanese- American heroine. Jasmine’s best friend, Linnie, has just gotten a puppy. And now Jasmine wants a pet of her own—a flamingo! So when her grandmother sends Jasmine a daruma doll as a surprise gift, Jasmine colors in one doll eye and wishes for a flamingo to keep. Next, Jasmine tries to convince her parents that she’s responsible enough for a pet. She cleans her room, brushes her teeth, takes out the trash, and, most importantly, researches everything she can about flamingos. But soon it becomes clear that her wish may never come true! Will Jasmine’s daruma doll ever get its second eye? Luckily her big sister, Sophie, has a surprise planned that fulfills Jasmine’s wish beyond her wildest dreams. Debbi Michiko Florence is at her best in this sweet, special story of sisterhood and new responsibilities!
Sometimes, home isn’t where you expect to find it. After losing his mom in a fatal car crash, Kaede Hirano—now living with a grandfather who is more stranger than family—developed anger issues and spent his last year of middle school acting out. Best-friendless and critically in danger repeating the seventh grade, Kaede is given a summer assignment: write an essay about what home means to him, which will be even tougher now that he’s on his way to Japan to reconnect with his estranged father and older half-brother. Still, if there’s a chance Kaede can finally build a new family from an old one, he’s willing to try. But building new relationships isn’t as easy as destroying his old ones, and one last desperate act will change the way Kaede sees everyone—including himself. This is a book about what home means to us—and that there are many different correct answers.
There are important lessons to be learned, even by proud poets, in this innovative tale of a fox who thinks he’s a great poet and a great poet who thinks he can outdo a fox! It is the 1600s in Japan. Basho is writing the lovely haiku for which he is famous to this day. Given three chances by the fox, he must write a poem that “needn’t be great—only good.” Confident of his skill, he’s sure he can win the challenge and its prize, the sweet cherries from the tree near his hut. But not all is what it seems as a newly humble Basho discovers! Delicate watercolors convey a truly Eastern sensibility that takes young readers back in time to feudal Japan while their playful perspectives reinforce the mischievous tone of the text.
You may know that baseball is the Great American Pastime, but did you know that it is also a beloved sport in Japan? Come along with one little boy and his grandfathers, one in America and one in Japan, as he learns about baseball and its rich, varying cultural traditions. This debut picture book from Aaron Meshon is a home run—don’t be surprised if the vivid illustrations and energetic text leave you shouting, “LET’S PLAY YAKYU!”
Nathan Hale tackles a topic fans have been asking about for years: World War II. On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, officially bringing the United States into World War II. A new generation of pilots were recruited to fly bombing missions for the United States, and from that group, volunteers were requested for a dangerous secret assignment. For the first time in American history, Army bombers would be launched from an aircraft carrier. Once at sea, they were told their mission was a retaliation strike against targets in Tokyo. But on the day of the raid, a Japanese patrol boat spotted them and they had to launch early, with barely enough fuel to get them past their target. After the bombing, some pilots crashed, some were captured, and many ended up in mainland China and were carried to safety by Chinese villagers, being hunted by Japanese forces all the while. With tales of high-flying action and bravery, Raid of No Return is a story of heartbreak and survival during wartime.
Truman the Dog - “T” is for Truman, tricks, and TROUBLE! Truman the black lab might be an older rescue dog, but he’s still got enough mischief beneath his collar to keep eight-year-old Kaita Takano and her animal-fostering family on their toes from morning till night. Chewed through and through, the playfully illustrated, Kaita-narrated chapter book promises plenty of canine fun.
Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin - Hana has signed up to play the violin at the talent show, even though sheÍs only had three lessons. Her brothers predict disaster. But Hana practices and practices, inspired by her grandfather, or Ojiichan, who played the violin every day when she visited him in Japan. As Hana takes the stage, doubt is all she can hear, until she recalls her grandfatherÍs words of encouragement, and shows the audience how beautiful music can take many forms.
Gudetama’s Guide to Life - From Sanrio, who brought you Hello Kitty, Gudetama the Lazy Egg returns with a guidebook to living life to the almost fullest. In Japanese, when you’re lazy, you are referred to as gude gude. Gudetama (tama from “tamago,” egg in Japanese) is the lazy egg. Gudetama likes soy sauce and being left alone. Sometimes, Gudetama wonders if we are born only to suffer. Each page of this book is kind of packed with helpful lessons, inspiring quotes and mind-blowing advice that will have you laying around like an egg in no time! And all of it comes straight from the yolk of a Gudetama!
Barbed Wire Baseball - Traces the childhood dream of Japanese-American baseball pioneer Kenichi Zenimura of playing professionally and his family’s struggles in a World War II internment camp where he introduces baseball to raise hope.
The award-winning and New York Times bestselling book about a cat named Wabi Sabi who searches for the meaning of her name Wabi Sabi, a little cat in Kyoto, Japan, had never thought much about her name until friends visiting from another land asked her owner what it meant.
At last, the master Says, “That’s hard to explain.” And That is all she says.
This unsatisfying answer sets Wabi Sabi on a journey to uncover the meaning of her name, and on the way discovers what wabi sabi is: a Japanese philosophy of seeing beauty in simplicity, the ordinary, and the imperfect.
Using spare text and haiku, Mark Reibstein weaves an extraordinary story about finding real beauty in unexpected places. Caldecott Medal-winning artist Ed Young complements the lyrical text with breathtaking collages. Together, they illustrate the unique world view that is wabi sabi.
The author-artist of Tree of Cranes provides a moving, beautifully illustrated study of his family’s own cross-cultural experience, in personal reminiscences of his grandfather’s life in America and Japan that convey a love for both countries.
When the tsunami destroyed Makio’s village, Makio lost his father…and his voice. The entire village is silenced by grief, and the young child’s anger at the ocean grows. Then one day his neighbor, Mr. Hirota, begins a mysterious project—building a phone booth in his garden. At first Makio is puzzled; the phone isn’t connected to anything. It just sits there, unable to ring. But as more and more villagers are drawn to the phone booth, its purpose becomes clear to Makio: the disconnected phone is connecting people to their lost loved ones. Makio calls to the sea to return what it has taken from him and ultimately finds his voice and solace in a phone that carries words on the wind.
Inspired by the true story of the wind phone in Otsuchi, Japan, following the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011.
After Yohei tends a wounded crane, a beautiful young woman begs to become his wife and three times weaves for him an exquisite silken fabric on her loom.
In 1942, 13-year-old Mina Masako Tagawa and her Japanese American family are sent from their home in Seattle to an internment camp in Idaho. All they can do is wonder when America will remember that they, too, are Americans. This memorable and powerful novel in verse, written by award-winning author Mariko Nagai, explores the nature of fear, the beauty of life, and the hope of acceptance triumphing over bigotry.
The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks - A pair of mandarin ducks, separated by a cruel lord who wishes to possess the drake for his colorful beauty, reward a compassionate couple who risk their lives to reunite the ducks.
The Unbreakable Zamperini - In the 1930s Louis Zamperini was a promising Olympic track athlete. But when World War II broke out, he enlisted and served as a bombardier with the U.S. Army Air Corps. In 1943 Zamperini miraculously survived when his bomber crashed in the Pacific Ocean. But that was just the beginning of his ordeal. After surviving for more than six weeks on a raft at sea, he was captured by Japanese forces and sent to a POW camp. For the next two years Zamperini endured brutal treatment at the hands of the Japanese officer who chose to make an example of him. But no matter how horrible things things became, Zamp refused to be broken. Learn all about Louis Zamperini and his unbreakable spirit as a prisoner of war in World War II.
Sumokitty - A hungry cat gets a job hunting mice at a sumo training center (heya), but once the mice are gone he continues to stuff himself until he is too fat to chase the mice that have returned—so he decides to train with the sumo wrestlers, and SumoKitty becomes a scourge of mice and an inspiration to the wrestlers.
Sora and the Cloud - A noted children’s artist, Hoshino authors her first picture book, inspired by her own experiences as a mother to her son Sora: a growing boy enjoys the ultimate daydream - to soar like a cloud! Once a baby, now Sora is a boy who explores the world around him. First crawling and then walking, Sora soon learns to how to climb a tree. Up there a friendly cloud awaits! Hopping aboard, Sora embarks on a fantastic trip. Curious birds, squealing kites and whispering fireworks whirl by. This wonderful flight of fancy is created in Hoshino’s hallmark style: a unique combination of mixed media creates ethereal environments with subtle shading, and contemplative characters who invoke the innocence of youth. Also included is a bilingual Japanese translation which highlights how Hoshino shares her heritage with her children and readers.
Have you ever met a real live ninja? Jack and Annie do when the Magic Tree House whisks them back to ancient Japan, where they find themselves in the cave of a ninja master. Will they learn the secrets of the ninja? Or will the evil samurai warriors get them first?
kira-kira (kee ra kee ra): glittering; shining
Glittering. That’s how Katie Takeshima’s sister Lynn makes everything seem. The sky is kira-kira because its color is deep but see-through at the same time. The sea is kira-kira for the same reason. And so are people s eyes. When Katie and her family move from a Japanese community in Iowa to the Deep South of Georgia it’s Lynn who explains to her why people stop on the street to stare. And it’s Lynn who with her special way of viewing the world teaches Katie to look beyond tomorrow. But when Lynn becomes desperately ill and the whole family begins to fall apart it is up to Katie to find a way to remind them all that there is always something glittering — kira-kira — in the future.
Nancy is asked to locate a stolen pearl necklace that is unusual and very valuable. She soon learns that strange and dangerous people are responsible for the theft. They harass her at home and intensify it when she and her father go to Japan, until they finally manage to kidnap Nancy and her friend Ned Nickerson when she returns to River Heights.
Through clever sleuthing, Nancy is able to penetrate the rites of an amazing group of pearl worshippers, some of whose members are far from devout, and she uncovers underhanded dealings of certain employees of World Wide Gems, Inc., a tremendous international jewelry company. Readers will love accompanying Nancy, disguised as a Japanese girl, in this adventure in Tokyo.
One by one, ten tiny oni, Japanese goblin-like creatures, grow larger and larger as they beat their drums on the sand, chasing away bad dreams. Includes the Japanese characters for the numbers from one to ten.
One winter, a priest takes in a furry tanuki and the two become friends, but when the tanuki tries to repay the priest, they both learn a lesson.
Pancakes to Parathas - Breakfast varies from country to country, but it’s how all children begin their day. Explore the meals of twelve countries in this playful approach to the world! From Australia to India to the USA, come travel around the world at dawn. Children everywhere are waking up to breakfast. In Japan, students eat soured soybeans called natto. In Brazil, even kids drink coffee—with lots of milk! With rhythm and rhymes and bold, graphic art, Pancakes to Parathas invites young readers to explore the world through the most important meal of the day.
A Life Made by Hand - Ruth Asawa (1926-2013) was an influential and award-winning sculptor, a beloved figure in the Bay Area art world, and a devoted activist who advocated tirelessly for arts education. This lushly illustrated book by collage artist Andrea D’Aquino brings Asawa’s creative journey to life, detailing the influence of her childhood in a farming family, and her education at Black Mountain College where she pursued an experimental course of education with leading avant-garde artists and thinkers such as Anni and Josef Albers, Buckminster Fuller, Merce Cunningham, and Robert Rauschenberg. Delightful and substantial, this engaging title for young art lovers includes a page of teaching tools for parents and educators.
The Cat Who Went to Heaven - A Newberry Medal Winner This timeless fable has been a classic since its first publication in 1930, and this beautifully reillustrated edition brings the magic and wonder of the tale to a new generation of readers. In ancient Japan, a struggling artist is angered when his housekeeper brings home a tiny white cat he can barely afford to feed. But when the village’s head priest commissions a painting of the Buddha for a healthy sum, the artist softens toward the animal he believes has brought him luck. According to legend, the proud and haughty cat was denied the Buddha’s blessing for refusing to accept his teachings and pay him homage. So when the artist, moved by compassion for his pet, includes the cat in his painting, the priest rejects the work and decrees that it must be destroyed. It seems the artist’s life is ruined as well—until he is rewarded for his act of love by a Buddhist miracle.
The Furry-Legged Teapot - Yoshi the tanuki—a Japanese raccoon-dog—learns how to magically transform himself into anything, even a teapot. But what happens when he can’t change back? This is the tale of the teapot-tanuki’s adventures, from the day he leaves his family to the day he meets the Emperor himself. What will it take for this teapot to become a tanuki again? Only the Emperor’s grandson knows the answer. Asian-influenced illustrations using vibrant acrylic paints bring the mythical tanuki to life. An author’s note is included.
Hundreds of years ago in the mountains of Japan, there lived a hunter who trapped many foxes. People warned him that foxes were cunning creatures that possessed great magic, but he ignored them. One day, the bossy old fox leader declared they must stop the hunter and that he had the perfect plan. But a young fox with crooked whiskers knew that a simple plan is often best. To prove it, he showed both the hunter and the leader just how cunning a fox can be! Whimsical illustrations rendered in pencil, water-color, oil paint, and colored pencil by Ariel Ya-Wen Pang add to the charm of this Japanese tale based on a traditional kyogen. An author’s note is included.
Did you enjoy our children's book recommendations? Did you know you can help us improve this list? Check out our Community Handbook and learn how to add tags to books.