Children’s literature has many notable options when it comes to Japanese. To help you find the right books for you and your young reader, we’ve compiled a list of the best kids books about Japanese.
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.
We hope this list of kids books about Japanese 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 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
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.
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.’
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.
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.
Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen - The first book in a new chapter book series featuring a spunky Japanese-American heroine! Eight-year-old Jasmine Toguchi is a flamingo fan, tree climber, and top-notch mess-maker! She’s also tired of her big sister, Sophie, always getting to do things first. For once, Jasmine wishes SHE could do something before Sophie—something special, something different. The New Year approaches, and as the Toguchi family gathers in Los Angeles to celebrate, Jasmine is jealous that her sister gets to help roll mochi balls by hand with the women. Her mom says that Jasmine is still too young to join in, so she hatches a plan to help the men pound the mochi rice instead. Surely her sister has never done THAT before. But pounding mochi is traditionally reserved for boys. And the mochi hammer is heavier than it looks. Can Jasmine build her case and her mochi-making muscles in time for New Year’s Day?
The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota's Garden - 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.
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.
First Words - Japanese - Perfect for introducing very young children to the Japanese language, this colourful board book features 12 words to learn – from ‘sun’ and ‘shoes’ to ‘beach’ and ‘bed’. Each word is accompanied by an illustration and pronunciation guide that make the vocabulary easy to learn. From Lonely Planet Kids, First Words Japanese is a great learning resource for families planning a trip or practicing a new language at home. Our dedicated First Words website features a free audio pronunciation guide where you can hear each word spoken out loud.
Katie’s friends have come for a sleepover, and telling a scary story seems like a good idea—until she has a dream about a monster under her bed, and she wakes up to find her lucky kimono missing.
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.
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.
One day, a poor flower seller drops his leftover flowers into the sea as a gift for the Dragon King. What does he get in return? A little snot-nosed boy—with the power to grant wishes! Soon the flower seller is rich, but what will happen if he forgets the meaning of “thank you”? This classic folktale is reimagined with adorable watercolor images, playful text, and an endearing—if snotty—main character.
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