Docents' Picks: Top 11 Books to Read this November

Dokisho no Aki

A visitor in Kyoto enjoys two of fall's greatest pleasures at once: turning maple color, and reading. Photo courtesy of

Dokusho no Aki—読書の 秋, or “Autumn, The Season for Reading” is a common saying in Japan, and it is a popular time of the year for all kinds of themed reading lists to be published.

As the days get shorter here in Seattle, books become a welcome companion again.  For your fall enrichment, Corinne Kennedy, one of Seattle Japanese Garden's most literary docents, recently shared with us her Top 11 Japan-related books to peruse this 11th month of the year.

BIOGRAPHIES & MEMOIRS: The Life of Isamu Noguchi: Journey without Borders by Masayo Duus (2004). Translated by Peter Duus.

Listening to Stone: The Art and Life of Isamu Noguchiby Hayden Herrera (2015).

Two full-length biographies of the Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi. One of the most influential artists of the 20th century, Noguchi’s work and concept of space was always evolving – and included portrait busts, furniture & lighting designs, large public sculptures, and monumental public gardens. His Black Sun is prominently displayed at the Seattle Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park.

Unbeaten Tracks in Japanby Isabella Bird (1881, reprinted in 2012) is the 1978 travel diary of an English woman who traveled alone from Hokkaido to Tokyo.

Yokohama Yankee by Leslie Helm (2013). This memoir by a local author/journalist traces Helm's five-generation family history in Japan. Reviewers have called it a "lively and engaging" work, written by "one of the finest correspondents to have reported on Japan."


Daughters of the Samurai: A Journey from East to West and Back by Janice P. Nimura (2015) is a true account of the first group of females sent by the Japanese government (in 1871) to live and study in the U.S.  Read the Seattle Times review of this book here.

Memories of Silk and Straw by Junichi Saga (1941) is an engaging social history of a small town near Tokyo transitioning from feudal to modern times. Translated by Garry O. Evans.

Wabi Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophersby Leonard Koren (1994). Written by a writer and “design philosopher,” this slim volume was the first book to introduce the Japanese aesthetic of wabi sabi to Westerners. According to a 2005 New York Times review, wabi sabi “celebrates earthiness, chance, unpretentiousness and intimacy of scale. It isn’t about perfection, slickness, mass production or fabulousness.”

FICTION: The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide (2014) is a contemporary Japanese novel about a couple renting a house in Tokyo, and a cat that comes and goes. Translated by Eric Selland.

Just So Happens by Fumio Obata (2014) is a graphic novel about a Japanese woman, living in London, whose father’s unexpected death calls her back to Japan. She finds herself immersed in the Japanese rituals of life and death -- and pulled by the demands of disparate cultures.

The Samurai, by award winner Shusaku Endo (1980), is the fictionalized story of an early 17th century trade mission from Japan to the West, a journey made by four envoys (low-ranking samurai) and a Franciscan missionary. Translated by Van C. Gessel.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (2013) brings together the stories of a schoolgirl in Tokyo and a novelist in British Columbia. This novel explores past and present, history and myth, and tells the “story of our shared humanity and the search for home” (book jacket text).

Come enjoy a head-clearing stroll through the November garden, then curl up with one of these books by the fire.  The very best of fall, right there.

Rumi Tsuchihashi is the staff editor of the Seattle Japanese Garden blog.  Thank you, Corinne Kennedy, for contributing the main content of this post.