Here were reader recommendations: remember the ground rules, namely that the book must aspire to some degree of comprehensiveness:
Japan and the Shackles of the Past by R. Taggart Murphy.Japan and the Shackles of the Past is very good. David Pilling’s Bending Adversity: Japan and the Art of SurvivalAlso, Japan through the looking glass, by Alan Macfarlane.While Richie is *the* famous foreign voice on Japan, Alan Booth’s “The Roads to Sata” is, to use Tyler’s favorite word, underrated and worth a read.
Confucius Lives Next Door: What Living in the East Teaches Us About Living in the West Paperback – March 28, 2000 by T.R. Reid
Good book about Japan by the WaPo correspondent. Funny.
Alex Kerr is another great writer on Japan, but this one is a bit dated although definitely still worth a read. His Lost Japan is my favorite.
The best book I’ve read about Japan, or at least modern Japan, is “Dogs and Demons” by Alex Kerr. It’s a fairly pessimistic book about how various postwar obsessions — material comfort, social harmony, and clear class identities — have created a surprisingly unambitious, overly conservative, deeply sclerotic country that has seen its brief glimpse as one of the world’s major powers unambiguously pass.
Modern: Bending Adversity by David Pilling is an excellent view on modern (deflation era) Japan.
Recent: Covering the Showa Period (1923-1989), the graphic novel “Showa” by Shigeru Mizuki is excellent. (I’m not usually a graphic novel reader, but this was amazing)-4 volumes.
Through 1867: A history of Japan by George Sansom (published 1958) is a three volume set covering -1334, 1334-1615 and 1615-1867.
There are a number of other enjoyable books as well (e.g., Road to Sata) but I would not say that they are representative or “must-reads”, regardless of how pleasant reading it may be.
I am not endorsing (or rejecting) those selections, merely aggregating them. That said, you should read them.