Tokyo's cultural transformation over the past century is reflected in a wealth of both Japanese and foreign literature . Malcolm Burgess, publisher of the City-Lit series, selects his favourite reads about the city
Tokyo, 1912: the first in Mishima's tetralogy is set in what was once a beautiful city suburb, where old meets new Japan.
"There were several pavilions used for the tea ceremony and also a large billiard room. Behind the main home, wild yams grew thick in the grounds … a path climbed a small hill to the plateau at its top where a shrine stood at one corner of a wide expanse of grass. This was where his grandfather and two uncles were ensrhined … the wisteria was always in full glory when the family gathered here for the services." • Shibuya
In search for his father, Eiji Miyake arrives in the surreal and frenetic world of modern Tokyo.
"I have an across-the-street view of the PanOpticon's main entrance. Quite a sight, this zirconium gothic skyscraper. Its upper floors are hidden by clouds. Under its tight-fitting lid, Tokyo steams – 34C with 86% humidity. A big Panasonic display says so. Tokyo is so close up you cannot always see it. No distances. Everything is over your head – dentists, kindergartens, dance studios. Even the roads and walkways are up on murky stilts. Venice with the water drained away. Reflected airplanes climb over mirrored buildings … Pin-striped drones, a lip-pierced hairdresser, midday drunks, child-laden housewives. Not a single person is standing still." • Omekaido Avenue
All the darkness, claustrophobia and confusion of today's city in a searing and stylish thriller.
"It was still early in the evening when we emerged onto a street in Tsukiji, near the fish market. From the top of the pedestrian overpass we caught a glimpse of Hongan-ji Temple … The road leading to Kachidoki Bridge was wide but dimly lit, with few shops or restaurants and only the occasional passing car. I'd never been here before. This was a very different Tokyo from places like Shibuya or Shinjuku. Wooden bait-and-tackle shops with disintegrating roofs and broken signs stood next to shiny new convenience stores, and futuristic highrise apartment complexes rose skyward on either side of narrow, retro streets lined with wholesalers of dried fish." • Kachidoki Bridge
In one night in seedy downtown Tokyo, dreams and reality collide in typical Murakami style.
"They call this place an 'amusement district'. The giant digital screens fastened to the sides of buildings fall silent as midnight approaches, but loud-speakers on storefronts keep pumping out exaggerated hip-hop baselines. A large game centre crammed with young people; wild electronic sounds; a group of college students spilling out from a bar; teenage girls with brilliant bleached hair, healthy legs thrusting out from micro mini-skirts; dark-suited men racing across diagonal crossings for the last trains to the suburbs." • Shinjuku
A funny and moving journey into the urban maelstrom of Tokyo by a major new voice in British fiction.
"The wastes of the airport were behind us and the taxi was pulling through roads flanked by buzzing neon shapes. Glittering skyscrapers were randomly marshalled across the skyline, sheets of sunlight shattering across their glass walls. These crystal buildings looked so delicate set against the fuming road, freighted as it was with the rattling metal of cars and buses and lorries, that it was difficult to believe that they belonged in the same world. "No book or film had prepared me for the million-coloured veinwork of Shibuya. Its lights blazed incredibly brightly, dimming only when the taxi was sucked down into a tunnel. When we resurfaced seconds later, I felt like a disgorged newborn unable to take in the world outside the womb. Fluorescence poured down from street signs bearing strange lettering, filling the porches of shops and seeping under the arches of alleyways." • Shibuya
A tour de force from a Nobel-Prize winner, set in what was Tokyo's traditional entertainment district before the war.
"Let's now suppose it's past three in the morning and even the bums are sound asleep, and I am here walking through the grounds of the Senso Temple with Yumiko. Dead ginko leaves flutter down, and we listen to the crowing of the cocks … Just at the neck of the gourd-shaped pond there is this little island, wisteria-trellised bridges extending from either bank. There, next to the fatsa bush under the weeping willow in front of the Tachibana fish stew shop, a large man is standing eating the wheat crackers that have been thrown to the carp in the pond." • Asakusa
From culture and travel to people and style, this Tokyo-based author has been writing about Japan for half a century.
"What I find as I walk and walk and walk is a whole city with its very own bus station, its stories, its monuments and buildings. Though right in the middle of Tokyo, it is suburban and there are trees everywhere, even a park within this park, a glen with alke. Sanshiro's Lake, I read. This must refer to Ozu's Natsome Soseki hero who came up from the country to go to what was then Tokyo Imperial University … The style is late Thirties – art deco. And as I look at this pre-war city I remember Tokyo in 1947 when everything – everything that was left – looked like Todai does today." • Todai (University of Tokyo)
No one has written so insightfully or beautifully about Tokyo's geishas as this master writer.
"Her hair was done in a low shimada style with an openwork silver-covered comb and a jade hairpin. She had changed into a kimono of light crepe and with a fine stripe. The effect was quite refined, but perhaps fearing it would seem too old for her, she had added a colour with elaborate embroidery. Her obi was made of crepe in the old-fashioned kaga style, lined with black satin, and it was held together with a sash of light blue crepe dyed in a bold pattern." • Shimbashi
An Englishwoman wanders the streets of Tokyo searching for her lost lover in one of Angela Carter's brilliant short stories set in Japan.
"I walked under the artificial cherry blossoms with which they decorate the lamp standards from April to September. They do that so the pleasure quarters will have the look of a continuous carnival, no matter what ripples of agitation disturb the never-ceasing, endlessly circulating, quiet, gentle, melancholy crowds who throng the wet web of alleys under a false ceiling of umbrellas … The city, the largest city in the world, the city designed to suit not one of my European expectations, this city presents the foreigner with a mode of life that seems to him to have the enigmatic transparency, the indecipherable clarity of a dream." • Yoshiwara
Edmund de Waal first encountered his family's netsuke carvings in his uncle's Tokyo apartment. In his book he describes several visits to the city.
"And one afternoon a week I spent with great-uncle Iggie. I'd walk up the hill from the subway station, past the glowing beer-dispensing machines, past Senkaku-ji temple where the forty-seven samurai are buried, past the strange baroque meeting hall for a Shinto sect, past the sushi bar run by the bluff Mr X, turning right at the high wall of Prince Takamatsu's garden with the pines … His desk held an empty blotter, a sheaf of his headed paper, and pens ready, though he no longer wrote. The view from the window behind him was of cranes. Tokyo Bay was disappearing behind forty-storey condominiums." • Shinagawa
For more information go to the Japan National Tourism Organisation's website: jnto.go.jp/eng
• Malcolm Burgess is the publisher of Oxygen Books' City-Lit series featuring some of the best writing on the world's favourite cities