Orkin, Ivan with Chris Ying. Ivan Ramen: Love, Obsession, and Recipes from Tokyo’s Most Unlikely Noodle Joint. Berkely, CA: Ten Speed Press, 2013. Recipes and musings from Ivan Orkin of Ivan Ramen, the popular ramen restaurant in Tokyo run by a gaijin (foreigner) and with a new branch in New York City. Orkin describes his journey from Staten Island to the heart of the ramen scene in Tokyo, providing the only English-language glimpse into the world of ramen in Japan.
Renn, Diana. Tokyo Heist. New York: Viking, 2012. In this YA novel, Seattle teen Violet gets drawn into an international art crime mystery. She uses her love for manga to piece together the puzzle of stolen Van Gogh drawings and a missing painting. She teams up with her half-Japanese, half-American friend and reconnects with her father as they avoid yakuza (gangsters) in Tokyo and explore traditional and contemporary elements of Japanese culture. Recommended for grades 9 and up.
Inzana, Ryan. Ichiro. Boston and New York: Houghton, 2012. In this manga, Japanese-American teenager Ichiro is dragged into the realm of the gods by a mischievous tanuki while visiting his grandfather in Japan, and encounters Hachiman, the god of war. Ichiro learns of the futility and destruction that comes from “using only a finger to accuse” instead of “using our whole hand to build.” The beautifully expressive illustrations draw from Japanese folklore. Recommended for grades 8 and up.
Meehan, Kierin. Hannah’s Winter. LaJolla, CA: Kane/Miller Book Publishers, 2001. During Hannah's stay with family friends the Maekawas in Japan, she, the Maekawa daughter, and the next-door neighbor Hiro embark on an adventure to rescue the spirit of a young boy. Through riddles and supernatural encounters, Hannah becomes friends with the others and learns Japanese customs and characters, finding a connection between her family history and the ghost. A good introduction to Japan without over-simplification or cliché, recommended for grades 5-8.
Say, Allen. The Ink-Keeper’s Apprentice. New York: Harper, 1979. An autobiographical novel by the established children’s author and illustrator, telling the story of young Kiyoi’s apprenticeship to a famous Japanese cartoonist, Noro Shinpei. Simultaneously a coming-of-age story, propelled by Kiyoi’s separation from his parents and assimilation into apprenticeship, and a more focused exploration of artistic growth, the book highlights the importance of the mentor-pupil relationship. Recommended for grades 6-8.
Bornoff, Nicholas. Things Japanese: Everyday Objects of Exceptional Beauty and Significance. Photography by Michael Freeman. Singapore: Periplus Editions (HK) Ltd., 2002. A selection of 60 traditional, diverse Japanese objects with photos and information relation to each object’s history, cultural significance, and related customs. Objects range from works of art such as ukiyo-e to household items like furoshiki to ceremonial artifacts such as ema.
Say, Allen. Stranger in the Mirror. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1995. Picture book in which 8-year-old Martin wakes up one morning shortly after his grandfather’s departure (possibly to a nursing home) to discover that he has, overnight, become an old man. The story addresses issues of appearance, insecurity, and finally acceptance. Recommended for K-3rd grade.
Say, Allen. Erika-san. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2009. Picture book relating the story of Erika, an American girl who is enchanted by her grandparents’ woodblock print of a Japanese country home, and her quest to discover that life in Japan as a young woman. Recommended for K-3rd grade.
Say, Allen. Kamishibai Man. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, Walter Lorraine Books, 2005. Celebrated picture book in which an elderly “kamishibai man” who ventures out of retirement one day to reflect on his former occupation as a traveling storyteller, and how television gradually came to replace kamishibai (paper theater) as a more popular form of entertainment. Recommended for K-3rd grade.
Nankichi, Niimi. Buying Mittens. Illus. Kuroi Ken. Trans. Judith Carol Huffman. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1999. Picture book telling the story of a fox cub who ventures into the human village in search of mittens one cold winter night. The story explores mother-child relationships as well as transformation and discovery. Recommended for PreK-2.