Ozeki, Ruth. A Tale for the Time Being. New York: Penguin Books, 2013. This novel follows Japanese-American author Ruth as she attempts to piece together the story of Nao, whose diary washed up on the shore of Ruth's beach hometown on the west coast of Canada. Nao is a troubled teenage girl from Tokyo, who has resolved to document her hundred-year-old grandmother's life as an activist, feminist, and Zen nun. A compelling story in and of itself, the novel also introduces Zen Buddhist philosophy and its connections to scientific theories of time and being.
Tanizaki, Jun'ichiro. Naomi. New York: Vintage Books, 2001. In this classic novel, originally serialized in 1924-25, Tanizaki tells the story of Joji's infatuation with the young waitress Naomi. Naomi is considered to be a literary example of the moga, or "modern girl" -- flapper-like young women of the Taisho period (1912-1926) who embraced new social freedoms, and the novel examines the early 20th century tension between rapid Westernization and traditional Japanese culture.
Dalby, Liza. Geisha. 25th anniversary ed. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2008. In this classic, Dalby--the first non-Japanese to ever train as a geisha (in the 1970s)--provides an insider's exploration of the world of the geisha. She examines the history of these elite entertainers as well as the transformations and adaptations of geisha culture to modern life.
Bestor, Theodore. Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2004. An ethnology of Tsukiji, the world's largest fish market in Tokyo. The book examines Tsukiji in terms of its role both in Japanese culture and the global fish industry, focusing on topics from fish auctions to globalization and the endangerment of blue fin tuna to the complex social and economic interactions within the marketplace itself.