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Five books on Kyoto

Great titles to read or bring with you to the ancient capital of Japan: books on Kyoto

I know, there are the classics, such as The tale of Genji (Genji Monogatari) or The old capital, by Yasunari Kawabata or The Temple of the Golden Pavilion by Yukio Mishima. And there is also the bestseller Memoirs of a Geisha. Everybody knows the titles of these books set in Kyoto, so I will try to recommend slightly less known books on Kyoto that will be of great value if you are visiting the beautiful old capital of Japan.

  • And yes, there is a lot of Kyoto also inside my book Horizon Japan

#1 Old Kyoto – by Diane Durston and Donald Richie

books on kyoto: old kyoto

This book on Kyoto is a true gem. First published in 1986 and then revised for the last time in 2013 is a key to understanding the old capital and uncovering many of its secrets. It is both an extremely interesting essay on the traditional, classic architecture and a guide to the oldest and most beautiful shops of the city: food, ancient crafts, art. Some places are hard to find, some don’t exist anymore. But looking for these places is part of the fun. And it will also take you to beautiful parts of the city, or let you discover gems in the less agreeable ones.
Also from Durston: Kyoto, seven paths to the heart of the city.

Old Kyoto – by Diane Durston (248 pages)

#2 Deep Kyoto Walks – edited by Michael Lambe and Ted Taylor


Kyoto is a big city. But it’s also a city where it’s beautiful to walk, both in the bustling city centre and in the hills that embrace it from every side.

This book edited by Ted Taylor and Michael Lambe, author of the Deep Kyoto blog, contains 18 “meditative strolls” in this amazing city that I dearly love. The book has been written with the contribution of many well-known writers such as Chris Rowthorn and the great Pico Iyer.

Deep Kyoto – only Kindle on Amazon Us or Amazon Uk

#3 Meeting with Japan – by Fosco Maraini


This is an old book from the fifties by the italian author Fosco Maraini. It’s old and obviously you will read about a lost Japan, very different from the country you see today. But, surprisingly, the parts about Japanese culture and history are still great reads today, and one of the best keys available to the heart of the country.

Also, I believe you can’t not like Maraini, his views, his thoughts, his empathy. There isn’t only Kyoto inside this book, but there is a lot of it. A highly recommended read.

Meeting with Japan (467 pages) – by Fosco Maraini on or Amazon Uk

#4 The lady and the monk, four seasons in Kyoto – by Pico Iyer

In the chill first light, when some places look exhausted, Kyoto seemed always a miracle of early-morning hopes.

The lady and the monk, by Pico Iyer

I have already written about this book in the post dedicated to the travel books set in Japan. I have read that some reviewers found this a deluded book about a city and a country that don’t exist, but I couldn’t agree less.
This is a delicate travel memoir set in Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, that tells the discovery of a country as a love story, dotted by haiku poems. This wonderful book by Pico Iyer, who, by the way, later decided to live in Japan, was my only companion during my first trip to Japan.

It is beautifully written and the dreamlike atmosphere of its pages it’s probably one of the reasons I love Kyoto so much.

The lady and the monk – Pico Iyer (352 pages)

#5 Kyoto Machiya Restaurant Guide – by Judith Clancy

books on Kyoto: Machiya Restaurant Guide

Entering and eating in a machiya, one of the old merchant houses of Kyoto is an unforgettable experience. But often people who visit Kyoto for the first time don’t have the opportunity of doing so. Many of these places are in secluded alleys and often outside they have just a sign in Japanese that leaves foreigners wondering if it’s a restaurant at all. And when it is, chances are that it is an expensive kaiseki place.

“The problem is: it’s takes a lot of guts to just slide the door open and enter one of these places without a Japanese friend to accompany you” (From the website Inside Kyoto, by Chris Rowthorn)

This beautiful book by Judith Clancy has a selection of affordable restaurants hosted by old houses that are not listed on any guide. It will be an interesting read even if you have not (yet) visited Kyoto. And it’s also a great introduction to the city’s history.
Clancy is also author of the books Kyoto Gardens and Exploring Kyoto (walking itineraries). Judith Clancy’s website.

Kyoto Machiya Restaurant Guide – by Judith Clancy (288 pages)

Kyoto, Kinkakuji - Golden pavillion

Kyoto, Kinkakuji – Golden pavillion (photo by Patrick Colgan, 2013)

All the texts are by Patrick Stephen Colgan. All pictures by me. Licensed under the Creative Commons licence by-nc-sa. For commercial uses please contact me. I also have a blog in Italian – Orizzonti.

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Many thanks for recommending our book, Patrick! I’m very glad you enjoyed it!

    January 27, 2016
  2. patrickcolgan #

    Thank you Michael! For me it’s an honor having my post shared on the Deep Kyoto Walks page and seeing your comment here!
    I loved reading the book, and I will try more walks next month when I will be back in Kyoto!

    January 27, 2016
  3. Jeffrey #

    Goodness. Nice to see Maraini’s near forgotten classic included. One of the best books written about Japan before it “changed” again.

    January 27, 2016

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