There is no shortage of tales that attempt to interpret and explore the changing face, culture and mind-set of this dynamic world capital. The following capture some of Tokyo’s unique character, revealing different aspects of the city, from its pop culture to its history, to the depths of its underworld.


Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami (1987)

Contemporary Japanese author Murakami has written many books about life in Japan which have been translated into English. Norwegian Wood is told from the perspective of a college student living in Tokyo in the 1960s. A film based on the novel was released in 2010.

After Dark by Haruki Murakami (2004)

Part reality, part dream, this novel by Murakami traces the lives of different characters over the course of one night in Tokyo, between midnight and dawn. From Denny’s Restaurant to a ‘Love Hotel’, the locations featured depict the more sordid side of Shinjuku’s Kabukicho district.

Out by Natsuo Kirino (1997)

This is the story of four Japanese women working at a bento box factory in Tokyo, who form a friendship based on their mutual desperation of their home lives. When one kills her abusive, cheating spouse, the four unite to hide the body and crime.

Tune in Tokyo: The Gaijin Diaries by Tim Anderson (2010)

This American author makes a spontaneous decision to move to Japan. The book is a funny collection of stories from the perspective of a “gaijin” (foreigner) finding his way in an unfamiliar culture, and an insight into Tokyo life that most Westerners will never see.

The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu (1008, published in English 2003) 

Regarded as a masterpiece, the most famous work to come out of Japan is also widely considered the world's first novel. Written in the 11th century by a court noblewoman, it’s a love story and essay on the medieval society and politics of the time.


Tokyo Story (1953)

The story of an aged couple who travel from the countryside to visit their adult children in post-war Tokyo, only to find them so absorbed in their daily lives that they have no time for them. Voted one of the best films of all time.

Godzilla (1954)

The daddy of all creature features is the world’s longest continuously running movie franchise, with remakes still being made. In the original, many Tokyo buildings are easily identifiable, although created in miniature. The monster takes on a different light when you realise it’s a metaphor for nuclear weapons.

Tokyo Olympiad (1964)

With Tokyo preparing to host the 2020 Olympic Games, this documentary explores the previous Tokyo Olympics held in 1964. The Games were highly symbolic and important for Japan, marking the country’s recovery and return to the world stage after the defeat and desolation of WWII.

Lost in Translation (2003)

Sofia Coppola’s Oscar-winning tale stars Bill Murray as an ageing actor, who meets college graduate (Scarlett Johansson) at the Park Hyatt Tokyo hotel. The film was shot almost entirely in the districts of Shinjuku and Shibuya, along with scenes on the hotel’s top-floor bar.

Train Man (2005)

This film is a charming peek into the “geek” (otaku) subculture of Japan. It’s a love story where a young man begins dating, asking for advice online along the way. You’ll view the dwellers of the high-tech Akihabara district a different way after seeing it.

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