East Asia

Spread across the continent of Asia from China in the West to Japan in the East and Mongolia in the North and also including the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau.

5 stars

Hokkaido Highway Blues by Will Ferguson
Published: 
1998
Countries: Japan
Blurb: Hokkaido Highway Blues (also known as Hitching Rides with Buddha) is an outstanding hitchhiking travelogue by Will Ferguson detailing his journey the length of Japan, in the early 1990's. Insightful observations delivering cultural and historical information in genuinely funny fashion, this is everything you could ever hope a travelogue to be, with the only caveat that a fair amount of the material is at the adult end of the spectrum.

4 and a half stars

Lost on Planet China by J. Maarten Troost
Published: 
2008
Countries: China
Blurb: A hiliarious travelogue based on Troost's travels around China trying to come to grips with and understand this vast and complex country. Honest and at times unflattering, this is not your run of the mill fluff piece extolling the virtues and beauty of a country but instead shows what China is like from the eyes of a first time visitor.

Wild Swans by Jung Chang
Published: 
1991
Countries: China
Blurb: Most people would’ve already heard or read this utterly compelling story of twentieth century China which focuses on the lives of three generations of women within the same family and which provides a true and vivid account of China’s coming of age from the late Qing Dynasty and encompasses the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution culminating in the (relative) opening up of the 1980’s. Brutal and honest, this book is a magnificent read and will stay with you for years to come.

4 stars

Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven by Sarah Jane Gilman
Published: 2009
Countries: China
Blurb: Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven is a cautionary tale of how not all backpacking trips end up as something you want to tell all your friends about when you get back home. Taking place in the mid 1980's on the cusp of mainland China opening up to independent travel, Gilman writes of the naivety of youth as she and one of her friends from University head out on a one-year trip round the world. However, things quickly begin to unravel as they experience a culture shock well beyond anything of their imaginings.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (Novel)
Published:
1997
Countries: Japan
Blurb: A fictional story of a young girl brought up to be a geisha in Kyoto, Japan around the time of the 2nd World War. Whilst there is a ton of poetic license to swallow, and this portrayal is very much from a Westerner’s viewpoint, there is no doubt that the story is massively entertaining and one that will draw you into the extremely fascinating time, place and world within the Gion geisha district of Kyoto. Also adapted to a film, the background story to the actual novel, is equally as interesting as the author was sued by a retired geisha who had been interviewed to provide information for the novel. 

3 and a half stars

The Sun in My Eyes by Josie Dew
Published:
2001
Countries: Japan and China
Blurb: The Sun in My Eyes is a funny cycling travelogue detailing Josie Dew's second trip around Japan, in 2000. Light-hearted, yet full of interesting facts, this is an enjoyable book that is much more than your typical cycling jaunt around a country. This is definitely a book that'll make you want to saddle up and ride alongside Dew - so long as your bike is of the electric variety. 

2 stars

My Holiday in North Korea by Wendy E. Simmons
Published:
2016
Countries: North Korea
Blurb: My Holiday in North Korea: The Funniest/Worst Place on Earth reads like a failed gonzo experiment of the author's 10 day "solo" tour of North Korea undertaken in 2014. A relatively short read told with boorish humour and interspersed with a large number of photographs, Simmons' narcissistic book is at times interesting but provides little by way of new material on the hermit kingdom of North Korea.

DNF

Gangsters, Geishas, Monks & Me by Gordon Hutchison
Published:
2012
Countries: Japan
Blurb: A memoir from the 1970's of three years spent by an American in a small town in rural Japan training in Zen meditation. Whilst the book itself is written well and it gets reasonable reviews, I personally found it slow going and certainly not what I expected given the title which resulted in me stalling out at 27% read. For a more in-depth review check out: https://japantoday.com/category/features/gangsters-geishas-monks-me-a-conversation-with-author-gordon-hutchison