Japanese History and Research for a Historical Novel

Thoughts and Research on Historical Japan

For the latest posts, see the sidebar labeled “Recent Posts” to the right.

A Torii

And so it begins…

David – I have been talking about writing a book for years, I think it is about time I write one.

Carol – That’s nice, dear.

After all, what harm could come of it?  Writing is not expensive, he already had all the computers he could possibly need for writing. It doesn’t take up space in the garage like his last couple of unfinished projects. And it was much more interesting to me to hear about than building a kit car or watching him play endless video games.  It was a great idea.

He wanted to write a historical novel about Heian Japan.  That was a good choice for him, he spent two years in Japan, spoke fluent Japanese and had been reading Japanese history on and off for 30 years. His writing skills were very good.  There couldn’t be too many books like that out there. What else did he need?

He needed a good story.

That’s how I got sucked in.  First, we started discussing the story line and characters.  I had a lot of ideas for characters. Then we were bouncing plot ideas back and forth, each adding a bit until we had something we thought was really good. The next thing I knew, I was researching and reading everything I could find on Heian Japan. It had become our project.

If we were going to write a book, we would not write some sloppy, half thought out piece of self-indulgent trash.  It might not become a classic, but it would be the best novel of which we were capable. So, now we spend hours researching topics like what did Heian architecture look like? We have passionate debates on how many robes a Heian woman wore in 1156 and if she could run in all that clothing (and when I say passionate, I mean passionate. On at least three occasions, disagreements like this have resulted in him deciding to scrap the project, at least until he calmed down). We study books on fiction writing techniques and then stare at our meandering plot and purple prose and pull out the naginata and tachi and begin hacking away. Our families think we have lost it.

This is our journey from enthusiastic amateurs to polished (we think) and published (we hope) writers.  We want to document the process for anyone else considering the same journey (DON’T DO IT!) and share our discoveries.

Welcome to our blog.  We hope you find it interesting.

Carol Harr

Addendum (July 2017): This blog has been completely abandoned for close to two years as Carol and I struggled to get Dig Two Graves published and worked on a new novel, Tiger in the Shadows. We still don’t have either book published, but we are going to try and post regular updates to the website. Most of the information will probably be about various aspects of Japanese history and culture that catches our interest, but we may also blog about some aspect of writing. In any case, we are going to try and keep this a site you will want to check on every so often for hopefully interesting material.


Talk to us!

We would love to hear what you think about the site and the book idea.


  1. William Padgett

    I, too, am writing a historic fiction novel. My present novel takes place in Southwest England right after the time of the withdrawal of the Roman troops and the time of King Arthur.
    I was in the Navy for twenty four years and have visited Japan a number of times, but never really stayed there. I always enjoyed our visits to Japanese ports!
    It is great meeting you and I wish you all the success in the world with your present novel project! 🙂

    • Carol

      Lets hear it for historical fiction! It lets you learn some history and read a good book at the same time.

      • William Padgett

        The great thing about historical fiction is that you have a believable and strong framework to write within and yet, because those who log events do it from “the logger’s eye”, there is room to give another possible view of the events leading to the actual real documents written or the actions taken. Also, history leaves big gaps and mysterious legends or myths which can be pounced upon by a fiction writer to fill those gaps or explain those legends in the author’s fiction.

      • David

        Assumes facts not in evidence. Who says that our book is any good?


  2. Kathy

    I’m impressed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

© 2020 Story of Japan

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑