When I first found a few Japanese stitch dictionaries in a bookstore in NYC years ago, I spent hours sitting on the floor thumbing through them and trying to figure out how many I could carry in my backpack on the flight home. A whole new world of stitch pattern design had opened up to me. Many of the patterns themselves are fascinatingly original, but what I really love is how they take a classic theme and explore possible variations— I always end up coming up with more ideas on how to adapt and combine patterns.
The way that almost everything is communicating visually in these books is also inspiring, you definitely don’t need to be able to read Japanese to knit from them. All patterns are charted using a standardised library of symbols, many of which will already be familiar to you. Less common symbols are usually explained in the back of the book with clear illustrations of how to work the stitch. Knowing a few characters, such as those for‘row’ and stitch’ will be helpful and this Knitty http://www.knitty.com/ISSUEss14/FEATss14EK.php article includes those along with extensive inspiration on knitting projects from Japanese patterns.