Tokyo’s Book District, A Visit to Jinbocho

Near Chiyoda-Ku is the Jinbocho Book Town, so called because its streets are a maze of used and new bookstores, mostly in Japanese, but a little smattering of English here and there. They seem to be mostly used bookshops, smaller ones with shelves to the ceilings, but there are a number of larger, multi-floor, new bookstores, some with cafes or selling stationery or gifts. Several of the smaller bookshops, not unlike many (most?) independent specialty shops in Japan, have signs indicating no photos, so these are just a tiny sample of the ones that do allow photos.

It is well worth a breezy, dreamy afternoon of strolling and wandering in and out of bookshops, even if you don’t speak any Japanese. Just imagine it! Pick up a book here or there, stop by at a cafe to read a bit before moving onto the next one. If you do a little research ahead of time, there are a few specialty bookshops, like manga or that have a selection of English language books, for you to look out for based on your interests. The area is quite large so you could easily spend your day there and see only a small part of it.

And books outside! I don’t think there was a day that’s gone by I didn’t wish I spoke or read Japanese at least several times over, but visiting this area—what I wouldn’t give to read even the titles on some of these books.

Many of the bookstores offered presumably sets of books that are presumably second hand, collected volumes that are sort of like encyclopedia sets, sometimes in 4-5 volumes, sometimes as many as 20. I can’t even imagine the libraries some of these sets come from, or any of these books for that matter.

You can get both an English or a Japanese map of the area, listing out bookshops and other pertinent places. With the two kids, we only went into a handful of shops, although we walked past dozens admiringly.

We did some very limited research ahead of time, and made sure to visit Kitazawa, one of the seemingly few English language bookshops in Tokyo—with second hand books to boot. It’s a third-generation run bookshop that’s been around since 1902—what an incredible history.

Kitazawa is located on the second floor of the building, and you enter through a different bookshop on the ground floor, Book House Cafe, going up the internal stairs. Kitazawa offers mostly second hand and rare books, like early editions, with a small selection of used or discount children’s books.

You enter in through the first floor bookshop, Book House.

Back in Toronto, we visit the library maybe one or twice a week. We’ve been in a bit of withdrawal, so this was a great break from all the traveling to get our fill.

Kitazawa is beautiful, with shelves of old editions of books, including a wall of art history books. They had a small basket of inexpensive children’s books, and we picked out a few readers for Caleb.

The ground floor Book House is filled with illustrated children’s books as well as a few toys, games and other children’s printed materials.

We recognized a few family favourites, like Rosie’s Walk, and it was fun to follow along in Japanese.

While the selection from Book House was almost completely in Japanese, I was delighted to stumble across these two little books translated from the Japanese into English, small but filled with stories from Japan, with both colour and black and white illustrations—perfect for keeping in a bag for unexpected time to kill in the car, or to read during a snack break at the park or beach.

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What an incredible and unique part of Tokyo, this entire book district. It’s located close to several Tokyo universities, and so the area has continued to cultivate an aura of reading and learning and studying that has sprouted up so many independent bookshops. We spent an afternoon there, and I feel like if we were spending more time in Japan, I might make more than just one trip.

After a long day, we stopped at McDonalds for ice cream. Nothing like the familiarity of the Golden Arches.

It’s been long days for these kiddos. We’ve had our share of hostile negotiations and meltdowns and waking up cranky from uncomfortable stroller naps, and I continue my demoralizing internal debates about robbing these kids of proper educational vacations touring Europe or proper relaxing vacations at the beach instead of slogging through Asian countries in summer heat looking at stationery shops and bookshops and other shops.

But we’re in Japan, and what a gift. It’s been a learning curve and a balance for us, as we try and savour the moment along with catching the train to make it to the next meeting, leaving enough room for spontaneity and rest along with adventure.

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