14 Quintessential Bookshops in Tokyo’s Booktown, Jimbocho

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Traditional Antique Japanese books and rare collections at Issedo, one of the oldest shops.

Some days, you set off with that vague feeling of what you want. Maybe it’s a bit of fresh air, to feel the pulse of the city, to let your thoughts drift. Perhaps you need a book for your trip, or you’re just looking to discover something new. You want to read, but you’re not sure what. That’s when you head to a bookstore, hunting for your inspiration on the shelves. Perhaps you’re thinking a novel, a medical book, antique collectibles, manga, or pulp fiction? Perhaps you want it in English, Japanese or German?

Tokyo’s ‘Book Town’, Jimbocho, is where you’ll find them. Within a 15 minute walking radius, you can browse close to 200 bookstores (1/3 of Tokyo’s all second hand bookstores). Whether you’re a local or traveller, this cultural pocket from the Meiji Era has everything from the 100 Yen manga books to thousand dollar collectible antiques.

The list below is 10 of Jimbocho’s oldest, finest, and expat-friendliest shops. Whether you have an hour or a whole day, check out a few in the list below, then follow the red pins to local restaurants on the map. If you want to work or read, head to @Wonder Cafe or Paper Press Cafe in Toyodo Books.

*Note: Pins in green are book stores and pins in red are restaurants!

It begins informally at the intersection of Yasukuni-dori and Hakusan-dori. The area is nestled between the Imperial Palace, eatery areas in Iidabashi, the government offices at Kudanshita, and by the universities that precipitated the creation of Jimbocho. This is Tokyo’s university ghetto, with Hitotsubashi, Meiji, and Nihon, Chuo, and Senshu University all close by.

This second hand book street sprung up in 1870s in the Meiji Era to cater to the university students coming to study. Initially the resellers specialised in law books and collectible books, and as the university course offerings grew, the numbers of specialty bookstores grew as well. Even now, the shops vary in size and style, specialising in literature, philosophy, political science, foreign books, drama and arts, sciences. Many of the shops, such as Iwanami Shoten (Shoten means bookstore) have print houses and relationships with the academic faculties in the neighbouring universities.

1. Sanseido 三省堂

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The multi-storey flagship store for a now national bookseller chain.

This is one of the most successful bookstores out of Jimbocho and is now a nationwide chain store. This is the flagship store, still in the heart of its community beginnings. Its multistorey building begins with a lifestyle section on the first floor, with English books on the 5th floor.Good For:

  • Generally everything (big bookstore)
  • English books
  • Lifestyle and local craft items

2. Oshima Shoten 大島書店

Right beside Sanseido is a relatively younger establishment, founded in 1945 just after World War II. It has English novels and academic books, German books and paper backs.

Good For:

  • English books
  • German books
  • Academic books

3. Oya Shoten 大屋書房

This is one of the founding fathers (unfortunately, women didn’t open bookstores then) of Jimbocho, and still carries books all the way back to the Edo era. Definitely go and check out the old maps of Japan and antique books.

Good For:

  • Antique Japanese Books
  • Antique Japanese Maps

4. Toyodo 東陽堂書店

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One of the several reading areas in Toyodo.

Toyodo began in 1924 as a second hand textbook store like many of the other businesses around. However, over the years, it has established a strong reputation for its Buddhist collections. The current store, however, has a chic modern look that caters to every interest. Beginning with its magazines on the first floor, you can work your way up to the history, religious, and foreign books. Best of all, its Paper Press Cafe serves 180 Yen coffee with unlimited refills and free WiFi. Sit down with a view of the street to work or people watch for a bit!Check the gallery at the bottom for a facade of the store.

Good For:

  • Generally everything (big bookstore)
  • English books
  • Coffee (180 Yen, unlimited refills)
  • Work: has wifi
  • People watching
  • Reading

5. Komiyama Shoten 小宮山書店

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The 6/F Gallery in Komiyama Shoten is free, and allows photography.

Komiyama, established in 1939, during Japan’s imperialist expansion era, the store has since thrived to become not only one of the leading photography, art, philosophy and literature bookstores, but also a rotating gallery on its 4th to 6th floors.Check the gallery at the bottom for a facade of the store.

Good For:

  • Photography, cinema, fashion
  • Philosophy
  • Japanese Literature
  • Art & photo exhibitions (free)

6. Tamura Shoten 田村書店

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Tamura Shoten

Hailing from 1904, Tamura Shoten specialises in French and German literature from the 16-20th Century. They have English books on the second floor.Good For:

  • German Books
  • French Books
  • English books

7. Isseido Shoten 一誠堂書店

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Scroll-style books in Isseido’s collections.

Isseido Shoten has not only survived a century, it’s one of Jimbocho’s surviving landmarks after World War II, where American fire raids burned most of Tokyo to the ground. The austere standalone building was completed in 1931, desgined by RC5. The first floor has gorgeous collectible prints from the Meiji and Edo periods in the glass cases, and the upstairs section has English rare and academic books worth checking out.

Check the gallery at the bottom for a facade of the store.

Good For:

  • Collectible Japanese Books
  • Antique Japanese Prints
  • Rare Books (mostly on Japan) in English & Foreign languages
  • Architectural interest

8. Iwanami Shoten 岩波書店

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A variety of postcards from modern to Hiroshige’s blocks are available at Kyoto Benrido.

Iwanami Shoten in addition to being an established bookseller, is also a printing house that has affiliations to some of the university faculties. Most of their titles are in Japanese, but you shouldn’t miss its second floor Art Postcard Gallery and Shop KYOTO BENRIDO, with one of the finest postcard collections in the city. It’s a great place to get a unique design to send home!Iwanami Shoten is also associated with the publishing house, which published the quintessential book Japan’s Emergence as a Modern State: Political and Economic Problems of the Meiji Period by Canadian diplomat Herbert Norman, who was born and raised in Japan in the turn of the 20th Century.

Check the gallery at the bottom for a facade of the store.

Good For:

  • Academic books in Japanese
  • Postcards & prints (2/F)

9. Kanda Used Book Centre 神田古書センター

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Look for this sign to the Kanda Used Book Centre.

The Kanda used Book Centre is easy to miss, given all the books laid out on the street surrounding it. However, if you head up the stairs, you’ll find an unusual selection of options. The first-floor bookstore has many cultural books, such as Noh, Japanese History, martial arts, and cooking. The 2/F has manga and illustrated books. The 3/F is for books related to animals and the environment. The 5/F has books on eastern medicine and spirituality and also has Miwa Bookstore (est. 1978), a kids bookstore (used & new books). The 7/F has Izawa Shorin, Jimbocho’s largest medical bookstore, and a bookstore selling special interest, history, literature, music, fashion and photography books. the 9/F has Haga Bookstore, and the 9/F has Fuji Records.Good For:

  • English books
  • Kids books
  • Manga
  • Medical books (Japanese)
  • Japanese Cultural books

10. Yaguchi Shoten 矢口書店

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Yaguchi Shoten has one of the oldest surviving buildings in Jimbocho.

Established in 1918, with the current structure built in 1928, Yaguchi Shoten is living relic of Showa architecture. Even though the exterior has remained frozen in time, the shop sign nothing more than plain text, its years of experience selling books on cinema, theatre, and the arts means it has an unparalleled selection crammed into its shelves inside and on the street.Good For:

  • Cinema, theatre, arts, books
  • Second Hand Books
  • Architectural interest

11. Kitazawa Shoten 北沢書店

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The elegant stairway in Kitazawa Shoten.

Established in 1902, Kitazawa is one of the oldest bookstores in the area and has a unique classical atmosphere with its stairway and lamp post inside the entrance. Its entire second floor housing an impressive – mostly academic – English collection ranging from East Asian and World history to English literature and philosophy. It also has other foreign language books, such as German and Spanish. The first floor is Japanese, and has mostly kids books. There are some English titles as well.Good For:

  • Used English academic books
  • Kids books (mostly Japanese, some English)
  • German, French, Spanish books (small selection)

12. AtWonder @ワンダー

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Head up the narrow stairs to @Wonder’s Cafe.

@Wonder is a relatively young addition to the Jimbocho shops, but sets itself apart with its second floor cafe, where you can work and have lunch or coffee. This second hand bookseller is one of those tiny first-floor places that has its wares spilling out (neatly) onto the side alley in virtually permanent bookshelves. The book collection ranges from Sci-Fi, sports, manga and contemporary novels and topics to more historical books and older prints.Good For:

  • Sci-Fi fiction, pulp fiction
  • Magazines
  • Coffee, Afternoon Tea
  • Work: Has many tables and a quiet setting
  • Reading

13. Ogawa Tosho 小川図書

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Shelves lined in the alley close to Ogawa Tosho.

Established in 1930, Ogawa Bookstore specialises in British and American literature. They have academic and rare collections. They also have an inventory of rare/limited print Western books on Japan, philological works, dictionaries and grammar textbooks. They had a durastic change in the 70s, switching to retailing used books. They also specialise in selling Western magazines such as ELLE, Playboy, Time, Life, Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.Good For:

  • Used English Books
  • Magazines

14. Bondi Books

Bondi is an established favourite amongst expats, who enjoy the photography books and wide English selection.

Good For:

  • Photography
  • Used English Books

 

And, that’s it! Below, I have pictures of the storefronts to help you find them. Once you’re done book shopping, head to one of the restaurants on the map for a local meal. I have kept most of them under 1000 JPY.

 

Area Name: Jimbocho
Address: Kanda Jimbocho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Closest Station: Jimbocho Station (Hanzomon, Toei Mita/Shinjuku)
Alternative Stations
(5-10 mins walk away):
Kudanshita (Hanzomon & Tozai, Toei Shinjuku)

Shin-Ochanomizu (Chiyoda)

If you liked this neighbourhood post, check other neighbourhood post covering Kiyosumishirakawa’s Cafes.

2 responses to “14 Quintessential Bookshops in Tokyo’s Booktown, Jimbocho

  1. Pingback: Freak Japan Travel Expenses Explained: 10 Tips & Public Budget Sheet | The Cup and the Road·

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