The Tokyo Metropolitan Central Library is a wonderfully quiet place to hide out and read or work. The library has ample seating space, free wifi, an extensive collection of books and media, and a reasonably priced cafeteria with a great view. The library is hidden away on the east side of Arisugawa-no-miya Memorial Park, near Hiro-o.
Introducing the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Library
Opened in 1973 in its current location, the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Library is one of the largest public libraries in Japan, boasting a collection of over 2.06 million books, as well as audio-visual materials, magazines, journals and rare items such as historical Japanese drawings. Around 12% of the collection is foreign books, which are split into Western (64%), Chinese (27%), and Korean (9%). Books are organized by subject, not by language, meaning that English or other foreign language books can be found side by side with Japanese texts.
The collection covers a wide range of subjects including philosophy, history, social science, natural science, technology, engineering, industry and commerce, fine arts, language and literature. The Exhibition Corner on the ground floor showcases books on Japan, its culture and the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. The library does not have any children’s or young adult books.
Books and media in the library’s collection can only be consulted on-site, not checked out and taken home.
The library offers free wifi, a range of seating options, foreign language materials and two on-site restaurants.
Free wifi is available throughout the building, with no time or use limitations. Wifi is quite fast, with average speeds around 140 mbps. On the ground floor, computer terminals marked with blue signs are available for using the internet. Ask at the Floor Guide Desk for a use pass.
Seating is available on all five floors of the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Library. The seats in the Central Hall and the Exhibition Corner on the ground floor have good natural lighting. The fifth floor Reading Room is wonderfully silent (no computers or keyboards allowed!) and has a good view onto the park. There is a Group Study Room on the fifth floor, as well as a Research Room, where you can reserve individual desk spaces.
Foreign language materials
The library has an impressive collection of foreign newspapers, including the Financial Times, The Japan Times, The New York Times, The Straits Times, The Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Le Monde, Die Zeit, Izvestiia, and El Pais, as well as a number of Japanese publications. Editions from the last three months are available in paper versions on the ground floor and older editions are stored in the closed stacks or available on microfilm. On the third floor, sections C44-C50 regroup Foreign Language Literature; in this section you’ll find Japanese and Western literature available in non-Japanese languages.
There is a cafeteria on the fifth floor and a cafe on the ground floor. The cafeteria offers reasonably priced lunch sets (¥500–¥1,000) and has good views over Tokyo. You can also bring your own food and drink to enjoy in the cafeteria. The ground floor cafe offers drinks (¥100–¥500), pastries (¥250–¥300) and sandwiches (¥450).
How to use the library
When you arrive, you’ll be given a badge; no identification or registration is needed. Any large bags (think larger than a large backpack) and umbrellas need to be left in the locker room. The library offers small totes you can use. The lockers use a ¥100 coin, which is returned after use; staff can provide tokens if you don’t have a ¥100 coin. When leaving, make sure to return your badge to the front desk!
Searching the library catalogue
- Find a computer terminal marked with a green sign.
- Scan the barcode on your badge to log on.
- Change the keyboard settings to English, by clicking the button on the top left of the keyboard, just below the ESC key.
- Search for the subject or item you’re interested in. Basic search fields are Title, Author, Publisher and Keyword; advance search options allow you to search only for foreign books.
- Click on a book of interest to see its location. A printable map will be provided to guide you to its location in the open stacks.
Requesting items from the closed stacks
- Request an item from the closed stacks by clicking through the request buttons to the confirm button. You will be assigned a number.
- Watch the screens on the wall; your number will show up in the blue section when the item is ready.
- Pick up the item at the Pick-up/Return counter on the ground floor. Library staff will take one of the cards out of your badge and keep it until you return the book.
For magazines and newspapers in the closed stacks, you can print a call slip and show it at the counter to request the item.
Recommended Tokyo Accommodation
Using the online databases
The library has over 30 online databases, nine of which have English versions. The databases available in English are: Kikuzo II Visual, Yomidas Rekishikan, Britannica Online Japan, Japan Knowledge Lib, Biography in Context, Nature, Science, Oxford Art Online, and EOL. To use the databases:
- Ask for a use pass at the Floor Guide Desk on the ground floor. You will be assigned a computer terminal with an orange sign
- Search through the databases.
- Request to print by clicking through the print menu and also filling out a paper form to turn into the Photocopy Counter. Printing costs ¥25/page BW and ¥130/page color.
Using photocopying and printing services
Photocopying services are available at the Photocopy Counter on the ground floor. Some items you can copy yourself, others need to be copied by staff and some rare or fragile items cannot be copied. Self-service copying costs ¥10/page BW and ¥50/page color while copying services cost ¥25/page BW and ¥130/page color. Only library items can be copied, not external documents. General printing services are not available.
And finally, a quick re-cap of the color-coded computer terminals:
- Library catalogue – green and yellow
- Online databases – orange
- Internet – blue
Library: 10 am to 9 pm, Monday to Friday | 10 am to 5:30 pm, Saturday, Sunday, and holidays
Closed: The first Thursday of every month for inventory (second Thursday if the first Thursday falls on a national holiday), for rear-end and New Year’s holidays (December 29th to January 3rd) and occasionally for facility maintenance/inspection and special inventory periods.
5th floor cafeteria: 11 am to 5 pm for food service, 7 days a week; however, the cafeteria space remains open until 8:45 pm on weekdays and 5:15 pm on weekends
Ground floor cafe: 10 am to 7 pm, Monday to Friday | 10 am to 5 pm, Saturday, Sunday and holidays
For a more eclectic library experience, visit this book and beer library in Shibuya.