Jimbocho is to books what Akihabara is to electronics, what Kabuki-cho is to sleazy hijinks, what Shibuya crossing is to first-time visitors with videocameras. Welcome to the city with a ward, a district, city block, floor, cell or capsule (you’re mostly paying for the space you take up, after all) for everything—whatever your feelings about such insistent compartmentalization, it can be awfully practical.

Photo by Mine Serizawa

Tokyo’s “book town”, some 180 stores strong, draws collectors for its rare volumes–but is also a college town, centrally accessible from Hitotsubashi, Meiji, and Nihon University, among others, which makes it ideal for low-cost bookstore-hopping. Work your way down from where it begins informally at the intersection of Yasukuni-dori and Hakusan-dori. (Or if you prefer, where the blocks of outdoor sporting goods stores end, slightly south-west of Tokyo’s “musical instrument area”, and north of “the emperor”, who gets an island to himself. See?)

The first bookstore I entered, i.e. the first one I could lay my eyes on, a one-room independent retailer, sells mainly used volumes of psychology, philosophy, and literature in a roughly 1:4 ratio of English to Japanese titles; outside the store, as at many others in the area, books are sold for 100yen apiece in rummage bins.

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At Bohemian’s Guild by natsume books, for example, the highlight was undoubtedly the titles for sale in wooden crates out front…vintage pulp fiction and sleaze novellas known as “nightstand books” from the 40s, 50s, and 60s, that cost 200yen apiece or 500yen for three of ’em. The interior holds mainly art books, and a gallery on the second floor.

Photo by Mine Serizawa
Photo by Mine Serizawa

Tokyodo is one of the larger, well-established bookstores in the area (the staircase is covered with old prints of the store from the time of its establishment). Its Paper Back Cafe offers 180-yen drip coffee, unlimited reading time in the sofas and stools on every floor, and free wi-fi.

Photo by Mine Serizawa

Komiyama Books is another go-to for photography and art books; other shops specialize in ukiyo-e, vintage fashion magazines, or manga…or a derangement of all three and more by one of the more casual streetside vendors, many of which are currently holding sales–3 books for 500yen, large artist monographs for 1000yen, and so on. Not unlike the Shinjuku Lumine department store sale I wandered into later (although perhaps somewhat less frightening), shoppers should come prepared to elbow, stockpile, harass, and cradle lovingly.

Photo by Mine Serizawa
Location:Kanda Jimbocho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Closest Station:Jimbocho Station (Hanzomon, Toei Mita/Shinjuku)
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Filed under: Shopping
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