After being in Japan for a couple years I realized there is such a thing as too much Tokyo. Shinjuku simply becomes too loud, Akihabara game centers all start to look alike, and Shibuya just becomes a mass of people and buildings. Sometimes you need to take a break from the craziness that is Tokyo and just curl up in bed with a good book.
Everyone knows that books can be expensive, especially if they are being imported from overseas. So if you’re like me and don’t care about hard-bound, paperback, limited edition, or whether the book is in mint condition or not, then obviously secondhand books are the way to go. The best Cheapos are, after all, never choosers, but always winners in my book*.
*Pun intended. You knew that was coming, didn’t you?
While everyone here is doing their best to learn Japanese and boast their skills at finishing the latest Murakami, let’s face it, we still can’t resist a good English read. So here we go with my top picks on where to buy cheap English books in Japan:
1. Book Off
What book aficionado doesn’t know Book Off? There is one near every major station filled with people standing and reading, sometimes for hours. The books there range from 108 yen to less than 1,000 yen for foreign books. Not only that, to spare us Kanji-phobe customers, there is usually a special section marked 洋書 (yousho meaning, “Western books”) where all foreign books are collected.
Book Off bargain-hunting is really like a lottery, where you can get awesome deals, while some are just a total flop. But, as long as you know where to look, the odds will be ever in you favor. There are 3 major Book Offs that you should know about if you are an avid reader living in Tokyo.
Gotanda Station Book Off
This is by far my favorite used bookstore in Tokyo. From the front you can see a sign boasting its 10,000 foreign books that it has for sale.
These books are not just the same old Harry Potters and Da Vinci Code that you can find everywhere (though they do have those). This location has the best selection, in my opinion, of new and bestselling books. From The Girl on the Train to Red Queen, you can find a vast selection of bestsellers to cater to every readers’ literary desire.
Because much of their selection is so highly sought after, prices are also a bit higher than at other Book Offs, with the average ranging between 500 yen to 1,000 yen, or about $5USD to $10 USD
Akihabara Book Off
Akihabara is the holy land for otaku and anime enthusiasts, and that is no different when it comes to books here. If you want to find the best selection of used English manga (otherwise known as Japanese graphic novels) just visit the Akihabara Book-Off. A three-minute walk from the station and you can have all of the magical girl, teen angst, and One Punch Man adventures you can carry home. These manga usually sell for 200 to 300 yen, or about $2USD to $3USD.
Ikebukuro City Center
This is a magical place for books. You never know what you are going to find once you go up that escalator.
From the newest Bill Bryson to a shelf full of Jane Austen’s classic love stories, it has a the widest and most surprising range.
2. Craigslist Tokyo
Not just for job ads and personals anymore, Craigslist offers a wide range of free services, which includes an online haven for used clothes, secondhand books, and even food.
Craigslist can be a wonderful resource no matter what country you are living in. Especially in Tokyo this site is a goldmine for bargains on anything you can imagine. The legendary “Sayonara Sale” can furnish apartments for next to nothing. These are held by exchange students who are going back to their home countries and selling their textbooks, to residents who are moving and need someone to take their furniture—essentially this is a buyers’ and sellers’ paradise. Here you will find people selling a large number of books for dirt cheap, most of them in good condition.
Unfortunately, this site is also a favorite of scammers, so please remember to be careful.
Amazon really sells everything from A-Z, just as depicted on its logo, but it’s also my online shopping site of choice when buying furniture (no need to lug it home with free delivery!), birthday presents (you can choose the gift option and have them wrap the item for you if you’re also lazy like me), and secondhand books. When you are trying to find that specific book you’ve been dying to re-read there is no more need to browse rows and rows of bookshelves, just type the title of the book and voila! Hardback, paperback, new and used. Everything is arranged for you by price.
Based on my experience, there are fewer scammers in Amazon.co.jp than other online shopping websites (tip: still read the buyer reviews and comments of the seller before committing to an item!). But for me, the most amazing thing about Amazon.co.jp is that you don’t need a credit card to buy something. Your payment options consist of using a credit card, cash on delivery, or paying at a convenience store. However, some items do not have these options available, usually because of the seller, so what you can do is just buy an Amazon gift card from the convenience store. There are 1,000 yen, 3,000 yen, 5,000 yen, and 10,000 yen cards available.
4. Infinity Books & Cafe
A recent find of mine, Infinity Books is a great website for people in Tokyo who want to read something, but have no idea what book to read. Arranged by genre and topics ranging from adult to graphic novels to physics, it is like browsing through a bookstore without having to leave the comfort of your own home. For some books, you also have the option of looking at the picture of the book in its present condition. If your order total is above 5,000 yen, it’s free shipping as well!
Infinity Books, besides being an online shop, is also an actual bookstore and café, and is located at 1F Komagata Bashi Heights Bldg, 1-2-4 Azumabashi, Sumida-ku, Tokyo. Call them at 080-3432-2564.
Tip: Need to unload those books to make room for new ones? You can sell your books in to all the above options as well. (You can also trade new and used books at Infinity Books & Café.) Or they would make a wonderful gift for this Cheapo writer who could always go for a good book.
OK, so AbeBooks (despite the name that sounds a bit like an assassinated former Japanese Prime Minister) isn’t in Tokyo. However, they have more books available than anyone bar Amazon, and worldwide shipping can be cheap depending on the country where the title is sourced. AbeBooks is a lot like the old Amazon — just books without all the cruft. They also have plenty of used titles in stock.
Sundays (and some holidays): 11 am–6 pm