December 28, 2020
Jimbocho is a district of Tokyo that is home to over 150 book shops as well as publishing houses, universities and libraries. Each shop is unique and carries a different range of books, from brand new books to very expensive rare books. Some shops are very specific, like the ‘Toho: Books on China‘ store, ‘Magnif‘ that sells vintage magazines or ‘Koga books’ that sells vintage sheet music.
Most of the shops are dedicated to books in Japanese but there are a few select stores that have sections for ‘foreign books’ and others where you simply have to sift through the shelves where you may find some English books. But the beauty of Jimbocho is not in finding English books, but in wandering throughout the stores admiring the ridiculously old and expensive rare books and the stacks upon stacks of books in stores where you’re sure they couldn’t possibly fit any more books.
Being a vintage book district, a lot of the books are rather expensive (we’re talking ¥60 000! ($600)), but there are also shops that sell secondhand books for as little as ¥300 as well. Maddy and I both came away with thrifty purchases that saved us a lot of money having bought them secondhand.
Stores that sell English books:
- Tamura Book Store – This store has foreign language books on the second floor that is accessed through a staircase lined with books outside the main door. The staff speak English and there is a range of books, from rare, vintage ones with ‘no touch’ signs on them, to secondhand books for a few hundred yen. There are piles of books everywhere so don’t take your luggage in with you because there’s only room for you as a person. It can take a little bit of sifting through the piles, but Georgia came away with a book by a famous Japanese author for ¥300.
- Isseido Books – This store is home to vintage, rare books on history, anthropology and archaeology with the foreign books on the second floor. It is a well-organised store with lots of aisle space and shop attendants and was incredibly silent when we went. We were the only people in the foreign books section and didn’t want to speak and disturb the peace!
- Magnif – This store focuses on magazines from past years in many languages. You can find vintage Vogue, Cosmopolitan, GQ and others, all organised by magazine and year on the shelves. They hold quite a number of highly valued magazines that were sold for 50c in their day and are now valued at over $60 a piece.
- Koga Books – This store is a niche store that we stumbled across and it sells vintage sheet music. We were delighted to find this gem of a store and spent quite a bit of time sifting through the shelves of piano music. They hold a lot of sheet music for piano with a decent amount for other instruments, from string quartets and choral ensembles to guitar and drums. The music is all in really good condition and Maddy got a book of Chopin pieces for ¥300!
- Kitazawa Books – This store is famous for being a gold mine for secondhand books in English but unfortunately they were closed over the new year holidays when we visited, so we’ll have to go back and visit again.
If you can’t find anything you like in the vintage stores there are also new book stores in the area such as ‘Books Sanseido‘ who have a wall of shelves on the 2nd floor dedicated to books in English.
What to eat: Walking through the streets admiring books is hungry work so make sure you grab something to eat while you’re in Jimbocho. We went to ‘Sabouru2‘ for lunch that has a nice, simple menu where you can eat curry rice or ‘Napolitan pasta’ which is a Japanese style of pasta with a tomato base, mushrooms, onion, bacon and ketchup. It also has a vintage facade that adds to its charm.
How to get there: Take the train to ‘Jimbocho station’ and follow the signs for the book district. Go to the Hontomachino Information Centre and grab a map of the area in English.