5 Ways to Sustainably Source English Books in Tokyo
Refresh your bookshelf and book-buying habits with these sustainable hacks
March 3, 2023
Trying to be sustainable with your book purchases? Read on for the best recommendations on how to find English books in Tokyo while still living that eco-friendly lifestyle.
On a recent excursion to the Shinjuku Kinokuniya, a spot known for its wide selection of English and other foreign language books, I observed a new friend taking photos of covers that caught her interest. She saw me watching and simply replied, “I don’t buy new books anymore.” The sentiment struck me, I had been trying my best to adhere to a sustainable lifestyle, but I hadn’t really thought about my reading habits. After returning home and taking a look at my bookshelf, I noticed that most of my books were either found at used bookshops or given to me by a friend.
“I don’t buy new books anymore.”
Since that day, I’ve become even more aware of my book-buying habits especially since I’m always searching for a good modern fiction book in English. On closer inspection, I realized living in Japan had greatly changed my spending habits as well as my attitude toward sustainability. In a country where secondhand shopping isn’t negatively stigmatized and on the flip side, normalized, it’s easy to pick up sustainable habits as a result.
For those who have made it a point to source physical books in a more ethical manner, especially the hard-to-find English ones, I’ve got you covered.
1. Book swapping
Book swapping has become increasingly popular over the past few years, even online, book-swapping websites have made it much easier to find secondhand English books in a pinch. However, there’s nothing like an in-person swapping event to make new friends while discussing your favorite, or least favorite authors. Tokyo Bookswap offers an excellent space for those looking for a social event tied to reading. The event takes place on a semi-regular basis and brings together book lovers ready and willing to swap for something new. This welcoming community is a great place to make friends while participating in a more sustainable lifestyle.
2. Book fairs
For a classic pub meal followed by book browsing, pop into Good Heavens Bar. This foreign-owned British establishment holds various events like quiz and comedy nights, live music and English book fairs. Their schedule varies, so follow their Instagram or Facebook for updates on when the next one will be held. If you can’t wait and want to browse their massive bookshelves, the bar accepts sales and trades, and even sometimes buys your used books. Remember that if you plan on coming in to purchase a book or two, add a drink or meal to your tab to help support this local business.
3. Used bookshops
It’s a no-brainer that used bookshops are some of the best places to find books sustainably and at a significantly lower price. When I lived in the countryside of Shizuoka, my neighborhood secondhand bookshop had a scant selection of English books. Once moving to Tokyo, one of the first things I did was make my way to every used bookshop in the area. Book-Off, a popular used bookstore in Japan, has quite a few locations scattered throughout Tokyo with a more tempting English book selection.
Locations with an English book selection include:
- Book-Off Ikebukuro Sunshine City
- Book-Off Plus Nishi Gotanda
- Book-Off Akihabara Ekimae Store
- Book-Off Shinjuku Station West
4. Online marketplaces
If finding the time to purchase used books in person is too much of a hassle, there are quite a few options for online book buying available. Listed below are a few online marketplaces I’ve found useful when purchasing secondhand books:
Books Garage Sale is a Facebook group specializing in selling and trading used books. This forum has a considerable market in children’s and educational books and is a great place to offload unwanted books. Craigslist and Mercari are more hit-and-miss, but if you’ve got time on your hands and are willing to browse, you may stumble on a title in your wishlist. Just this week I found a popular best-seller on Tokyo Craigslist I’ve been searching for since its release and have already secured a meeting point to secure the book.
Infinity Books & Event Space, located in Asakusa, is a cozy spot to browse for books in person, but for those living far away from Tokyo their online shop is always updated with new-used books to delve into.
5. Borrow books
As foreigners living in Japan, the thought of visiting a library might be daunting at first, but there are quite a few locations with English books available for borrowing, including the Minato Library and the Yotsuya Library. However, if borrowing from a library in Japan isn’t quite something you’re ready to do, another option is inquiring around. Readers tend to stick together and there is a high chance that one of your friends has a stack of books just waiting to be shared. I’ve had quite a few people inquire about borrowing a book from my fast-growing non-fiction collection and have been happy to oblige. It never hurts to ask!
Which of these sustainable tips is your favorite for finding English books in Tokyo? Share your thoughts in the comments below!