Jimbocho: Spending A Day In Tokyo’s Book District

Fall in love with the city's number one destination for book lovers

By Christy Jones
October 11, 2017
Lifestyle, Out & About

In the never-ending bustle of the busy city, explore a place where bookshelves run infinitely and pages turn slowly.

Tokyo is a city full of neighborhoods iconic for different things: Harajuku for its influence in fashion and pop culture or Akihabara for its wealth of electronics and anime. When it comes to all things literary, however, no district is greater than Jimbocho, Tokyo’s Book Town.

Jimbocho is home to anywhere between 160 and 200 bookstores, depending on who you ask. While there are many new and chain stores, the majority of booksellers in the area specialize in pre-loved and antique books. The neighborhood is, too, home to the Literature Preservation Society and the Tokyo Bookbinding Club, as well as a number of universities, publishing houses and libraries, making it outstandingly the place to go in Tokyo for a bookish day out.

History

Naturally, an area known for its antique and second-hand books has quite a story to tell in terms of its history. Named after Nagaharu Jimbo, a Samurai from the 17th Century, the neighborhood and many of its bookstores were burned down in the great fire of 1913. In answer to the tragedy, university professor, Iwanami Shigeo, opened up a bookstore which has since grown into Iwanami Shoten.

Since then, the neighborhood has flourished into a popular area for the bookish and intellectual, with hordes of bookstores and cafes popping up to suit the growing popularity of the area. With Nihon, Senshu, Meiji and Hosei Universities all located within close proximity to the main shopping strip, it’s no wonder Jimbocho has grown into a bookish wonderland.

How to get there

Like many of Tokyo’s popular shopping districts, Jimbocho is remarkably easy to travel to. While there are a number of surrounding stations and bus stops available, the best station to access the district from is, undoubtedly, Jimbocho station. Just eleven minutes on the train from Shinjuku, Jimbocho station comes out onto Yasukuni-Dori, right in the heart of the book district.

The majority of the neighborhood’s bookshops are located just south of the station, along Yasukuni-Dori and the streets that run parallel to it. Given that the station is located right in the center, this means that the district’s booksellers are all located a short walk from each other.  Jimbocho station is accessible from the Mita, Shinjuku, and Hanzomon lines.  

Shopping for books

If your Nihongo skills are A+ and you’re already an old hand at devouring Japanese works of literature translation free, then you will have no trouble at all finding bookstores in Jimbocho to suit your needs.

On the other hand, if you, like me, aren’t quite as confident in your ability to dissect the latest Murakami novel in its original kanji-filled form, then foreigner-friendly bookstores are what you are going to be after. Luckily, Jimbocho is well equipped with a number of stores favorable to English speakers.

When searching for foreign books, try looking for this kanji: 洋書. Pronounced “yosho,” this means ‘foreign’ or ‘western’ books and will surely come in handy during your hunt.   

While there is an abundance of beautiful, dusty old bookstores catering to Japanese speakers only—which I still recommend checking out, even if you can’t speak Japanese because many of them are absolutely beautiful. Here is a small list of stores that are better suited to foreigners:

  • Kitazawa Bookstore (北沢書店) — Wonderful for English books concerned with humanities or social science. Kitazawa specializes in illustrated books and books about history, linguistics and literature, and has a wide selection of both rare and paperback texts. Address: 2-5 Kanda Jinbocho, Chiyoda-ku
  • Komiyama Book Store (株式会社 小宮山書店) — A must-see for contemporary art and photography lovers. It also specializes in magazines and books on design, fashion, culture and history. Address: 1-7 Kanda Jinbocho, Chiyoda-ku
  • Books Sanseido (三省堂書店) — Great if you’re looking for Japanese language books. It has a very small English section, despite its enormous five-story size. Address: 1-1 Kanda Jinbocho, Chiyoda
  • The Isseido Booksellers (一誠堂書店) — If you’re going to visit just one store, make it this one. Located on the eastern side of Yasukuni-Dori, close to Jimbocho station, the bookstore is a two-story wonderland of polished wooden shelves and silence that hits you the moment you step in off the noisy street. The second floor is home to a brilliant foreign books section, while the rest of the store houses an excellent range of rare and antique books. Address: 1-17 Kanda Jinbocho, Chiyoda

End your day with good coffee

If all that book hunting turns you hungry, rest assured, Jimbocho has all of your food nibbling and coffee sipping needs. The area is home to a wide range of restaurants and cafes, spanning from the usual chain restaurants to a smattering of independent restaurants (such as Curry Bondy, located just over fifty meters from Jimbocho station).

If you’re after for a bookish hangout, however, look no further than the Paper Back Café. Attached to Books Tokyodo, this café is the perfect combination of bookstore meets ultimate coffee destination. We covered the Paper Back Café in our Tokyo’s Top Five Cafés for Book Lovers and it remains a brilliant place to chill out, grab a bite to eat, and enjoy whatever literary goodies you’ve already found.

For an even more relaxed break, head to Sabouru just outside Jimbocho station’s exit A7. With a history of over 60 years, this coffee house is a landmark in the area — and we can’t help but think that a number of famous writers had a few cups of coffee there while writing or reading.

Originally from the sleepy town of Adelaide, Australia, Christy is a MA Literature and Writing student living in Tokyo. When she's not bookstore or art gallery hopping, she can usually be found scribbling away short stories, illustrating her daily life or sharpening her videography skills for her YouTube channel. Christy likes green tea, T.S. Eliot and uncrowded journeys on the Yamanote line.

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