Tokyo Bookstores For Foreign-Language Books

Playgrounds For Lovers Of The Written Word

By Shizuka Sakamoto
December 19, 2016
Book Corner, Lifestyle

Are you tired of swiping up and down on your mobile device while you're on the train? Do you remember the last time you carried a heavy backpack with a good book stowed away into which you could escape? So do we.

Someone once said that reading is like a journey — you dive into a good story and you let your imagination go wild until nothing can stop you from feeling motivated, light-hearted, and absolutely liberated. Yes, we have Amazon and e-books, and though not much can beat the comfort of having our favorite novels delivered straight home after a single click, sometimes it’s really all about hunting for inspiration on the shelves of old-school bookstores. 

Luckily, Tokyo has a good few of those, offering paperbacks in several foreign languages — from fiction to art and photography, biographies and children’s books. Here are Savvy Tokyo’s top recommended bookstores in the capital to find rare literary gems written in English, French, German and more.

Yaesu Book Center

With one million tomes across nine floors, the Yaesu Book Center is the biggest bookstore in the Yaesu area and one of the largest in the whole of Tokyo. On the 7th floor you can find a massive foreign-language section with everything from bestsellers to books on Japan, social science, as well as magazines in English, French and German. Free coin lockers are on the first floor, so if you’re dropping by on your way back from a shopping spree, worry not.  

Where: 2-5-1, Yaesu, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Business hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Daikanyama T-Site

Selected as one of  “The 20 Most Beautiful Bookstores in the World” (the only entry from Japan), this slick bookstore is a real theme-park for any bookworm. You can find extremely rare periodicals, art and culture books and magazines; you can browse through a number of stationary and crafts shops inside the several complexes — and if you’re tired, you can also have a cup of coffee at the very elegant cafe Anjin, located on the second floor of the bookstore. Allow yourself at least half a day when you go there — unless books scare you, you won’t be able to leave early. 

Where: Daikanyama T-Site, 17-5, Sarugaku-cho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Business hours: 7 a.m. to 2 a.m.

Someone once said that reading is like a journey…

Cow Books  

Cow Books sells rare, out-of-print and first editions on topics including social movements, progressive politics, protests, the Beat generation, and other themes focusing on the 1960’s and 70’s in English. Prepare yourself to be surprised upon your visit — it’s very likely that you’ll run into something exceptional in this store in Nakameguro, a harmonious mix of old and new, urban and rustic.

Where: 1-14-11, Aobadai, Meguro-ku, Tokyo
Business hours: 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. (closed on Mondays)

Books Kinokuniya Tokyo

Perhaps one of the best known foreign-language bookstores in Tokyo, Kinokuniya’s  Shinjuku branch specializes in books and magazines written in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian and other languages. From fiction to comics and children’s picture books, this store has a massive collection that will make you wander around for at least half a day. Kinokuniya is also one of the few stores in Tokyo that regularly organizes meet-the-author and book signing events, inviting foreign authors from across the world to meet their readers in Japan. 

Where: Takashimaya Times Square Annex 6th floor, 5-24-2, Sendagaya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Business hours: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. ( to 8:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday)

Kitazawa Bookstore

Originally opened in 1902 to support research at nearby universities, this store is now dedicated to selling used books on English and American literature and humanities. All kinds of works from old paperback novels to rare books are generally displayed in very well preserved conditions. There’s also a small selection of German and French books.

Where: Kitazawa Building 2F, 2-5, Kanda, Jimbo-cho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Business hours: 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. (weekdays); 12 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Saturday (closed on Sundays and holidays)

The Isseido Booksellers

The Isseido Booksellers is also a secondhand bookstore focusing predominantly on foreign and art books. Boasting a history of over a century, the store is currently run by the grandson of the founder, who kept his business alive despite years of war censorship and major upheavals in Japan. A rare gem with an ancient library atmosphere, this store offers a great selection of books in English — from classics to rare tomes on Asian history and literature, to travel journals and even books about books.

Where: 17, Kanda Jimbo-cho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Business hours: 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Italia Shobou

Si, here it’s all about Italy. Opened in 1958 as Japan’s first bookstore selling Italian, Spanish and Portuguese books, this store focuses on both secondhand books and visual materials, stretching from recipe books to rare academic volumes and Japanese literature translated in Italian. The Italian goods on display throughout the store will accompany you on your book-browsing journey, making you feel as if you had just stepped in to a crumbling bookstore in a Verona backstreet.

Where: 2-23, Kanda Jimbo-cho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Business hours: 1o a.m. to 6 p.m. (Closed on weekends)

What’s your favorite bookstore in Tokyo, or elsewhere in Japan? Let us know!