Jimbocho: The District of Used-Bookstores in Tokyo

One of the many sources of vast information is a book. Books contain different kinds of information and are categorized based on genres. There are various kinds of books that cater to the different tastes of readers. All over the world, numerous books have been written and published for the pleasure of readers who wish to learn more about the world or to excise their imagination and to hone their understanding of the world. Should one ever visit Japan, there are several bookstores throughout the country that offer different genres of books. However, for the ultimate bookworm, the place to visit would definitely be Jimbocho.

Basic Facts on Jimbocho and Jinbocho Theater in Tokyo

Par Saoyagi2 — Travail personnel, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16444078

More commonly known and spelled as Jinbocho, Jimbocho is a district located in Chiyoda, Tokyo, Japan. The district is famous as the heart of used-bookstores, as well as publishing houses, in the Tokyo metropolis. The place also serves as a popular shopping area for antiques and curios. Tourists who love reading would definitely find Jimbocho a gem, as the bookstores curate some of the best and unique books out there. The center of the district is situated at the crossing of Hakusan-dori and Yasukuni-dori.

Located on top of Jimbocho Station, which is served by the Toei Mita Line, the Toei Shinjuku Line, and the Tokyo Metro Hanzomon Line, the heart of Jimbocho is filled with bookworms who read either as a hobby or as a passion. Two prestigious organizations known as the Tokyo Book Binding Club and the Literature Preservation Society are established in Jimbocho. The area is also near certain major universities such as Senshu, Hosei, Nihon, Meiji, and Juntendo.

Formally known as Kanda-Jinbōchō, as written in addresses, the area of Jimbocho serves as part of the previous Kanda ward. The name of the district was based on a samurai known as Nagaharu Jinbo, who resided in the said place at the end of the 17th century. Today, the area of Jinbocho is highly popular among the youth.

It was in the year 1913 that a huge portion of the area of Jimbocho was destroyed by a big fire. In the wake of this unfortunate event, a university professor who went by the name of Shigeo Iwanami opened a bookstore in the area. From then, this bookstore grew and is now known as the Iwanami Shoten publishing house. Through the years, the area of Jimbocho grew popular with students from universities as well as intellectuals who love reading and learning new things. From there, several other bookstores and cafes opened in the area.

A major redevelopment project in the area of Jimbocho was proposed and sponsored by the municipal government of Chiyoda recently. From this project, three high-rise commercial buildings were constructed in the year 2003, which helped to boost the local economy. Four years later, the Jinbocho Theater was constructed and completed in the year 2007.

Also known as Jinbocho shiata, the Jinbocho theater is an arts complex located in Jimbocho. It consists of a storytelling theater, a cinema, and a rehearsal or art space. The arts complex is owned and operated by a publishing house known as the Shogakukan, which is located in the area of Jimbocho as well. The building was designed by an architectural company known as Nikken Sekkei, which also designed the Tokyo Sky Tree as well as Camp Nou.

There are also several companies situated in the area of Jimbocho. This includes the headquarters of Tokyodo Shoten, which is a retail book chain. Another company that is located in Jimbocho is Shueisha, a manga company famous for the Shonen Jump, which is the anthology manga magazine.

A Guide on Must-Visit Bookstores in Jimbocho

By Nick-D (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Considered as the “Book Town” of Tokyo, Jimbocho is a haven for book lovers. Up to 200 bookstores can be found within a walking radius of 15 minutes, which is already a third of all second-hand bookstores located in Tokyo. Bookstores in Jimbocho offers a wide range of genres, from 100 yen manga books to collectible antiques worth thousands of dollars. Because of the sheer number of bookstores in Jimbocho, visitors may get a bit overwhelmed and confused as to which bookstores are must-sees.

One of the top bookstores to visit when in Jimbocho is none other than Sanseido. Recognized as one of the most successful bookstores that hailed from Jimbocho, Sanseido has become a chain store that has shops nationwide. Despite having grown popular through the years, its flagship store remains at the heart of Jimbocho. The store is composed of five floors that house various genres ranging from lifestyle books to English books. Sanseido is generally a huge bookstore, which makes it great in terms of the selection of books it offers. Local craft items can also be found in Sanseido.

Standing right next to Sanseido is Oshima Shoten. Although relatively new in comparison to Sanseido, Oshima Shoten still offers a great range of book genres. Founded in the year 1945, just at the end of the Second World War, this bookstore is great for people looking for English and German books as well as books used in academics.

The place Oya Shoten, Considered as among the founders of Jimbocho, this bookstore offers books that date back to the Edo period. Old maps of the land of Japan can also be found in the bookstore. Antique Japanese books are also offered in Oya Shoten, which is great for collectors.

Established in the year 1924, Toyodo is another used-bookstore that is quite popular in Jimbocho. More recently, the bookshop is quite well-known for its Buddhist collections. Despite its strong reputation in old books, the look and feel of the store itself are chic and modern. With its big size, the bookstore is actually able to offer a wide range of genres for every avid reader. Its first-floor houses magazines and the genres vary all the way up.

Among its main features is its Paper Press Café. Serving 180 yen coffee, customers are also offered unlimited refills as well as free Wi-Fi. Guests can read a book in the café or sip a cup of coffee while enjoying the view of the street. The café is also great for people looking for a quiet place to work.

Founded during the imperialist expansion era of Japan in the year 1939, Komiyama Shoten is one of the bookstores in Jimbocho that is especially popular among art aficionados. The bookstore features photography, philosophy, art, and literature. A rotating gallery can be found on the 4th, 5th, and 6th floors of the bookstore, which is one of its highlights. Visitors who are into photography, cinema, fashion, and Japanese literature would consider this place a haven. The bookstore also features free art and photo exhibitions.

By Flickr user atk1983 (hiroshi ataka) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Another bookstore that has survived a century in Jimbocho is none other than Isseido Shoten. Considered as one of the surviving landmarks located in the area of Jimbocho after the Second World War, the building was constructed and completed in the year 1931. The structure was designed by RC5. The ground floor of the building features collectible prints hailing from the Meiji era and the Edo period encased in glass. The bookshop also offers rare books, as well as academic ones, in the English language.

Both a bookstore and a printing house, Iwanami Shoten is an establishment in Jimbocho that is affiliated with certain university faculties. Most of the items that the bookstore offers are in Japanese. However, its Art Postcard Gallery and Shop KYOTO BENRIDO located on the 2nd floor is not to be missed. Unique designs in postcards can be found in this bookstore, which can be given as gifts to family and friends.

Another used-bookstore to check out would be the Kanda Used Book Center. While the bookstore can be easy to miss amidst all the books that are placed all over the street surrounding by the bookshop, one would suggest looking for this bookstore. Its selection is not the typical kind, with many of its books ranging from cultural books like Noh and Japanese history to cooking books. Other books in the shop include some books about animals and the environment.

Depicting the classic Showa architecture, the bookstore Yaguchi Shoten was established in the year 1918 while its present building was constructed 10 years later, in the year 1928. Through the years, the bookshop has amassed a selection of books about theater, cinema, and the arts. The shop has so many books that some of them are laid out on the streets for the customers to peruse.

For a more hip vibe, the best place to visit in Jimbocho would be @Wonder. Relatively young, this bookstore is a new addition to the shops located in the area of Jimbocho. Aside from the books that it offers, it also houses a café on the second floor, wherein guests can either work, eat, or just enjoy a cup of coffee. Its book collection has a wide range of genre, ranging from Sci-Fi and sports to contemporary novel and illustrated books such as manga. It also offers historical books and prints that collectors may be interested in.

Bookshops in Jimbocho for Books in Other Languages

By Nick-D (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Fret not for the people who cannot read books in the local Japanese language. For guests who enjoy reading English books, head on over to Kitazawa Bookstore. Opened in the year 1902, this bookstore is situated on the 2nd floor of Book House Jimbocho. Mainly composed of English books, customers can choose from a wide array of choices though most of their books are academic. Antique books that were published as far back as the English Middle Ages can also be found in this bookshop. Located in 2-5 Jimbocho Kanda, Chiyoda-ku, this bookstore is open from 11 AM to 6:30 PM on weekdays and from 12 noon to 5:30 PM on Saturdays. The store is closed on Sundays and holidays.

For a bookstore that sells books both in the Japanese language as well as in other languages, a place to check out would be The Isseido Booksellers. Books written about society, fine arts, and archaeology can be found here. The bookstore has a whole floor dedicated to books in the English and other foreign languages. Located in 1-7 Jimbocho Kanda, Chiyoda-ku, this bookstore is open from 10 AM to 6:30 PM from Monday to Saturday and from 10:30 AM to 6:00 PM on holidays. The store is closed on Sundays.

Dedicated to Italian books, another option for expats and foreign visitors would be Italia Shobo. Opened in the year 1958, this bookstore was considered as the first in the country to sell books in foreign languages like Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian. It was also this same store that published the first Italian-Japanese encyclopedia in the year 1982. Located in 2-23 Jimbocho Kanda, Chiyoda-ku, this bookstore is open from 10 AM to 6:00 PM on weekends. The store is closed on weekends and holidays.

Other Things to Check Out in Jimbocho

Aside from the typical bookstores that tourists visit in the area of Jimbocho, there are also other places to check out. One of them is Takizawa Bakin’s Well. Famous for his Nansō Satomi Hakkenden, also known as the “Chronicles of Eight Dogs,” Takizawa Bakin is a well-known novelist from the Edo period. This piece was written over a period of more than 25 years, which filled more than a hundred volumes. The remains of the well that use to serve the home of the novelist located in Chuo Ward still exists today. With more than 200 years of history, the place has been designated as a Historic Site.

There is also a festival that takes place in the area of Jimbocho. The biggest book fair in the area known as the Kanda Used Book Festival is held either in late October or early November every single year. Several events occur during this occasion such as musical performances, charity auctions, and meet-and-greets with authors. People going on tours typically take this event into consideration during planning.

As expected, the festival is filled with a plethora of books that visitors can purchase and enjoy. Rare and vintage books can also be found in this festival. This event is among the biggest secondhand book fairs in the world. Traveling to Jimbocho for the day should have an itinerary that consists of sightseeing and food-tasting. There are hotels nearby for people wishing to stay the night after walking around central Jimbocho.