Hay-on-wye in Tokyo

Despite talk that it ain’t what it used to be (the same is said of Hay-on-wye the Welsh book town) the Jinbōchō (also spelled Jimbocho) neighbourhood of Tokyo is still a wonderous place for the book-loving tourist. Tucked in between two university campuses, Jinbōchō is Tokyo’s mecca for used-book stores and publishing houses. Murakami mentions it in a lot of his books and the Manga publisher, Shueisha, is here. Its centre is at the crossing of Yasukuni-dōri and Hakusan-dōri streets, right above Jimbōchō Station on the Tokyo Metro Hanzōmon Line. Most stores are on the South side of Yasukuni facing North (to avoid direct sunlight).

First on my to-do list was to scout out all of the used English books on offer. Turns out I hit the jackpot at the very first shop I entered, Kitazawa’s.

The main level was taken up mostly by Japanese kid’s books. Upstairs however was another story.

I found something extraordinary. The whole

floor was chock full of my favourite categories of books

literary criticism,

literary biography, literary history

books on books

some poetry, plus history, social studies, linguistics, illustrated books

and more.

I was thrilled to find a copy of one of my favourite little books, Kenneth Grahame’s The Headswoman, published by John Lane in 1921. It contains some of the most charming woodcuts I’ve ever seen by the under-appreciated artist Marcia Lane Foster (must do some research on her).

I gingerly approached the man I thought to be the owner of the store who was sitting at a desk in the back, and asked if I might take his photograph. Typically reserved, he demurred, but invited me to document whatever I liked in the store. As we were talking I noticed an ILAB sign on the table. This clearly then wasn’t some unknown treasure of a shop (in fact it’s been selling books internationally since 1902), and yet, it seemed very much unspoiled, un-visited by other booksellers who tend to cherry-pick the best stuff from the shelves.

And this is exactly the vibe I got from another store a few doors down the street

displaying the collected works of these

obscure (not) British writers

in boxes in front of the entrance way. Again, it felt like a bookstore you’d find in England or North America thirty years ago, pre-Internet, filled with interesting titles; the kind of selection you’ll only find at bookfairs these days.

Once you’ve finished browsing, you might want to pay a visit to the bathroom. There’s one in the building right next to Kitazawa’s. I went, and on the way back I noticed this in the corridor

That’s right. Amazon’s always lurking in the background, both helping and hindering bricks and mortar stores.

You’ve probably worked up an appetite too, one that’s easily slaked at any number of nearby restaurants.

The food is delicious and cheap.

Fueled up, you’ll then be ready to tackle bookstores that sell Japanese books (see next post) and prints.

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