This week we take a walk down through an unusual side street of Tokyo – a charming book town right in the heart of Central Tokyo !!!


 Books and me, we are old friends. I’ve spent many a weekend rummaging through the second hand books on sale on the pavements near Flora fountain in South Mumbai. So the idea of a “Book Town” in central Tokyo really intrigued me. The place in question, Jimbocho (rather cool name, methinks), in Tokyo is one of the largest second hand book markets in the world !!! There are over 170 bookshops, publishing houses etc. centered in this book town in Kanda district of Tokyo. This is apparently the place to go for cheap used books, rare collector’s editions, old foreign publications and unusual books. A little research on-line also revealed that the Book Town would have a sale on account of the National Culture Day. Naturally, I made a bee-line for Jimbocho as soon as I arrived in Tokyo.

But first, a little about the history of the place. Jimbocho or rather Jinbōchō was apparently named after a samurai, Nagaharu Jinbō, who lived in the area at the end of the 17th century. However in spite of such storied roots, Jimbocho didn’t really come into its literary heritage until the early 20th Century. In 1913, a large fire destroyed most of the area. In the wake of the fire, a university professor named Shigeo Iwanami opened a book store in Jinbōchō which eventually grew into today’s Iwanami Shoten publishing house. Over time, the area became popular with university students and intellectuals, and many small book stores and cafes opened there1.Today those same stores have mushroomed into over 170 establishments that dot the area and are a haven for bibliophiles.

Now this was my very first day in Tokyo and also pretty much my first day navigating the underbelly of the beast that is Tokyo’s intricate subway system. So, blindly trusting the Tokyo subway app and my sense of general direction, I set out to find my way to Jimbocho.

Being from a crazy city called Mumbai, I was particularly apprehensive of the rush hour human traffic in those small trains. But it turns out it wasn’t all as bad as blogs on-line made it out to be, and also if you have survived a Virar fast it seem that you can pretty much survive anywhere.

So one train change later, I was at Jimbocho station with no particular idea where to go. I just started walking aimlessly to the next signal, when lo behold just beyond the people waiting to cross the street I spied my first glimpse of books !!!

The book stores are visible just beyond the signal
The book stores are visible just beyond the signal

I spent the next hour or so looking through the various books on display and sale there. The book stores varied from small one aisle stores packed with books to more massive stores piled with reams of old tomes.

A book store on a street corner in Jimbocho
A book store on a street corner in Jimbocho

And of course the pavements were packed with books on sale. Most of the books were in Japanese, with few old English magazines on sale as well. What was really interesting was how most of the Japanese books did not seem to have a cover like you’d see in an English paperback. Most just had a drab dust-jacket.

Tomes of old books on sale on the streets
Tomes of old books on sale on the streets
More old books on the streets of Jimbocho, though more colourful ones. (Picture courtesy: Antonio Tajuelo, Flickr)
More old books on the streets of Jimbocho, though more colourful ones. (Picture courtesy: Antonio Tajuelo, Flickr)

But books were not the only things on display. Once in awhile you also met cheeky drunk characters like this one.

Lucky drunk racoon
Lucky drunk raccoon

Eventually I had to move on to my next destination for the evening, but Jimbocho was an enchanting little walk (even if I didn’t end up buying any books).


More Information

Getting There

To get to Jimbocho, take the Shinjuku line towards Shinjuku and get off at the stop called Jimbocho. The book lined lanes of Jimbocho are a short walk from the subway station.

The White Herons of Asakusa
A walk among the flowers

References

  1. Jinbōchō, Tokyo. (2015, October 9). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

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