What’s your hobby… or fetish?
People ask me about Tokyo all the time. What should I do? What should I see? They’re difficult questions to answer, because unlike most cities where options are limited and preferences less relevant, Tokyo is such a huge metropolis that it has entire neighbourhoods dedicated to different needs and interests. So, let’s narrow it down: what’s your hobby… or fetish?
Books are not exactly a fetish of mine but I love them, especially old ones. Which is why it felt like a sort of synchronicity that Jimbocho – Tokyo’s used-bookstore district and one of the largest second-hand book markets in the world – was where I happened to be working during my time in Tokyo.
Centrally-located, Jimbocho was named after Nagaharu Jimbo, a seventeenth-century Samurai who once lived in the area. I rarely got a chance to appreciate this quaint corner of the city during weekdays due to my gruelling work hours, but I went back a few times on weekends to wander, explore and soak up the creative atmosphere.
Recycled Book-Lovers Paradise
Jimbocho is a strange mix of business-oriented chic and quirky, beatnik ambiance. A self-confessed bibliophile, my interest was piqued by the countless recycled bookstores scattered across the neighbourhood, interspersed with literary-themed cafes, magazine shops and publishing houses.
Some stores are relatively new while others splendidly rustic and creaky at more than a hundred years old. Walking around, I was usually drawn to the messy, musty haunts with towering stacks and books spilling out into pavements and alleyways. I’d browse the shelves and dig through old, dusty piles, hunting for any English-language titles that I could spot.
My favourite street in Jimbocho was Kandasuzuran-dori where Paper Back Café is located. Although it doesn’t stock any English books, I spent several afternoons writing at their in-house cafe, enjoying their free WiFi, ample laptop space and Earl Grey tea.
My most intriguing discovery was a small photography gallery and bookshop, nestled at the top of a narrow staircase. I was walking past one day when I caught a glimpse of its corridors sprawled with iconic imagery – a stunning selection of fashion and high art photography mounting the walls from floor to ceiling. The name of the store and street are forever lost in the obscurity of my memory, but if any Tokyoites or travellers out there know of this mysterious little gem, I’d be grateful to hear from you.
Another favourite of mine – and a big recommendation for photography lovers – is Komiyama Shoten, an artsy shop and gallery space, justifiably described as “four floors of incredibleness”. It houses a surfeit of photobooks, original prints, vintage collections, autographed manuscripts, posters and still photographs, covering the full spectrum of genres. You can easily spend hours perusing its heavily-stacked shelves and flicking through one-of-a-kind hardcovers of well-known photographers and artists, Japanese and Western.
Whether you’re into fiction, non-fiction, comic-books, autobiographies, antique collectables or coffee table books, Jimbocho is the spot for all things literary. Despite residing in Tokyo for several months, there wasn’t enough time for me to explore this second-hand book mecca as thoroughly as I would’ve liked, but I look forward to going back next time I’m in town.
This weird and wonderful city is a minefield of possibilities. If you ever find yourself in this enchanting part of the world, be sure to do your research and pay a visit to the district that caters to your hobbies and interests. Whatever your obsession, Tokyo has got you covered.