If you’re like me, a secondhand store fiend who will stop at nothing to secure the best bargains on used items, you may have been utterly heartbroken by the closure of the massive Book Off at Center-Gai in Shibuya, where I’ve personally spirited away many a time for prices that never exceeded the triple digits in Japanese yen. After such a devastating attack on my most beloved secondhand bookstore, where I’ve filched everything from “Trainspotting” to “100 Easy Cocktails,” I never thought I would ever heal the Shibuya Center-Gai Book Off-shaped hole in my heart. Thankfully, my unexpected sundering from Book Off also allowed me to explore the many other fish out there in the proverbial Tokyo shoten (bookshop) sea.
There are of course the more storied and frequented ones—like the famed Infinity Books, the oft-busy Kitazawa Bookstore or several of the legendary Jimbocho bookstores. Many others, however, are cast to the wayside, including relatively tinier ones, both new and old, tucked away in some hidden backstreet or within the inner atria of certain buildings. (Some indie book-lovers reading this, eager to preserve the underground appeal of their beloved literary haunts, might even hold me in contempt for exposing some of these to the mainstream).
Here are 10 must-visit secondhand bookstores in Tokyo that you may not have heard of and are guaranteed to scratch that (affordable) English literary itch:
Blink and you’ll miss it: Rhythm & Books, tucked into the first floor of a building at the very far end of the Yoyogi-koen shotengai, is one of those places you might catch a glimpse of after an afternoon of grocery shopping, and mistake for a fairy’s abode disguised as a bookshop. The shelves are festooned with a colorful array of art books: exhibition catalogs from past Tokyo art exhibits, photo books, and graphic design manuals, many of which are affordable and in English (I got a gargantuan Gustav Klimt coffee table book for ¥1,000 here once). Don’t miss the section dedicated specifically for mycology enthusiasts, featuring mushrooms galore, plus the charming little children’s books in Czech and Hungarian, and many other trinkets besides. The shopkeeper often plays an eclectic range of music to accompany visitors as they pore over the shop’s fun and magical wares.
Monday – Friday 12pm – 10pm
Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays 12pm – 8pm
1-9-15 Tomigaya, Shibuya-ku
Upon entering Los Papelotes, you will be greeted not only by the fantastic smell of old books but also the warmth of its friendly shop clerks. Though it sells mainly Japanese books, you’ll also find a treasure trove of rare English art books, photo books, graphic design manuals and the occasional paperback novel. It also sells a variety of music CDs, tote bags and other novelty items. Located conveniently by Yoyogi-Uehara Station, the shop is usually open until 11pm. Fun fact: The shop used to be home to a beloved “shop clerk” dog named Toro. He unfortunately passed away in 2018, but you can still find his past “posts” on the Los Papelotes Facebook page and Instagram.
Wednesday – Monday 12pm – 11pm (Closed on Tuesdays)
3-4-2 Nishihara, Shibuya-ku
Kono Books is an absolute gem, boasting probably one of the most sophisticated collections in this list because it features not just books in English and Japanese but also French, German and other European languages. You’ll find many academic and intellectual reads, ranging from philosophy, history, film, the social sciences and the humanities—unsurprising considering many of the shop’s patrons are university students and staff from the nearby University of Tokyo. If you’re looking for lighter reading, Kono also features a selection of magazines and super cheap paperback novels, with a range of genres encompassing more contemporary pop reads right through to classic and ancient literature. Situated just a minute away from Komabatodaimae Station’s east exit, it’s close to several restaurants and coffee shops, as well as the relaxing Komabano Park. Be sure to also check the charming updates from Kono Books’ blog (in Japanese).
Monday – Friday 10am – 7pm
Weekends and holidays 10am – 6pm (Closed on New Year holidays)
1-31-6 Komaba, Meguro-ku
The artistic and hip Sunny Boy Books has a carefully curated and tasteful selection, ranging a wide variety of genres and topics. You might find more artsy and design-oriented titles, as well as numerous photo and coffee table books, but you’re just as likely to find intellectual reads, some covering political and historical content. The bookstore even has a dedicated section on feminism, featuring art and writing from many feminist authors both in Japan and abroad. Though the space is tiny, the store features a wide collection and has regularly updated mini art exhibits on its walls. You’ll find a cozy cafe next door, plus many other stylish bookstores and bars around the neighborhood. Note that Sunny Boy Books requests patrons to bring an eco bag or tote bag, as they do not provide plastic bags for customers.
Saturday – Thursday 12pm – 8pm (Closed on Fridays)
2-14-15 Takaban, Meguro-ku
If you’re ever headed to a cafe in Shimokitazawa and find that you’ve forgotten to bring a book along, Claris is worth a visit. It has a wide and eclectic collection of books from both abroad and Japan. You’ll find science fiction novels cozied up next to biographies of classic rock musicians, or a selection of philosophical treatises right next to a shelf featuring books about architecture, hobbies and fashion. Inside the store, books are arranged by genre and type, to make it easier to find exactly what you need. Claris also features a shelf for books sold at special prices, so if you’re just looking for cheap finds within the ¥100 to ¥300 range, it’s easily achievable. Located on the second floor of the Ichibangai Shopping Street building at the north exit of Shimokitazawa Station, it’s conveniently surrounded by innumerable cafes, restaurants and bars.
Tuesday – Friday 12pm – 8pm (Closed on Mondays
Sundays and holidays 12pm – 7pm (Open on public holidays)
3-26-2 Kitazawa, Setagaya-ku (2F)
Love literature and Japan? Check out our other articles:
- Tokyo’s Literary Hotspots | Our favorite English-language bookstores in Tokyo
- Literary Landscapes | English books about Japan to add to your reading list
- Breasts, Eggs and Existential Feminism | Mieko Kawakami’s latest literary masterpiece, now translated into English
- ROUTE BOOKS | Be here now at Higashi-Ueno’s greenest cafe and bookstore
Book-lovers partial to erudite topics will find themselves at home in Honkichi, which features a robust academic selection featuring the likes of Michel Foucault, Slavoj Zizek, several German and French philosophers, Benedict Anderson and numerous titles on history and politics. Intellectually rebellious readers will appreciate the bookstore’s interesting selection of books about feminism, gender, sexuality, Eastern philosophy, visual and performing arts and science. Located just a couple of minutes from Shimokitazawa’s east exit, and situated near the most hip and up-and-coming record stores, cafes and restaurants in Tokyo, Honkichi is a welcome academic oasis with a flair for the divergent and the anti-status quo. It’s cleverly hidden in its neatly arranged bookshelves, inconspicuous front and welcoming, cozy atmosphere.
Wednesday – Monday 12pm – 9pm (Closed on Tuesdays)
2-7-10 Kitazawa, Setagaya-ku
With an inspirational ethos combining “integrity” and a desire to cultivate “communication” in the buying and selling of books, Hyakunen (meaning “Hundred Years”) invites visitors to take their time perusing the store’s art, secondhand books and indie goods. Their thoughtfully curated selection, sold at reasonable prices, demonstrates the owners’ sophisticated tastes and would satisfy anyone hoping to find more artistic and intellectual titles. Focusing on art books, design books, philosophical books and domestic and foreign literature, Hyakunen reflects its neighborhood’s underground and niche inclinations. Located along the Showa dori in Kichijoji, just a couple of minutes away from Kichijoji Station, the bookstore offers a quiet respite from the hustle and bustle of its vibrant surroundings.
Thursday – Monday 12pm – 7pm (Closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays)
2-2-10 Kichijoji Honcho, Suginami-ku (2F)
If you’re looking specifically for children’s picture books, whether to give as a present for your nephew or niece, or simply to revisit some nostalgic childhood memories, MAIN TENT in Kichijoji is the place to go. Featuring hundreds of beautifully illustrated picture books from Japan and around the world, you’ll find well known authors as well as more obscure yet equally fun and enchanting titles. Most of the titles are in Japanese and English, but there are many other picture books in Czech, German, Hungarian and a few other languages. Inside, the bookstore features a gallery space for artists to exhibit their work to patrons, and the store has a lively and fun carnival theme, featuring a red-and-white striped curtain, stuffed animals and cute toy figurines that kids and adults alike will surely love.
Thursday – Tuesday 10:30am – 5pm (Closed on Wednesdays)
Holidays 10:30 am – 7pm
2-7-3 Kichijoji Honcho, Suginami-ku
For photography and fashion lovers in Tokyo, Shelf is one not to miss. Capturing the stylish and fashionable air of its surrounding neighborhood of Jingumae, close to Harajuku and Omotesando, this cozy space boasts a tasteful selection of photography books, especially from photographers in the contemporary scene. You’ll also find many vintage photo books, art books, fashion books and graphic design books. Since the focus of the store is on foreign books, nearly all will be in a language other than Japanese, and many are rare finds or books now out of print. Having such a stylish and sophisticated selection, many of the titles are quite expensive, but you can grab some for a surprisingly affordable price under their “Special Price” section. Next to the bookstore you’ll find the Watarium Art Museum, as well as numerous cafes and restaurants.
Monday – Friday 12pm – 8pm
Saturday 12pm – 6pm
3-7-4 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku
Whether you’re into cooking, vintage cars, rock music, embroidery or herbalism, Books Rondo, a secondhand bookstore within the Nakano neighborhood (famous for its Japanese anime and manga otaku-themed shops) is perfect for hobbyists of all types and interests. The bookstore mostly has items in Japanese, but there are also many titles in English to choose from, including cookbooks, music books and biographies, as well as a wide range of photo books and children’s books. Note that the store is on the second floor of Nakano Broadway, and is closed on Wednesdays. Within Nakano Broadway, Japanese anime and manga fans will also be able to find other stores specializing in anime, manga, video games and idol collectibles.