We confess, this one is a little personal. Spending all day writing stories and editing incoming work leaves us yearning for a few words that aren’t our own. Knowing a quiet corner of the city where you can browse the shelves for your next literary fix can mean the world in this fast-paced age. To help you get the most out of the busy day’s quiet moments, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite English language bookstores in Tokyo. Also included are two events bringing book-lovers of the Big Mikan together in beautiful, sometimes wordy, harmony.
Infinity Books is the sanctuary every bookish child dreams about. One of the last secondhand English language bookshops left in Tokyo, the store boasts floor-to-ceiling bookcases straight out of any fantasy archive. Contained within is an eclectic collection of science-fiction, biography, occult nonfiction and just about everything in between. Make your way through the wood panelling and you’ll be greeted by a bar serving drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. Infinity Books also hosts a series of events every month, listed online alongside a catalogue of its entire collection.
Tuesday – Saturday 11am – 11pm
Sunday and National Holidays 11am – 6pm
1-2-4 Azumabashi, Sumida-ku
Cow Books helps unmask the complacency that many of the uninitiated feel encapsulates the Japanese stance on protest. Specializing in vintage secondhand books and periodicals, this intimate coffee bar and bookstore features a tight collection of English work showcasing the best literary offerings of the counterculture from the late 50s onwards. Also present is an extensive library centered on art and design, including the urban photography of Robert Frank. There are more Japanese works than English here, but you’re free to open any book and read by the table for as long as you please.
Tuesday – Sunday 12pm – 8pm
1-4-11 Aobadai, Meguro-ku
We’d be remiss if we didn’t include at least one entry from Tokyo’s famous secondhand book district, Jimbocho, in our list. First opened in 1902, Kitazawa Bookstore has been serving the numerous universities dotted around Chiyoda-ku for decades, its collection focused on English language work of a more academic bend than the majority of entries here. While not as large as it once was (the store used to occupy the first floor as well) Kitazawa’s paperback classics and criticism secure it as one of the foremost sites of English intellectual activity in the city.
Monday – Friday 11am – 6:30pm
Saturday 12pm – 5:30pm
2 – 5 Kanda Jimbocho, Chiyoda-ku, 2F Kitazawa Bldg.
Set within Daikanyama T-Site, Tsutaya Daikanyama is a visual delight, earning Japan’s only spot in Flavorwire’s “The 20 Most Beautiful Bookstores in the World.” Split between three buildings, it houses all one would need for the literary equivalent of a night on the town — with sections for movies, music, stationary and of course books, as well as a salon and Starbucks. The first floor contains a number of translated works from Japanese, and a plethora of English magazines, manuals and popular politics is also available, free to be read on one of the many stools dotted around.
7am – 2am
17-5 Sarugakucho, Shibuya-ku
Only a stone’s throw away from Tokyo Station, Yaesu Book Center is well suited for book lovers on the move. Located on the seventh floor, the foreign language section is marked by an admirable collection of classics and a swath of popular fiction and science. Also on hand is a large library of German and French fiction and philosophy, as well as a complete series of the ever fantastic “A Short Introduction” books. With events held throughout the month and a great view of Tokyo Station, Yaesu is great for readers on a stop-over.
Monday – Saturday 10am – 9pm
Sunday and National Holidays 10am – 8pm
2-5-1 Yaesu, Chuo-ku
A chance to meet like-minded literature fanatics, Tokyo Book Exchange is a monthly opportunity to add a new treasure to the bookshelf and pass some love on in the process. Since 2018, the Exchange has been inviting people across Tokyo to bring a book of any genre, meet, chat, laugh and cry with a community of book lovers all for free — the only condition being that you need to bring a book in English. This month’s meeting place is The Hive Jinnan in Shibuya. If you’d like to attend, register here.
7:30pm – 9:30pm
the Hive Jinnan
1-6-5 Jinnan, Shibuya-ku
For those of you moved to put pen to paper after a good book, or maybe this list, there are plenty of opportunities to do so in Tokyo. The capital is home to a number of casual writers’ groups, the majority of which are free for new members to come along and try. Some of these require prior submission of pieces, while others are open to just come and listen. Find your community by checking out this great catalog of groups that are open to the public.
For those interested in our takes on books, here’s a link to the rest of rest of our literary content.