Taiken Japan

Autumn Leaves 2016

Books, Books, and More Books at the Kanda Used Book Festival

Books, Books, and More Books at the Kanda Used Book Festival

Joel Neff

Every autumn, the booksellers of Kanda’s Jimbocho district host a massive book sale. Rack after rack of books are set up outside Jimbocho’s bookstores to entice dedicated bibliophiles and passers by to peruse their shelves. In other words, for book lovers, for two weeks, Jimbocho is something like Paradise.


Maybe you’ve been looking for a first English printing of Murakami Haruki’s Norwegian Wood, or maybe you’ve had your heart set on getting a 19th century Japanese language translation of Hamlet, either way, chances are good you’ll find one here. And at a 20% discount!

Things you’ll find at the festival

Books, maps, folios, books, prints, magazines, books, newspapers, circulars, and did I mention books? Throughout the two weeks of the festival you’ll also find workshops, lectures, and readings from invited guests. This year’s events include an auction, a concert, and several lectures. Seats at most of these events must be arranged before hand (although there is no entrance fee for many). Arrangements can be made at the information booth near the subway entrances.


As to the books themselves, for English language books, the festival is surprisingly accommodating. A few shops have racks of used paperbacks and maybe a few magazines. However, the bulk of the available English books come from two specialist shops: Ogawa Tosho and Book House.


The first of these shops is a certified dealer in antique literature and has several treasures on display in their shop window. The second maintains a fantastic children’s book store (complete with play area) on its ground floor, and an intimidatingly large used English selection on the second. Both these stores, and several others, also had sections for books in other languages (I counted lots of French and German travelogues, cook books, and historical texts) although the displays tended to be smaller and more eclectic.


For the Japanese scholar, or those who just want an interesting momento from Japan, several shops had collections of amateur poem journals on display for very low prices. These are in addition, of course, to the usual wealth of hardbacks, paperbacks, and century old folios that occupy the shelves of the bookstores.


One small caution - there are lots of antique ukiyo-e (traditional wood block prints) and maps on display. There are an equal, if not greater amount of reprints and reproductions on display. The staff I talked to were very quick to point out which was which and to make sure that I knew what I was buying, but it never hurts to remember that if something looks too good to be true, it probably is. So that beautifully preserved map of Edo priced for just ¥200 yen? While beautiful and an undoubtedly cool piece for your walls, it is most likely a reproduction.


Speaking of the people, the staff at each stall and in each store in which I stopped were uniformly courteous, helpful, accommodating, and not in the least worried about the prospect of talking to English speakers. Further, it’s hard to find a gathering of people shopping for books where there are not at a least a few people who want to talk about books. Take your time, talk to your fellow shoppers, you’ll find it worth your while.


Things you won’t find

Food and snack stalls, kids’ play areas, or really anything except all those books. Don’t let the title fool you, this isn’t a festival in the usual, Japanese, sense of the word. There are no parades, no floats, nothing like that. Just lots and lots of books.

The biggest exception though, has to be manga. The book shops in Jimbocho do not stock much in the way of comics during normal operations, much less during the festival. Those looking to fill out their collection with back issues of vintage Black Jack would do well to wait for December’s Comiket.

How to Get There


Jimbocho is easily reached by train or subway. JR Ochanomizu Station is a leisurely 20 minute walk from Jimbocho and is no more complicated than making a single right turn. For those who want to avoid the walk, take the Tokyo Metro Toei Mita Line. Jimbocho Station has two entrances, A7 and A3, that both lead directly into the festival area.


Good luck, have fun, and happy hunting!