From Cover-to-Cover – 5 Great Bookstores in Tokyo
One of my favorite things to do in Tokyo is roam around its many bookstores. While I have spent many hours wandering in Jinbocho, Kanda’s famed used book district and in many Book-Offs, there is always something to be said for new bookstores in Japan, with their shelves of shiny new books, beautiful stationary, and often delicious cafes to relax in for hours while reading a magazine. In this article, I introduce five Tokyo bookstores which have stolen my heart, such as the Maruzen in the Marunouchi Oazo building, the T-Site Tsutaya in Daikanyama, Story Story in Shinjuku, Aoyama Book Center in Omotesando, and Books Tokyodo in Kanda. In addition, all of these bookstores have something else to offer besides a large selection of Japanese books, whether that be English language press, a tasty cafe, an outside terrace, or an impressive children’s area.
5. Books Tokyodo
Books Tokyodo, in Kanda, is my new book stop-off during a day of browsing in Jinbocho. This bookstore, in fact, is one of the oldest in the area, first founded in Meiji 23 (1890) and incorporated as "Tokyodo" in Taisho 6 (1917). This store has a unique selection of books and a large Japanese language section where I picked up a great book about Onomatopoeia in Japanese a few year ago. It also has a lovely–albeit not child-friendly–cafe called Paper Back [sic] Cafe with delicious meals, ice cream, cakes, and drinks. For a kissaten [coffeehouse] style cafe, I always appreciate when there is a varied tea selection and this one surprised me by serving Jasmine tea. Spend a few hours on the stools near the front windows and enjoy the quiet and studious atmosphere of Jinbocho from your perch.
4. Aoyama Book Center
I came across Aoyama Book Center, in the Omotesando/Aoyama area, by accident while looking for somewhere for my daughter, then only one-year-old, to play and relax. When we entered the Book Center, I was immediately drawn to the impressive display of beautiful art books, foregrounding fashion, aesthetics, photography, design, and advertising. Wandering in a little further, I was delighted to find a perfect kids’ area, complete with a small-size table and chairs and walls upon walls of picture books for her to explore. This store is only one floor, but it also has a good selection of foreign language-mostly English-books to peruse as well. An excellent find for those interested in art and design, or weary parents with little place to bring their offspring in Omotesando when the fun of Kiddyland wears out.
3. Story Story in Shinjuku
After living in Shinjuku for a month, I discovered that, to my astonishment, it is a wonderful area to bring your kids. Odakyu Department Store ended up being one that I frequented often since Story Story, a bookstore run by the Yurindo publishing house, checked off all the boxes for my family and I: large enough for the adults to find some interesting books to flip through (I especially enjoyed the parenting section), a big kids’ area with toys, and a tasty cafe. The attached cafe, although often full, has a full menu of Japanese coffeeshop fare-pasta napolitan, hayashi rice, doria, sandwiches and even a kids’ plate–each inspired by a specific book in the bookstore. Story Story also has original goods which make for excellent souvenirs as well as presents for children.
2. Tsutaya "T-Site" Daikanyama
First founded in 1983 in Osaka, from its inception, Tsutaya aimed to be less of a bookstore and more of a "lifestyle navigation" center with books, music, and films offered to a 20-something audience. The Daikanyama T-Site, opened in the trendy Tokyo neighborhood in 2011 and spreads across three spacious and gorgeous buildings connected by a ground floor of magazines from around the world. This site also has a selection of stationary, thousands of CDs to listen to onsite as well as to buy, films, and a small kids’ area. If you can get a seat, there is also a Starbucks to sit in to feel fancy. On the larger T-Site grounds, you can also check out Ivy Place, an American-style restaurant (reservations strongly recommended), and Børnelund, the import toy store where you and your child can explore games from around the world.
Although a close second is the Maruzen at Nihonbashi, the Maruzen across from Tokyo Station in the architecturally interesting Marunouchi Oazo building, is the bookstore I have frequented the most in Tokyo. With the best food, an incredible souvenir and stationary section, and large English language and Japanese learning areas, this Maruzen is the bookstore to beat in my opinion. M & C cafe, the kissaten affiliated with the store, serves delicious curry, hayashi rice, coffee, and ice cream-based desserts. It also has views of Tokyo Station’s trains coming in and out from its large windows, making it ideal for a sightseeing spot or to bring your kids who are into transportation vehicles. The stationary ranges from reasonably priced to beautiful luxury items, while the souvenirs change seasonally and sometimes even weekly: one week, you may find handmade stone jewelry, another week it might be leather goods or even artisanal small furniture. I cannot recommend this shop enough so make sure to check it out if you’re in the area. Or make a special trip as I always do!