Photo:Luca Moglia on Flickr

Smell the Age: Kanda Old Bookstores at Jimbo-cho

Books lead people anywhere, to the other side of the earth, to the future and the past.
There are many old bookstores by the Jimbo-cho station, very near to you in Tokyo at the town called Kanda Old Bookstore Town (”Kanda kosho tengai” or 神田古書店街 in Japanese).


This bookstore town was built in the 1880's, providing academic books to university students who have their schools located around the town. The old books here carry the scent of that bygone period; of the people and of their life. Some of the books are even from more than five score years ago. The scent of these books have been selected as one of the hundred best scenes for the intrinsic scents in Japan. By touching the books, flipping the pages, and reading the old-style Japanese characters, one can feel the history of the books, something one cannot avail in a modern bookstores (having   books wrapped in tight plastic covers at times).
People walk into the bookstores one by one, take a book to read it for a while, thereby discovering that they spent quality time at leisure. Imagining that each customer is enjoying being someone else in the book makes the street-walking more wonderful. That boy might be heading to Mars as an astronaut, the lady might be at war as a Historian, and this old man might be fighting with a timid mouse like a cat. Books release them from their current occupations, in the busy streets of Tokyo, to transform them into characters they want to be to enjoy the world.
Kaoru Yajima, who has been working for one of the old bookstores Sobunkaku-Shoten (叢文閣書店) says, “when we were young, we came to bookstores with a backpack, which was much fun. Now people can buy books online on their desk.”
But still, there are some customers who come to this book-town to buy books. A few days back, there was a man who visited Sobunkaku-Shoten to pick up a book he had ordered online. After he bought the particular book, by observing  at other books on the book shelves he was grew interested in other books besides the one he ordered. He ended up buying the not only the particular book he came for but several other books, too. This is what a bookstore does to you. Books have a charm of their own, once in hand there charisma draws you to more of them.
This kind of thing does not really happen in online shopping,” Kaoru said.

Kaoru Yajima and Haruaki Kondo. Yoshio was absent that day as he was at the old book fair in another town.
Kaoru Yajima and Haruaki Kondo. Yoshio was absent that day as he was at the old book fair in another town.

Kaoru’s husband Yoshio Yajima built up Sobunkaku-Shoten. Before inaugurating the store, he learned the how to manage an old bookstore by working under another old bookstore for about ten years. During this period, he memorized the market price for each kind of book throughout Japan. Yoshio then planned to become independent and started his own bookstore, which is now the Sobunkaku-Shoten.
Yoshio’s son Haruki Kondo is on his way to succeed this bookstore. Kondo says, “I have been growing up here so far, and will keep this store growing for the future too.” In the modern society people tend to rely on computers. He says, “I don’t know how old bookstores would survive in the future, but I’m sure printing types won’t go out.”
Kondo created the store’s website and started selling the old books online while he continues to run the bookstore at  Jimbo-cho.
Around Sobunkaku-Shoten, there are other bookstores selling specific books for example about China or books on History. Toho Shoten (東方書店) and Uchiyama Shoten (内山書店) sell books related to China in Japanese, Chinese and English. It is surprising and meaningful to find such bookstores in Japan, at present. This emphasises that culture have a far greater influence on people than politics or technological changes.


Uchiyama Shoten

When book lovers frequenting this book-town have tired backs or weary eyes by standing and reading books, they can stop at one of the cafes nearby. The scattered cafes here provide a wonderful atmosphere to the book town. There also  some stationary shops with cute Japanese souvenirs too, where you might want to have a look.
Kanda Old bookstore town; a place to spend time cheap yet deep.

For more links click below;

Book Town Jimbou

History of Jimbo-cho (Wikipedia)

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