by Derek Winston
When I first started looking around for used bookstores in Tokyo, a number of people told me about Caravan Books in Ikebukuro. But alas, by the time I got around to visiting, it had closed. The owner had moved his business online.
When I received this assignment, I went looking for Caravan’s online store, now known as Infinity Books. A Google search turned up–a bookstore in Tokyo? One I hadn’t been to or even knew about? What madness is this?
At Shinagawa station I transferred from the JR lines to the Keikyu Main Line Rapid Limited Express, heading towards Nishi-Magome. At the next stop (Sengakuji), I switched to the Toei Asakusa line (light red circle) going towards Oshiage (Skytree). I got off at Honjo-Azumbashi station and departed from the A1 exit.
At the A1 exit, a person can turn around and look directly at the Skytree itself. I am not that person. Putting the Skytree to my back, I walked along the sidewalk, passing under a light blue walking bridge that spanned the road. Looking right as I walked, I spotted the gigantic golden turd with which someone decided to mar Asakusa’s skyline. I continued walking until I found the small black sign announcing the presence of Infinity Books and Cafè.
Infinity Books is roomy and cozy, if a little on the dark side. The books are only split between fiction and non-fiction–you’ll find sci-fi novels right next to historical romances and murder mysteries. It sounds like a strange way to organize, but I liked it. You may not find the exact book you want, but you’ll find something. And when you find that something, take it to the back of the shop. There are a few tables that are better lit, as well as…a bar?
Yes indeed. Nick Ward, the owner and proprietor, ran a bar (The Fiddler, in Takadanobaba) prior to opening Infinity Books. He keeps Yebisu on tap, the perfect complement for the thinking drinker’s new book. He also ran Caravan Books back in the days before he moved his operation online. “The costs were enormous. The problem was that I was doing the same thing I’m doing now–six days a week, watching a computer screen, waiting for an order to come in. Only there was no one to talk to, no new people coming around. My wife finally told me to get all of the books out of the house, so I opened this place.” As of this writing, Infinity Books has been open for nine months.
Like Good Day, Infinity can’t survive by on-site bookselling alone. Nick gives English lessons and frequently holdsevents (such as the acoustic jams every second Saturday of the month). He also maintains Infinity’s online presence through Amazon and the store’s web page. Infinity Books takes trades, depending on whether or not Nick wants them; shelf space is limited. If he likes what you bring, Nick offers store credit (around 35% of the resale value) or cash (around 15%).
Inifinity has a rotating cast of characters, most of whom have followed the Yorkshireman from Caravan Books and The Fiddler. In my short time there, I met a pair of Canadian acoustic musicians, a Korean woman who sings classical Japanese songs, and an Irishman who teaches at a nearby university. However, I didn’t meet the ghost. Nick swears that she (it’s a woman, according to the people who have seen her) stomps around the store at night and throws things. Occasionally, she goes upstairs to the apartment building above the shop. “People there have seen her,” he says. He keeps a glass of beer over the bar for her, in case she gets thirsty. So far, she hasn’t drunk it. Maybe she doesn’t like Yebisu.
Nick and I chatted for a few hours about everything under the sun. Don’t be afraid to visit; he likes meeting and talking to new people. Even weirdos, which was a good thing for me.
“So Nick,” I started in on him. “Do you think Hitler had to fight a lot of time travelers?”
“You know. You read books about people inventing time travel, and the first thing they think about doing is going back and killing Hitler. Deadpool just did a whole thing on it. It was in Stephen King’s The Dead Zone. It even has a TV Tropes page dedicated to the idea. What do you think?”
“I think that Harry Turtledove’s stuff is over in the fiction area.” He nodded at my pint glass. “How many of those have you had?”
WHAT I BOUGHT: Freakonomics, by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner; I’m constantly giving this book away. I also bought W.E.B. Griffin’s The Hunters, which looked to be something along the lines of Clancy’s Rainbow Six, which I enjoyed. Also, a few beers (800 yen/pint).
Can’t get enough of bookstores? Visit Derek’s comprehensive review of Tokyo’s best bookstores, both big and small.
Derek Winston is retired from the US Navy and currently attends college in Tokyo. If you see him on the street, approach with caution; there’s no telling what you will end up talking about. It might be safer to limit your exposure by contacting him at [email protected] Might be.