Tokyo is full of wonders, but bookworms may miss the written word. Our modern Internet era gives us many choices, but nothing can take the place of browsing for an hour or two in a well-stocked bookstore.
Here’s our list of the best places to pick up everything from cast-offs to the latest thrillers at local Tokyo bookstores (and others)!
Tokyo Bookstores : Amazon International
Well, we’ll always have the Kindle. Any reader worthy of the title has one. But if you just have to have that new book smell (and can’t find what you want at any of the other places on this list), you can always try Amazon’s international store. Some things that won’t ship to you from your country’s version of Amazon can be had at the international version.
Book-Off is a chain of used Tokyo bookstores that can be found throughout Japan. Normally they sell Japanese books and manga, video game stuff, movies, etc. Most of Book-Off’s Tokyo bookstores have an English section, but don’t expect to find much. The books are usually airport cast-offs, bizarre cookbooks from the 90s, novelizations of movies and popular fiction, etc. But if you happen across one, it might be worth a look.
Books Kinokuniya used to be a huge six-story bookstore, but now only the foreign language section remains on the 6th floor. Inside, it is indistinguishable from a major book chain store in the US. The elevator opens into an extensive children’s and young adult’s section, meanders into a magazine and comics section, and then with the rows and rows of other printed material. There are also large sections devoted to books in French, German, Spanish, Chinese, and Italian, so your other expat friends can also find what they like. If it’s recent and you’re looking for it, Books Kinokuniya Tokyo bookstores in Shinjuku probably has it.
Nearest Station: 5-minute walk from Shinjuku Station, New South Exit (plan your route at the link and click on the Google Map below for walking directions)
This store is on the 5th through 7th floors in the Modi building in Shibuya, close to Shibuya Crossing. They used to have a decent selection of books, but it seems that the English section is shrinking. The last time I went (May 2018), a large part of the English books section (next to the English-teaching cafe) on the 5th floor was closed off as “staff only.” Like Tower Records, this may not last much longer.
Still, there is a pretty good selection of foreign books in Japanese. If you want to get a Japanese friend a book you like, you can look here.
Nearest Station: 3-minute walk from Shibuya Station, Hachiko Exit (plan your route at the link and click on the Google Map below for walking directions)
With the demise of The Blue Parrot in Takadanobaba and the apparent dissolution of Good Day Books in Gotanda, Infinity Books is the only game left in town for second-hand English Tokyo bookstores.
Infinity Books is roomy and cozy. 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 and Bass on tap for the evenings, the perfect complement for the thinking drinker’s new book.
As far as the books go, you can visit and browse in person, or check online by category or the offline search service. 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%). He also frequently holds events, which are great for meeting new people, local musicians, and other book lovers.
Nearest Station: 5-minute walk from Honjo-Azumbashi Station exit A1 (plan your route at the link and click on the Google Map below for walking directions)
Maruzen Marunouchi Main Tokyo bookstores is a big box store, though their English section is smaller than Kinokuniya’s in Shinjuku. The fourth floor is where the foreign books are located (in addition to English, there are German and French books).
The new releases are right up front, and a fiction section was behind that. Both had a good selection. Of special interest to English teachers and the parents of young children will be the large section with Oxford Graded Readers and Penguin Active Reading books, to help your kid/student with their vocabulary and reading skills.
After an extensive non-fiction section, the rest of the fourth floor of the Maruzen is taken up with various frip-frappery with only vague connections to books. I could understand the stationery and the pens (even the 10,000 yen pens), but purses? Ties? It just threw off my groove.
Nearest Station: 1-minute walk from Tokyo Station (click on the Google Map for walking directions)
When I first got to Japan in the 90s, Tower Records was the place to go if you wanted any English books and magazines. The foreign books section took up the entire seventh floor and had anything you might want. The comics and art books gave that part of the store an “underground” vibe (as much as you can get while shopping at a corporate juggernaut, anyway).
In 2012, the foreign bookstore moved from the seventh floor to the second as part of a remodeling and restructuring. No longer spacious, the bookstore now had to share half of the floor with a cafè. Since then, the selection of English books and magazines has shrunk, encroached upon by Japanese books of similar flavors. This might be a great place to get a popular fiction book for your Japanese friend that you have read in English, but the pickings are starting to get slim.
Nearest Station: 5-minute walk from Shibuya Station (click on the Google Map for walking directions)
Have you considered your local library? Most libraries in the Tokyo area have a selection of English books. If you are a resident, you can get a library card with proof of residence. If not, no one minds if you come in to browse. My local library has a few full bookshelves, mostly popular fiction from the past two decades.
Do note that if you need some sort of reference material (encyclopedias, language books) that they will be grouped in the reference section, not with the other English books. Maybe not the same selection that you could get at one of the local Tokyo bookstores, but it’s free.