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Japan: Amazing Bookstores in Kyoto and Tokyo

Updated on June 29, 2014

Just back from Japan, I can say I've reached the mid point in my quest to visit The World's 10 Best Bookshops according to The Guardian. I've visited El Ateneo Grand Splendid in Buenos Aires, Selexyz Dominicanen in Maastrich, Posada Books in Brussels, Lello e Irmao in Porto, and now I add Kyoto's Keibunsya, rated #9 in The Guardian's list.

But that's not all. I also visited Tsutaya's newest bookstore, Daikanyama T-Site, in Tokyo, which opened in December 2011. I'm sure it's not in the Top 10 list because such list was produced way earlier than this magnificent bookstore opened its doors, otherwise I bet it would feature there.

No need to steal any of these photos, ask me and I'll send the original in all it's full pixeled quality.
No need to steal any of these photos, ask me and I'll send the original in all it's full pixeled quality. | Source

Japan and Books

Books and bookstores are alive, well and kicking heartily in Japan.

Much as everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, walks and rides the subway and the train, and eats and does just about everything else with a smart phone in their hand, an iPod in their ears, etcetera, books are still the thing. None of that ebook fad over there in the land of the rising sun, books are still THE thing people read on their commutes, on a bench in the park, or just about anywhere else, too.

I did find that surprising, pardon my ignorance, but I'd chance a guess that it'd probably be a surprise for many, considering Japan is the country of electronics par excellence.

Keibunsya in Kyoto

Unassuming, charming. It's just your around the corner bookstore.
Unassuming, charming. It's just your around the corner bookstore.

This is the world's #9 best bookstore, according to The Guardian. It isn't a grand building, nor a flashy setup. In a way, it reminded me of Posada Books in Brussels (which unfortunately closed its doors on May 2014), with its old world atmosphere, its quiet and understated message that books are what count, and they have them for you, if you happen to want for one.

Quiet, Unpretentious, Old World

What's most impressive about this bookstore is its quiet, unpretentious, corner store atmosphere. It's seriously charming, combining lighting and panels and old furniture to create that bookstore of old feel. And as old bookstores the world over, it's peacefully silent, such as a library would be.

The shushed ambience, the subdued but perfectly adequate lightning, create that unique book adoring scene that can only be found in true bookstores.

In a way, if not for the books predominantly in Japanese, I could have found myself just anywhere in the world. Perhaps that's the nature and soul of bookstores –no matter the country they are in, books create a unique language that's universally understood.

This world class bookstore it's completely out of the way. Two train rides is what it took. I could say one train ride with a transfer, but in truth we had to change train lines! Did that add charm to the whole visit!

The Guardian lists the lighting and the panels, or the little galleries embedded in the panels as must sees. However, as The Guardian states, "it's just the quiet dignity of the place that's hard to beat."

They carry a bit of everything, ostensibly specializing in design and art books in Japanese, but you'll find comics, magazines, modern literature, a space for music, stationery, and an area for gifts and home stuff.

Charming-ness abounds

Excuse me, but isn't this the cutest book bag?
Excuse me, but isn't this the cutest book bag?

Location

Tsutaya's Daikanyama T-Site, Tokyo

I found out about this architectural masterpiece in Flavorwire. Be that as it may, with the Flavorwire's entry I realized my list of Top 10 bookstores to visit had just doubled up, from 10 to 20!

Never mind that, I call myself lucky that I read the Flavorwire entry before I traveled to Japan, since it would have been unforgivable to be in Tokyo and miss out on Tsutaya's pride and joy bookstore.

T-Site is Special in its Inception

Tsutaya is a huge book and music retail store chain in Japan. You can find one Tsutaya outlet in every third corner, literally, which already made me suspect that old style books where still the thing in Japan. But the really interesting and special fact about this new store was that the owner delisted the company from Tokyio Stock Exchange in order to be able to do what he envisioned as his flagship store in Japan.

Pardon me, but delisting a company from the stock exchange market in order to be able to build a dream, and not have to answer to stockholders, is nothing short of a miracle these days. I seriously found it something legendary, and most definitely worth a visit.

Singular Concept Today

I informed myself regarding the architects, the design criteria and the space, and the more I read, the more I wanted to see for myself.

In a world where more and more bookstores are closing their doors, be it for the competition of major chains, physical or virtual (Amazon, anyone?), or simply due to the advent of the electronic book, here was a business owner who not only didn't believe in the descent of the traditional book industry, but also conceived of a way to make it modern, innovative and fabulously appealing to all types, especially the types that would otherwise find solace in purchasing books from the comfort of their iPhones or iPads or Kindles.

Singular Architecture and Design

From all I read, what appealed to me the most of this bookstore was the architecture angle, although, as I listed above, the concept was already very appealing. But when I saw the place for myself, I really had to nod my head in earnest at the architectural and interior design innovative masterpiece.

It combines a very fine display of books, magazines, music, DVDs and high-end stationery, with an even finer piano lounge and restaurant, an integrated convenience store, a Starbucks suited to the building its hosted in, and a travel agency.

It sits in the middle of a garden, or so it looks like, composed of three modules that look like a T and which are connected by an upper floor glass walkway. The lower half of the exterior is all glass and the upper half is a T shaped façade that reflects the site's name. By early evening, when the interior it's lighted and the sky is darkish, looking in from outside it's magical.

Location

This bliss of a bookstore is located 15 minutes south of Shibuya. Yes, that huge crossing that appears in all movies and newscasts. However, 15 minutes south is the center of the upscale Daikanyama shopping district, very quiet and rather elegant. One would never suspect it's but less than one mile away from one of the most crowded crossings in the world.

If you plan to ever visit this bookstore, Google Maps will help you out. Like I said, it's a 15 minute walk from Shibuya, you only need to orient yourself around the backstreets of Tokyo.

Some extra photos

Not many extra shots, because photos weren't actually allowed inside. Good thing I only realized after I'd already taken a few, because as soon as I saw the sign, that was the last of my photo spree inside the building...
Not many extra shots, because photos weren't actually allowed inside. Good thing I only realized after I'd already taken a few, because as soon as I saw the sign, that was the last of my photo spree inside the building...

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    • profile image

      Gloria 5 years ago

      Great reading, love the pictures and the story about Tsutaya!

    • Susan Ng profile image

      Susan Ng Yu 5 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Glad to hear that books are still popular in Japan. I'd like to visit these bookstores and raid their manga shelves one day. :D

    • Elena. profile image
      Author

      Elena. 5 years ago from Madrid

      Hi Gloria! The story about Tsutaya is indeed very unusual, specially in times like this we're living now!

      Susan, I was actually surprised by the printed book's popularity, but what do you know, it's just as I'm telling it! :-)

    • Feline Prophet profile image

      Feline Prophet 5 years ago from India

      What a wonderful quest you've set for yourself! All the best with the rest. :)

    • Elena. profile image
      Author

      Elena. 5 years ago from Madrid

      Cheers, FP! Only 5 in The Guardian list to go now... plus 15 in the Flavorwire report :-) I'll get there yet!

    • Marshall Turndra profile image

      Marshall Turndra 3 years ago

      I love shopping for books in Japan.

    • poetryman6969 profile image

      poetryman6969 2 years ago

      Before the advent of the internet, libraries and bookstores used to be some of my most favorite places on earth. The notion of going around the world to visit famous bookstores is something I have never thought of.

    • Elena. profile image
      Author

      Elena. 2 years ago from Madrid

      Hi Poetryman! To me even with the advent of the internet, they still continue to be, and I admit to being an avid ebook fan. But the magic of libraries and bookstores still captures me.

      I don't know that I'll ever manage to finish the "round the world chasing beautiful bookstores endeavor", but this is one of these instances where the journey is a lot more interesting and fulfilling than the destination :)

    • hrymel profile image

      hrymel 2 years ago from Fort George G Meade, MD

      These are gorgeous. I'd love to spend an afternoon wandering through the shelves of books. Probably my biggest weakness is small unassuming bookstores.

    • Elena. profile image
      Author

      Elena. 2 years ago from Madrid

      Hi hrymel! I bet you'd have loved Posada in Brussels, which is now closed, unfortunately. That was 'unassuming', AND welcoming, to boot. Hope you can still enjoy some bookstores in your neck of the woods!

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 2 years ago from sunny Florida

      You know I did not visit any bookstores during the seventies when I visited Japan...Tokyo or Kyoto or any of the other amazing places I visited.

      I did however witness many of the lovely Japanese people reading their books on the train as we traveled to and fro.

      Great sharing...my eldest grandson reads many books from Japan and wants to have dual citizenship one day if possible.

      Angels are on the way to you this morning Congrats on HOTD.

    • Elena. profile image
      Author

      Elena. 2 years ago from Madrid

      Hello pstraubie48! The interesting thing is that nowadays Japanese folks still very much use the paper book, which to me seemed surprising considering the electronic craziness of late, especially in Japan!

      You sound like you love that wonderful country as much as I do :) Thanks for the comment!

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 2 years ago from the short journey

      Such a neat read. Thanks for the info and congrats on your Hub of the Day award for this interesting post.

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Elena, congrats on HOTD! This was a great hub about Japan's bookstores and how neat it is. I would love to go to Japan someday. Voted up for interesting!

    • profile image

      stevbonhage 2 years ago

      Hi there,

      really like this hub! Actually love the fact that somebody picked up on that subject since there are a lot of hidden book stores in Japan. Defenitly gonne take a closer look next time I am there! Did you have any chance to visit the Tsukiji fish market?! In case u missed out I recently wrote a hub about that. Feel free to have a read if you have a spare minute (http://stevbonhage.hubpages.com/hub/Tsukiji-Market... Once again, nice hub, thx for sharing!

    • Elena. profile image
      Author

      Elena. 2 years ago from Madrid

      Thanks much guys!

      Japan is a fascinating country, and as such has been the subject of more than a couple articles for me, but I still hold this one about books and bookstores in Japan as very near and dear to my heart.

      Very grateful for the positive feedback and comments!

      @Stev Yep, I visited the fish market indeed. Quite the experience, too :) Will check out your article real pronto!

    • Candle Reviews profile image

      Candle Reviews 2 years ago

      What an interesting article. I would like to visit there one day and see all the sites.

    • Elena. profile image
      Author

      Elena. 2 years ago from Madrid

      Good day Candle Reviews, and thanks! Japan is just a plane ride away, so pick up your overnight bag and take off :D Seriously though, I do think Japan is very much worth a visit!

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