Japan: Amazing Bookstores in Kyoto and Tokyo
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.
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
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.
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.
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
Amazing Bookstores in the World
- Lello e Irmao, the World's Third Best Bookstore
The Lello e Irmao bookstore in Porto is the third best bookstore in the world, according to The Guardian. This is a tale of my visit and some photos to show its architectonic value.
- Postcards from Amazing Bookstores
The best bookstores in the world, according to The Guardian. Here features my review of El Ateneo Grand Splendid in Buenos Aires, Selexyz Dominicanen in Maastrich, Posada in Brussels, and off the list but gorgeous Shakespeare & Company in Paris.