Readers, rejoice! Living or traveling in Tokyo doesn't mean that you have to give up your book habits. Though most Japanese bookstores have few to no English-language titles, there are a select few that'll keep you more than happy, if you know where to look. Here is a guide to five bookstores around Tokyo with top selections of English books. Happy reading!
1. Kinokuniya Books - South Shinjuku Branch
This is the Big One. Kinokuniya's South Shinjuku store has an enormous selection of books, and is your best bet for finding just about anything: books, magazines, comics, textbooks. What makes this store so impressive is not just the sheet number of books available, but their range of genres as well.
In addition to popular fiction and nonfiction, you can find shelves and shelves of technical topics, from physics to French philosophy to crafts. There are sections of other language books, too. If you're looking for something simple, many bookstores will do. If you're looking for something special, this should be the first place you check.
2. Good Day Books
Good Day Books is the biggest and best used English bookstore in Tokyo. As imported books tend to be rather expensive, a good secondhand bookshop is indispensable for the overseas reader.
Good Day has a huge collection of everything imaginable, from popular titles to more harder-to-find genres like poetry and sci-fi. For me, part of the fun of a used bookstore is browsing the shelves to see what's there. If that's not your cup of tea, the Good Day website has a search function to check the library to see what's currently available.
The store also offers tutoring classes for those studying for major standardized tests, like the SAT, GRE, or GMAT. Good Day also buys books, and tends to offer better prices than the ubiquitous Book Off chain. Best of all, Good Day Books is privately owned, and supporting a mom-and-pop bookstore is a worthy cause in this age of internet shopping and mega-chain superstores.
3. Tower Records - Shibuya Branch
Once upon a time, the Shibuya Tower Records had arguably the largest selection of English books in Tokyo. Times have changed, however, and the huge department has been whittled down. Today, there remains a decent collection of English books which focuses on the works of the best-known authors of today and days past, rather than a broad, expanded collection of anything and everything. For many readers, the book options here are more than good enough. For people looking for something obscure, try elsewhere.
Tower Records does two things exceptionally well: music books, and coffee table books. Being a famous music store, it should come as no surprise that the section of music-related books stretches all the way across the store. From B.B. King to the King of Pop, music lovers of any genre or generation are going to find some great in-depth titles here. Also notable is Tower Records' selection of large, full-color books on photography, art, and design. There are some real beauties here, and those who are into that kind of imagery - or are merely looking for a talking-piece to set on your coffee table - will have plenty to choose from.
4. Maruzen - Nihonbashi/Tokyo Station
Maruzen is a big Japanese chain, and their branch near Nihonbashi and Tokyo Stations has a great selection of things to read in English on the top floor. This is clearly a more upscale bookstore. There is gallery space that is frequently filled with photography exhibitions and historical artifacts. Down on the first floor, there is a somewhat posh department store selling men's goods, from neckties to binoculars.
But the important thing is the books, of course. There's a healthy collection of novels, nonfiction, classics, kids' books, comics, newspapers and magazines. Books are constantly being updated, and books currently on bookshelves worldwide are likewise here. Maruzen is a handy branch for travelers, as Tokyo Station is a major hub for busses and trains going throughout Japan.
5. Aoyama Book Center - Roppongi Branch
Like Tower Records in Shibuya, ABC-Roppongi has also downsized their English book section over the years. While this no longer stands as one of the elite foreign-book sections in the city, there is one thing they do that no one else does, and that is highlight Japan.
While most other bookstores mentioned here feature the same types of books, magazines, and newspapers that you might find in an overseas bookstore, ABC-Roppongi offers a unique collection of Japanese-specific books. There is a large collection of English translations of Japanese books, from today's bestsellers to generational classics.
Japan features many incredible writers that simply don't get noticed in many foreign countries, so this is the place to get acquainted with the local flavor of literature. In addition to fiction and nonfiction literature, there is also a wealth of informational books on Japan-centric topics like Japanese cooking, religion, art, culture, and history.