Said Ernest Hemingway. And perhaps I am in half-agreement, as there are two types of stores that I can spend hours lost inside: bookstores and record stores.
It’s no secret that Koenji is a Tokyo hotbed for political discourse–or at least protest. It was after all the birthplace of Japanese punk, which at one time (before Green Day made a billion dollars) was an anti-establishment subculture. Even in Japan. That’s why it should come as no surprise to find a bookstore so rich with political treatises, texts and tomes.
Opened in 1932, Tomaru books is run by Kazuhiro Tomaru–a specialist bookseller in economic, history, law, philosophy, social science, and mostly politics. Near the tip of a pie-shaped peninsula of shops between to small pedestrian streets, its layout has a nice flow to it. With its front entrance opening onto the main shotengai of Central Road, a wide back door with bookshelves outside opens onto Koenji Station West Shotengai (高円寺駅西商店会), a covered and less-trafficked strip under the Chuo tracks.
If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.
― Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood
While most of the books are in Japanese, he has a number of books in English (at great prices) as well as German, Russian and French. The few non-English books I looked at were more deserving of the antiquarian moniker. A German book of Hitler quotes (published in 1934, so presumably by the Reich) was selling for 8,000 yen. The Russian book–displayed in the storefront window–is a 40,000 yen tome about Kolokol (Колокол), the 19th Century weekly newspaper and vanguard of the Russian censorship-free press. Published during the 1850’s and 60’s, it had a revolutionary democratic platform calling for the liberation of peasants, abolition of censorship and an end to corporal punishment. A perfect fit for the pulse of Koenji indeed.
If you are concerned about getting ripped off or overpaying, fear not. Tomaru is a member of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of Japan. The display of the ABA badge (a Registered Trade Mark) pledges members to:
- the authenticity of all material offered for sale
- the expert and proper description of all such material
- the disclosure of all significant defects or restorations
- the clear, accurate and professional pricing of all material
- the fairness and honesty of offers to purchase
If you are in the market for leather-bound collections or first editions (such as a first edition Das Kapital (!) for 1.5 million yen) mark Tomaru Bookstore on your map before you spend all your time in Kanda and Jimbocho. Of course, you don’t need 15 grand to shop here. I picked up two English books on Japan for 300 yen each. You’ll find most of the English books along the wall outside and the shelves just inside the back door. But step inside and look around. And inhale. Especially if you love books–the smell, the feel, the essence of books. You’ll certainly never in a million years experience this on Amazon. You won’t even find this at Kinokuniya.
(For the record: Kinokuniya does in fact have an Antiquarian Department and is an ABAJ member).
Tomaru Books (都丸書店)
Suginami-ku, Tokyo, 166-0002
Tel: (03) 3337-3690
Closed: Tue, Wed, Sun
Website: none found
Twitter: none found