Explore Tokyo’s book lover paradise: Jimbocho Book Town

This true hidden gem of Tokyo is not so hidden - rather, it is located in the heart of Tokyo, right in plain sight. Jimbocho Book Town is one of the most charming and delightful places you could ever explore in Japan’s capital. As a bibliophile, this little district is a dream come true for me. Streets lined up with quaint bookstores and cosy cafes, Jimbocho Book Town is a place that will make you fall in love with books all over again - as well as get to experience a true slice of a local’s life in Tokyo. Whenever friends come to visit me in Tokyo, I often take them to Jimbocho Book Town as one of the places to show them around since it’s always a charming part of why I love living in this city.  Curious? Follow me on Instagram and YouTube for more adventures!

©iStock/ Sanga Park

When you first step out of Tokyo’s metro station and into Jimbocho Book Town, you will feel like you have been transported to a different era. The streets are lined with bookstores, each one with its unique personality and collection of books spewing out onto the sidewalks. I love sneaking out on a weekday afternoon and perusing the selections on a clear day. You can easily spend hours browsing through the worn shelves, discovering new authors and titles that you never knew existed! Of course, if you’re on the hunt for classic Murakami or Yoko Ogawa tomes, they’re scatted everywhere too. 

Curiously, I learned that Jimbocho Book Town dates back to the early 20th century when a group of booksellers started setting up shop in the area. At the time, Jimbocho was already known as a hub for academic institutions, and the booksellers saw an opportunity to cater to the students and professors who needed textbooks and other academic literature. 

© Logan Ly

The name "Jimbocho" itself has an interesting origin since, during the Edo period (1603-1868), the area was known as "Kanda-shuku," which was a stop on the road between Edo (modern-day Tokyo) and Kyoto. It wasn't until the Meiji period (1868-1912) that the area was officially renamed "Jimbocho" after a nearby shrine called "Jimboin." Over time, more and more booksellers joined the community, and Jimbocho Book Town began to take shape. Hence the name "Jimbocho Book Town", which comes from the district's location in the Jimbocho neighbourhood of Tokyo. Jimbocho is a district in the Chiyoda ward of Tokyo, and from this high concentration of bookstores earned it the nickname "Book Town."  

During the 1960s and 1970s, the area experienced a boom in the publishing industry, which further cemented Jimbocho's reputation as a book lover's paradise. Fast forward to today - where Tokyo is known as a neo-futuristic, technological mecca - despite the rise of digital media, Jimbocho Book Town has managed to hold on to its charm and appeal. In fact, the district has become even more popular in recent years as people seek out the unique experience of browsing through physical books and interacting with knowledgeable booksellers - going back to something so human in the tangible and analogue. 

© Logan Ly

Exploring Jimbocho Book Town today, you can easily see how it’s home to more than 200 bookstores, ranging from small, cosy shops to large, multi-level stores. The district continues to attract book lovers from all over the world, and it remains a cultural hub for literature and learning in Tokyo.

Now, one of the things that make Jimbocho Book Town so special is its emphasis on rare and antique books. Many of the bookstores in the district specialise in rare and out-of-print books, so you never know what actual hidden gems you might come across. From first editions of classic novels to vintage travel guides, there's something for every book lover in Jimbocho Book Town. Though the booksellers definitely know what these are worth - and unfortunately, they aren’t the same prices that you’ll see for books at a thrift or second-hand bookstore. 

© Logan Ly

But you know what goes well with accompanying all of these books in Jimbocho Book Town?  The district is also home to some of the cosiest cafes and restaurants you'll ever visit. Whether you're in the mood for a hot cup of coffee, a delicious pastry, or a hearty Japanese meal like Omurice, you'll find plenty of options to choose from. And what could be better than curling up with a good book and a warm drink on a rainy day? 

Perhaps for me, aside of being in a book wonderland, one of the best things about Jimbocho Book Town is its people. If you did not know, Tokyoites have a reputation for often being cold and distant… like they are polite and will help with directions if you are lost - but that is very different from being welcoming and genuinely friendly. Maybe having lived in Tokyo for a while now and having met a lot of Tokyoites with some local friends, I can actually dare say that this generalisation is somewhat true with of course, the exceptions. 

...The twist in Jimbocho Book Town is that the locals are quite friendly in this district, and many of them are passionate about books themselves. You'll often find bookstore owners eager to share their knowledge and recommendations with you, or other customers striking up conversations about their favourite authors or genres. Amongst the dusty hardbacks and dog-eared pages, it's a neighbourhood where book lovers can come together and share their love of reading.

© Wikimedia/ Nick-D

Getting to Jimbocho Book Town by Tokyo Metro is quite easy, as the district is connected by several subway lines. Here are a few options for getting there: 

• Take the Toei Mita Line (purple line) or the Tokyo Metro Hanzomon Line (light purple line) to Jimbocho Station. Both of these lines stop at Jimbocho Station, which is right in the heart of Jimbocho Book Town. 

• Take the Tokyo Metro Shinjuku Line (orange line) to Ogawamachi Station. From there, it's about a 10-minute walk to Jimbocho Book Town. 

•  Take the Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line (red line) to Ochanomizu Station. From there, it's about a 15-minute walk to Jimbocho Book Town. 

No matter which subway line you take, be sure to check the train schedules and plan your route ahead of time. Tokyo Metro is a reliable and efficient way to get around the city, but rush hour can be quite crowded, so it's best to avoid peak times if possible.

© flickr/ Scott Kouchi

It's easy to get to Jimbocho Book Town from anywhere in Tokyo. But for book fanatics, why not combine your adventures with a local stay? BOOK HOTEL 神保町 is a spectacular place that is literally a book... hotel. Yep, stay in rooms that are made out of books and shelves filled with stories that you can read! Of course, if you're on more of a budget, then nearby Sakura Hotel Jimbocho is a great accommodation that won't break the wallet (all the better to have more to buy books of course!). For those looking to experience a traditional onsen inside their hotel, check out Ochanomizu Hotel Shoryukan - where you can also sleep on tatami mats and includes complimentary Japanese breakfast.

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