Several times a month I get emails from people asking for suggestions on what kinds of photo-related places to see when they visit Tokyo. Being involved with photography and photobooks for over the years I figured that it might be helpful to compile visual lists of photo-centric locations with which to suggest to anyone who’s planning on visiting Tokyo. These are going to be highly subjective pieces- every Gaijin has their own take on the city, I’m sure I’ll probably leave stuff out that other people would include. What will follow then is not an expansive list of possible entries per topic, but merely my own personal favorites and suggestions compiled from living here for almost a decade.
TOPIC: Secondhand Photobooks
Location: Jimbocho bookstore district
Time: 1 to 2 hours
Starting point: Jimbocho station, Exit A6
The Jimbocho district has long been the used bookshop section of town and while most shops are specifically of interest to readers and collectors of books written in Japanese there are a few spots with impressive photobook selections.
The following shops are all within fairly close proximity to each other. If you see a book you really want at one shop, hold off until you’ve visited the others- chances are someone else will have it too, and prices can vary enough to make it worth a slight wait to shop around.
Some shops have expensive stuff in glass cases or behind the register. Others will have $400 photobooks on the shelf next to $20 ones, and you might now know it until you look at the price tag inside the front cover. Obviously, taking care when handling ANYTHING in these shops is highly suggested.
While most shop clerks are friendly, there is no guarantee that they’ll communicate in English. If you want to see something that’s behind glass or out of reach, use this helpful Japanese phrase:
“Sumimasen, kono hon o misete itadakenai desho ka?” “Excuse me, may I see this book?”
(Replace “kono hon/this book” with a title for even better effect.)
NOTE: I do not suggest doing this on the 4th floor rare book showroom of Komiyama Shoten (see below).
As for handling rare books- these are traditional businesses, not libraries or a Barnes & Noble… If you want to handle and enjoy rare and expensive photobooks, save yourself and the shop clerks some trouble and browse to your eye’s content through the phenomenal photobook collection at the Tokyo Metro Museum of Photography‘s reference library in Ebisu. (This will be part of a future post).
Finally, if you are unable to visit Tokyo but have interest in purchasing Japanese photobooks, your best online resource is the Japan Exposures Bookstore. Here you can browse their selection of books and if you don’t see something you want you can place special orders to get it.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
This guide will start at Jimbocho station (Mita line / Toei Shinjuku line / Hanzomon line)
Exit the station from A6:
Cross the street and head on down Yasukuni-dori. You’ll pass many bookshops on this side of the street:
Notice that there are no bookshops on the opposite side of the road- that side of the street gets hit by sunlight all day long, which is (I’ve been told) why most bookshop storefronts face North. Go two blocks and you’ll reach our first shop, Komiyama-Shoten.
Komiyama Shoten is four floors of incredibleness- on the first floor you’ll find a 1000 yen book shelf near the front door filled with all sorts of stuff that can go for a lot more abroad. Along the same wall is a selection of Japanese and foreign photography books- with what is probably the most complete/extensive selection of Nobuyoshi Araki books in the city. On the other side of the room you will find a glass case stocked with rare/expensive photobooks.
The fourth floor is the Showroom- the shop’s website has a preview of what to expect. Your luggage will probably get heavy from the 1000 yen shelves downstairs, but this fourth floor is not to be missed. In addition to a stuffed Ewok (!?) the room features a selection of prints and extremely rare books- where else in the world will you find two original copies of Araki’s Sentimental Journey for sale in the same place next to a stack of issues of Provoke? But unless you are seriously planning on shelling out over eight grand for a single rare book, DO NOT even ask to handle these things. Approaching this room as a gallery or museum is probably the best bet for the casual book lover.
Komiyama Shoten: www.book-komiyama.co.jp (with some English)
Hours: Weekdays: 11:00-18:30 Sundays/Holidays 11:00-17:30
When you leave Komiyama Shoten, take a hard right around the corner…
…and go on down the street to the next intersection.
Here you’ll find the second shop on this walk, Magnif Zinebocho
Magnif’s website says that they stock Used Books and Magazine Back Issues- and it’s mostly older magazines. If you’re interested in 1990′s era FRUITS or other Japanese fashion mags this is your place. They also have a nice little photobook section on the right side of the shop.
Magnif: www.magnif.jp (with some English)
Hours: Open every day 11:00 to 19:00
Stepping out of Magnif, take a right and head down the street. Our next shop is on the left of this lane.
Soon you’ll find Bohemian Guild.
Bohemian Guild’s photobook offerings take up the inner left shelves of the shop. Their site has some interior views of their store. By the way, this is one of those shops with some expensive stuff in with the regular specials.
Bohemian Guild Natsume Shoten: www.natsume-books.com (Japanese only)
Hours: Open every day, weekdays 11：00 – 19：30, Sundays and Holidays: 11:00 – 18:00
After leaving this store head towards the busy street on your left. This is Yasukuni-dori which has curved around from where we started to head eastward eventually on into Chiba where it becomes the Keiyo expressway.
… and cross this kind of weird intersection. Go straight.
You’ll no doubt notice that all the bookshops have now been replaced with ski gear shops- this is Tokyo’s sporting goods district. Likewise, farther up the hill that goes to Ochanomizu staion is Tokyo’s district for musical instruments.
Just before you get to the Starbucks on the right side of the street you’ll find Genkido Books Brothers.
Hop up the stairs and step inside.
Genkido is perhaps the most competitively priced shop of the bunch- they have a good selection of Japanese photobooks on the left side of the inner shelf in the middle of the store. Along the lower part of the facing wall will be more foreign photo collections. Near the front door is a glass case of rare books- I think I saw an original copy of Winogrand’s Women Are Beautiful in it recently. The really good stuff though, is back behind the desk with the register out of reach from the hands of curious customers. Repeat customers may have a better experience asking to see these books than someone fresh off the street or obviously on vacation.
Genkido Books Brothers: www.genkido.jp (Japanese only) / map
Hours: 10:30 – 19:00 (18:30 on national holidays), Closed Sundays.
By now it’s possible that both you and your backpack are groaning under the weight of newly acquired books. Remember, this guide can in no way be considered responsible for strained muscles or sore shoulders inflicted from a love of weighty printed material. I told you that 1000 yen shelf at Komoyama Shoten was good. But we still have one more to go.
Leaving Genkido, go up to the closest intersection and cross Yasukuni-dori. If you happen to take a photo here it will no doubt be sharper than this one:
Head up the street past some more snowboarding shops…
Soon on your right you will see a branch shop of Horiuchi Color, a professional photo and imaging chain. They do all sorts of film work, and are a popular pro lab to have images shot on film developed and printed. Google Streetview
You’ll now be headed up a hill. Hungry? At the next intersection….
…is a great Thai place called Green Phad Thai:
This shop is delicious and relatively cheap (for Tokyo)- it has a nice atmosphere and friendly staff. Highly recommended for either lunch or dinner while in this part of town. Google Streetview
Now back to the yellow line- keep going up the hill to the next larger intersection. Take a left by the big tree. (There is a shinto shrine under restoration behind that white wall in the picture)
Go two very short blocks and take another left. You’ll probably see a rad and red Ducati motorcycle. That belongs to the owner of the final shop on this list, Kagero Bunko.
This is a small shop with a photobook section that is divided between two different walls. Japanese books on the left, and foreign books on the right. Expensive, often signed, things at the top. They also stock a collection of very old Japanese books and even some prints and photographs. This is a small shop, but there is always something interesting to see, often at good prices.
Kagero Bunko: kageroubunko.com (Japanese only)
Hours: 11:00 – 20:00 (19:00 on Saturdays and National Holidays), closed Sundays.
By this time you can return back to Jimbocho for some more exploring, or head on up the hill to Ochanomizu station. With all the nearby universities, this is a college town and if you have a free hand and a camera the intersection in front of Ochanomizu station is lively and very well lit for pictures. There’s also an excellent kaiten-sushi shop there, too.
So that’s my usual Jimbocho photobook-shop run. I hope that it is something you can work into your itinerary when you visit Tokyo. Maybe I’ll see you around.
******** BONUS SHOP ********
Jimbocho is great, but if you only have time to visit one bookshop in Tokyo, make it SO BOOKS over at Yoyogi Hachiman / Yoyogi Koen station. Here is a MAP. The owner has created an exquisite collection of all kinds of art and photobooks- a selection that is easily as good and actually even richer for one shop than what you’ll find in Jimbocho. This is hands down my absolute favorite bookstore in Tokyo. I wrote about it on Tokyo Camera Style here.
SO BOOKS: www.book-oga.com / Tumblr: So-Books.tumblr.com
Location: Near Yoyogi Koen station (Chiyoda line) / Yoyogi Hachiman station (Odakyu local line)
Hours: 12:00 – 20:00, closed Sundays