Tokyo is a city of specialized neighborhoods, each one devoted to a particular trade (musical instruments in ochanomizu, kitchen utensils in kappabashi, textiles in nippori, etc). And if you are a second-hand, vintage/rare book lover, you must absolutely pay a visit to jimbocho. Once the home to many samurai, at the beginning of the twentieth century, a university professor named iwanami shigeo opened a bookstore which eventually became the prestigious iwanami shoten publishing house. Others followed his example, and today jimbocho has one of the highest concentrations of book sellers and publishers in the world, including major manga companies shueisha (famous for its jump magazine series) and shogakukan. Fans of urasawa naoki’s 20th century boys (a comic that was originally published by shogakukan) will remember that the company’s building was actually featured, and destroyed, in those pages. That’s one of the many in-jokes that manga and anime creators like to slip into their stories.
Even today the area has more than 150 bookstores ranging from big multi-story establishments selling new titles (Sanseido) to elegant antiquarian stores (Kitazawa Shoten) and tiny hole-in-the-wall sellers. Admittedly, for people who don’t read Japanese it can be rather frustrating as the places that sell foreign-language books are very few. However, otaku fans looking for original materials will surely have fun exploring the shops listed below.
For the sake of our walk, instead of Jimbocho Station (Tokyo Metro Hanzomon Line and Toei Shinjuku Line) in the heart of the district, get off at Awajicho (Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line). From exit A6 follow Yasukuni-dori keeping the wide avenue to your right. After five minutes you will see the Shosen Bookmart building with its huge manga billboards. The Shosen chain is famous for its wide selection of pop-culture publications and magazines, and this particular shop specializes in comics and light novels for gals. Lots of shojo and BL manga, but also boys’ comics and Teen Love stories too. They often have fairs and events like books signings. If you are into idols old and new and gravure-related goods, probably the best store in the neighborhood is in the street past the arch on the right of Shosen Bookmart. Walk two blocks and you can’t miss ARATAMA’s read front on the right side. The first floor has DVDs, photo books (often of the naughty variety) and magazines, while the second floor has a huge stock of posters (a rare Morning Musume signed poster sells for 50,000 yen), calendars, trading cards, telephone cards, and even more magazines. Back on Yasukuni-dori, the first interesting shop we find is Warhammer—interesting, that is, if you are a fan of British manufacturer Games Workshop’s miniature war games. Even if you aren’t, it’s nice to look at their detailed models of futuristic soldiers, creatures and military vehicles. Next stop is Comic Takaoka, which sells brand new comic books, magazines and light novels. The first floor sells manga for men, while the basement floor has works for women (including BL comics) besides reprinted classics by famous authors like Tezuka Osamu and Nagai Go. After crossing Jimbocho’s main intersection (where Jimbocho Station is), we arrive at Nakano Shoten on the second floor of the Kanda Used Books Center. If you only have time for one place, this is it. The most famous old-style vintage manga store in the district is a paradise for serious collectors. For instance, this is the store where you have the best chance to find Tezuka Osamu’s first editions. Lost World and Treasure Island will likely be prized around 100,000 yen. On the other hand, they have old Garo and COM issues going for as cheap as 400–800 yen depending on their rarity and condition. They used to be the two best alternative comic anthologies in the late ‘60s-early ‘70s and are definitely worth your yen. This shop sells anime cels too and a lot more. Just a few meters down the street and we see Bunken Rock Side’s bright red front. Its specialty are music magazines but if you dig around you will find many idol and anime magazines as well. There are still two more shops to check out on this side of Yasukuni-dori: Vintage covers about the same genres as Bunken, while Wonder is only worth a visit if you are into Western (mainly American superhero) comics.
Now go back to Warhammer. Cross the street where McDonald’s is. Walk three blocks and turn right past Luncheon. Go straight past an ENEOS gas station. After 150 meters you will see the small sign near the entrance of a small derelict building on the right. That’s Kudan Shobo. From comic books and magazines to dojinshi and kashihon (rental books), this tiny messy shop is all about girls manga and well worth a visit. Kasumi Shobo next door stocks an interesting mix of books and magazines on anime, tokusatsu, SF and music. On the way back to the station, don’t miss the tiny sign at the entrance of the red-bricked building on the right, just a few meters from Kudan Shobo. The sign reads 2F and belongs to Kanke Shobo. Slightly bigger and much tidier than Kudan, This shop carries a small but interesting selection of boys and girls manga, old Garo and COM issues and other vintage delights.