The first time we went to Japan, I wasn’t able to enjoy Ochanomizu or Jinbocho as much as I wanted to. All because I had eaten food from a street vendor at the Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa the night before. Thank goodness for Japanese wonder-loos is all I can say. And their presence in book stores.
The second time we visited, I was not suffering the revenge of the tasty stir-fry, so we were able to take our time, admiring the sights, wandering from Ochanomizu and down the hill to the Kanda/Jinbocho area.
Ochanomizu (御茶ノ水) is a district in Tokyo where there are lots and lots and LOTS of guitar shops. There are shops selling other musical instruments, too, but it’s mainly guitars. Acoustic, electric, guitar blanks so you can build your own, effects pedals, accessories – you name your guitar related need, Ochanomizu will be able to service it.
Ochanomizu translated literally means Tea Water. Apparently, the Kanda river that runs through the area was used in the Edo period to make the tea for the Shogun.
It was a lovely walk down the hill from Ochanomizu station. We didn’t go into any of the guitar shops, as neither of us plays guitar (although Mr. H does own a guitar, it lives behind the hi-fi…), but we took plenty of pictures because two of our friends are quite keen on them.
Kanda (神田)/Jinbocho (神保町) was where I wanted to head to, as this is Tokyo’s book district. Strictly speaking, Kanda is a huge district which includes Jinbocho, but as a non-native I wasn’t and still am not sure where the boundaries lie. I just know that we walked down a very long street that was full of all kinds of bookstores, from the second hand to the antiquarian to the new.
There are often book fairs held in the area, with street stalls selling second hand books. There was supposed to be a book fair on when we visited the second time, but I think we missed the best of it, or couldn’t find it! There were two or three street stalls selling a variety of books, all beautifully arranged and overseen by efficient book sellers.
We had decided that we wanted to find some books in Japanese that we already had English versions of. I’m trying to learn Japanese, so I thought that maybe something like Winnie the Pooh (くまのプーさん or Kuma no Pu san in Japanese) would be a good place to start. It’s aimed at 6 year olds. I was at that point studying for my GCSE in Japanese, so allegedly had the Kanji skills of a 6 year old. Hmm. Yes. Well. Maybe we’ll gloss over that one! Mr. H decided that he wanted some Murakami – ideally Dance Dance Dance, as he had just read that one in English.
We went into a large book store called Tokyodoshoten (東京堂書店 in Kanji, とうきょうどうしょてん in Hiragana) where a helpful man took us to the Murakami section. Japanese books are a lot more compact than western books, and so a Murakami novel can quite often be split over more than one physical book. We couldn’t see Dance Dance Dance on the shelves, so asked a woman nearby if she could help us. She took us to another Murakami section and opened a drawer beneath the shelves that contained all the Murakami books they couldn’t fit onto the shelves. She pulled out a 2-volume set of Dance Dance Dance, which pleased R. In this second Murakami section, I found a Japanese translation of Breakfast at Tiffany’s for which Murakami had done the translation. I will probably never be able to read it, but I bought it anyway.
As well as the pleasing size of Japanese books, another thing I like about buying books in Japan is that the staff will create a paper cover for each book as you pay for them at the till. This is to protect the cover of the book while it is in your bag, as you read it on your daily commute, I think. And perhaps occasionally it’s to hide from everyone else exactly what it is you’re reading!
While we were in Tokyodoshoten, I spotted their display of weekly best sellers, adorned with owls, so I had to take a photograph.
The sign reads 今週のベストセラー (こんしゅうのベストセラー, pronounced konshu no besto serah), which means this week’s best sellers. The owl is the symbol of Tokyodoshoten. Across the street was another branch of the same chain, with an owly sculpture in one of the support columns.
Armed with our purchases, we carried on wandering down the street towards Jinbocho station. Even the station signs had a book theme.
From Jinbocho, we caught the train up to Shibuya, where we were going to visit Hachiko. But that’s for another post.