Shopping for books in Kanda-Jimbocho, Tokyo’s secondhand booktown

I was doing a bit of end-of-year cleaning up of the blog as 2018 was drawing to a close, and came across this blog post that I never published, about trawling the secondhand bookstores of Tokyo in May 2017 for decent reads. Somehow, I ended up forgetting about the post, although I did post the video above. Still, there might be some value in recording this shopping trip in full here…

Oshima Bookshop
All English books in a eight mat room on ground floor with middle-aged woman working.  Bargain bins full of “world’s best dirtiest jokes” that as far as I could tell revolved around a man of one nationality saying to a man of another nationality that he’d like to “eat” a passing woman (nationality unknown) and one of them then killing and/or cooking the woman. After reading two jokes like this, I dropped the books back in the bargain bin.

Colin Dexter, Service of All the Dead ¥100
Dashiell Hammett, Red Harvest ¥100
Elmore Leanard, Stick ¥250
Elmore Leonard, The Switch ¥250
Elmore Leonard, Gold Coast ¥250

A garage
Literally, a garage, offering three books for ¥500. I fancied an anthology of short stories from the Hitchcock TV series and found two others that it would be conceivable I might read one day. (OK, probably never).

Hitchcock in Prime Time
Jonathan Harr, A Civil Action
Sara Paretsky, Killing Orders

The Isseido Booksellers
Super posh – I bought two books for ¥1,000 – on Turner and Asian Art. Paperbacks, but a woman wrapped them in paper as another chap took my money. All very whispered. Leather-bound books all around. And a first edition Lucedio Hearn book for ¥70,000 if I recall right. I slipped it back and stepped carefully away.

An arty bookstore
Some great pictures and posters, and art books, but once you’ve seen one black and white, oddly cropped  out of focus picture of a hairy-arm-pitted naked frowning fraülein, you’ve seen them all. Enjoyed looking around, but nothing said “bring me home to meet your family.”

The Kitazawa Bookstore
Has a cafe in the middle of the ground floor and all the books looked suspiciously new but in fact, a sign you can read from the street said foreign books upstairs. And they had a great selection of Penguin classic paperbacks for a couple of hundred yen each and then rarer books.

There, I held a first UK edition of Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea (¥60,000 as I recall?) and noticed behind a glass display cabinet a copy of the Graham Greene’s Third Man for ¥120.000. About a thousand times my budget for a second-hand book. But while paying for two reasonably priced paperbacks, I noticed on the desk a copy of Our Man in Havana. How much for that?

“Haven’t priced it yet.”

The shopkeeper went online to Abebooks.com and compared prices. A similar condition signed one in unclipped dust jacket was going for $450.

“Unsigned ones would be much cheaper,” I said.

Well, I couldn’t possibly justify spending more than ¥10,000 for a book, and he thought about it and said OK, he’d throw in a plastic cover too. It’s possible I overpaid for the book, finding one online for $20 after I got home. But that was a price-clipped one, which radically reduces the price for collectors (unblemished copies are rare, therefore more sought after). I did find other similar condition Our Man in Havanas on the internet priced at $200. I’d like to think I got a bargain, and he got money in his hands.

“Win-win” he said in English. I told him I’d get into trouble with my wife for blowing so much money on books.

“There are some things that you don’t tell your wife,” he said.

I nodded.

Note to self: don’t tell my wife about this blog post.

Richard Hughes, In Hazard ¥300
Raymond Chandler, The Simple Art of Murder ¥900
Graham Greene, Our Man in Havana ¥10,000

Comic bookstore. (Winda?)
Found myself in a comic bookstore, by now budget is shot and it’s just silly season. I don’t even like comics that much. But see The Watchmen and folk tell me that’s a must read. So…

On the second floor was a cheap cafe, so recouped some savings on lunch.

Cup of coffee ¥200.
Pizza toast ¥300.
Watchmen ¥1,620

* * *

Patrick Sherriff publishes a monthly newsletter highlighting good fiction published in English about Japan. He lives in Abiko with his wife and two daughters.