By Brian Fee

Bookstores seem to be thriving in Tokyo. I can't walk two blocks in any direction without seeing the cheery character for book, “本”. Those searching for the rare vintage edition or secondhand paperback get their fix in Jimbochō. This neighborhood lines one broad avenue (plus myriad side streets and back alleys) with tons of used-book shops. And as this is Japan, it's all about specialization, with paperback “general stores” outnumbered by closet-sized nooks crammed with French classics, music magazines, and hairspray-heavy '80s porn.

Kanda Kosho Center (named both for the Chiyoda Ward district and for the literal translation of used books, kosho) is Jimbochō's used-book gateway, nine floors of categorized havens kitty-corner from the train station. The handy placard posted adjacent to Kanda Kosho's lifts is of no use if you don't read Japanese, but no worries: poke your head into a shop, and even the skeeziest porn joint's owner won't give you a passing glance.

Want a three-volume set of The Fishes of the Japanese Archipelago, back-issues of Japanese-language rugby magazines (who knew??), or a monthly periodical pointedly titled Gun? Those can be had on the third and fourth floors, respectively. Miwa, the all-kids bookstore on 5, features Golden Books from an alternative universe, like “Oden-kun”, whose titular hero is an anamorphic daikon radish. Beyond the wonderful jazz and classical record shop crowning Kanda Kosho, the upper floors all house unrelated porn shops, their otherwise muted environs punctuated by the sharp crackle of individually-sealed plastic wrappers, as customers dutifully pull out and shove back periodicals like Cream and Scholar from overstuffed shelves.

Let's say you didn't find that specific skin-mag you so desired. You're totally in luck! A brief jaunt off Jimbochō's mainstream is Aratama Total Visual Shop (the “visual”, written in English, is a clue they sell lots of nude stuff) and its mirror-façaded, younger kindred. The latter is stocked almost entirely with bondage and fetish magazines, which surprised even this intrepid reporter in their diversity. Aratama the elder contains an encyclopedic array of AV photo-books and PG-13 gravure mags, but its achievement is a whole room of posters and life-sized cardboard cutouts of cuties. The addition of sealed, autographed photographs of various models (going for like $150-400 per 4x6” print) feels almost superfluous.

I can spend hours in Shinjuku East's Kinokuniya, the ferroconcrete bookstore behemoth that makes its shiny Manhattan cousin feel absolutely puny by comparison. But for those treasured and unique—yes, sometimes very deviant—finds, Jimbochō is the only destination.

Images: courtesy the author