Amid concerns that younger Japanese are not avid readers, like their older counterparts, Tokyo’s Kanda-Jimbocho district, famed for its stores selling used books, is boasting innovative ideas to attract more customers.
Home to more than 150 such stores, the Kanda-Jimbocho district saw the opening of a new headquarters of the Tokyo Antiquarian Bookseller’s Cooperative earlier this month. The building will serve as an information center on secondhand bookstores and inventories. It also has rooms for exhibitions and cultural events.
“We want to turn the building into a space that links secondhand bookstores to customers, by showing items that can also be understood by the younger generation,” co-op spokesman Tomoaki Kitahara said.
Tokyo’s secondhand book industry is facing a crisis overall. The number of stores belonging to the cooperative has decreased by more than 10 percent over the last 10 years to about 700.
Industry sources said secondhand bookstores in Tokyo’s suburbs, which are heavily dependent on comic books, magazines and other fast-selling publications, are threatened by the emergence of new kinds of secondhand bookstore chains.
But in the Kanda-Jimbocho district, it is a different story — the number of secondhand bookstores that are cooperative members has increased nearly 20 percent in the past decade, largely because lower real estate prices are attracting aspiring owners.
The area’s stores are increasingly specializing in specific types of books to appeal to a niche market.
“Customers flock (to Kanda-Jimbocho) because they are sure there will be books they want to buy. . . . Other areas have no such attraction,” said the envious owner of a secondhand bookstore in another part of Tokyo.
And although the Internet and catalogs are bringing secondhand bookstores into fierce competition, younger bookstore owners in Kanda-Jimbocho are rising to the challenge.
Ryota Saito, 31, the fourth owner of Gyokueido, a store specializing in rare books, and young owners of other bookstores recently compiled a list of books by underground writers in the 1960s.
“We want young people to discover that secondhand bookstores are also selling these sorts of books,” he said.
“I was surprised to find the secondhand book (industry) wasn’t making any effort to appeal to society.” he added. “There are many stores that women are hesitant to enter.”
Keita Komiyama, third-generation owner of the bookstore Komiyama, which specializes in humanities books, also sells notes, poems and other items written by such famous writers as Yukio Mishima in fashionable frames.
“These are also suited to Western-style rooms and have cultural value,” Kimayama said. “It takes time to understand literature, but items such as these may help expand interest in it.”