NIPPONIA No.24 March 15, 2003
Japan Travelogue
(1)Kanda Jimbocho, Tokyo

One store, Oya Shobo, specializes in works from the Edo period (early 1600s to mid-1800s), and has a good selection of colorful ukiyoe woodblock prints. Another store, Yaguchi Shoten, sells scripts for plays and movies, and booklets for drama fans. Customers wanting a cute miniature book, or a beautiful volume from a limited edition, go to a store called Gohachi Shobo. Grouped together along the streets, each shop has carved out a niche for itself, specializing in history or politics, economics, law, fine arts, music, calligraphy, fortune telling, comics, books for children, and more.
The quickest way to find what you're looking for is to ask someone who works at a store. If they don't have it, they'll be sure to tell you where you might get it.
"The only way we can know what customers want is if they talk with us. We can also help people from abroad more if they can speak a little Japanese." This is what Okudaira Koichi, at a store called Tamura Shoten, told me. These days, it's not uncommon for people to buy and sell books online, but talking face to face can still be the best way to find what you want.
After eyeing books in different stores, you may want to rest your feet in a coffee shop. To experience the atmosphere of the Japan of a few decades ago, complete with worn tables, old comfortable chairs and dusky lighting, I would recommend one of the many cafés on a narrow street between Yasukuni Avenue and Suzuran Street. You could try Radorio, Sabouru or Rio — they have all served customers for close to 50 years. Sit down, flip through the books you just bought, and relax over a cup of coffee. What could be better?
If you walk along Yasukuni Avenue to the east you'll leave the book district, cross Meidai Street, and enter the sports store district. Stroll along the sidewalk and you'll see skis and snowboards hanging from one storefront after another, gear for mountain climbers, and a lot more.
Walk along Meidai Street and on the west side you'll see Meiji University's imposing buildings. One of them, Liberty Tower, soars above the rest. On the other side of the street are stores selling musical instruments, crowded with young shoppers and browsers. The stores display a hodgepodge of guitars, keyboards and other instruments polished to a bright shine. Customers try them out one after another.
Walk up Meidai Street and at the top of the slope you'll find Ochanomizu Station, on a JR line. Near the eastern end of the station is a bridge called Hijiri-bashi. It crosses the Kanda River, and its name (hijiri means "hallowed") comes from the fact that there is a Russian Orthodox cathedral just south of the river and a Confucian temple just north of it. The first, Nikolai Cathedral, was built in 1891 and restored after the great Tokyo earthquake of 1923. It retains the original design, and the local people have enjoyed its presence for many years — the chiming from the bell tower still creates a relaxing mood in the neighborhood. The second, Yushima Seido Temple, is dedicated to Confucius of China, the father of Confucianism.
The Kanda Jimbocho district, the best place to find books once owned by someone else, shows a respect for things and ideas from the good old days. Stroll along the streets here and you'll be sure to see, hear and enjoy some of the things appreciated by the Japanese over the years. NIPONIA


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