I like bookshops. Not only do I enjoy visiting local ones on a daily basis, I really love to visit bookshops in whatever city I visit: Keibunsya in Kyoto, Nomad Books in London, American Book Center in Amsterdam, Globe in Prague… It’s not typically a reason to travel to a particular city, but once I am in a new city, I just can’t miss stopping in a bookshop. They are like a mecca for me. Visiting a bookshop creates an intimate relationship between me and the city, so it has become a must-do during my travels.
However, there are many bookshops in Tokyo. My favorite is the Village Vanguard in Shimokitazawa. It’s not a bookshop for everybody, but I think YOU would like this.
(This Village Vanguard is unrelated to the famous jazz club in nyc).
It was opened in 1998 as the first flagship store of the Village Vangurad stores. Their concept is “Bookshop to Play” and it isn’t your usual bookshop.
Once you go inside, you will be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff seemingly chaotically crammed into the space. Not only do they sell books, but also music, sundry goods, food, clothing, toys… all mixed in together. There are no signs or guide maps indicating general category of goods. Walking through the narrow aisles is maze-like with books and toys piled to the ceiling. Just as you round the corner, a completely different world appears and you will confront something you never expected.
Every time I go there, I find something new – new author, new music, new toys… or I find renewed interest in rereading a forgotten essay I read long ago. It’s an uplifting, inspirational & healing place for me. People sometimes refer to this bookshop as a sanctuary of subcultural thought. My kids love going there too as there are many nice children books, manga and toys there.
Upon first inspection, it may look haphazard, but they have their own unique rules & style that creates a kind of harmony and order amongst the chaos. For example, yellow paper outlined with green rectangles are posted throughout the store over all the merchandise. They are always hand-written by the store staff and have humorous captions that are poetic, funny, easy-going and passionate!
Village Vanguard is a franchise that allows its stores to have freedom in how they operate their stores. So each store has its own selection of merchandise and unique layout and display. It makes the store more exciting, crazy and extraordinary. And one in Shimokitazawa is the most famous and popular shop as its size & craziness.
Village Vanguard Shimokitazawa may seem geeky, but it is a great bookshop which sparks a feeling of curiosity in people. And even if you can’t read Japanese, don’t worry, I promise you will enjoy the spectacle of this place.
Village Vanguard Shimokitazawa（ヴィレッジバンガード下北沢店）
– Marche Shimokitazawa 1F, Kitazawa 2-10-15, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo
– 3 mins walk from Shimokitazawa station on Inogashira-line / Odakyu-line
– Open every day from 10:00 to 24:00