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Japan Trip 2009: Jinbocho

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It’s easy, as a tourist in Japan, to stick entirely to the ¬†Yamanote (ya-ma-no-tay) line that circles downtown Tokyo. It’s got all of the major stops–Shinjuku, Harajuku, Ginza, Namjatown–and with each city block in Tokyo being about ten times as dense with shops and apartments and life as a similar block in… say… Toronto… you could spend a two week trip to Japan never stepping on any other form of public transit than the Yamanote JR train line. Maybe take a cab once in a while. But sometimes when you venture off the beaten path, you can find something pretty cool and not very touristy, and that’s just awesome.

So manga fans, let me introduce you to Jinbocho.


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Jinbocho is the publishing-district of Tokyo. I know that’s going to sound a little weird to most people–a publishing district!?–but yeah. All of the major publishers have offices in this prefecture, including manga publishers, and when you get that many people who love print in one place, bookstores are bound to crop up. But in fact Jinbocho sort of happened the other way around, with most of the area destroyed by fire in 1913, a university professor (apparently) opened a book shop in Jinbocho afterwards, and led other like-minded sorts to do the same. Now the streets are literally jam-packed with bookstores of every shape and size, particularly used book stores, and particularly used manga shops. While Nakano Broadway offers the otaku a safe, windowless haven to pursue nerdish pursuits, Jimbocho focuses it’s nerditry like a laser, straight at booklovers. And wow, does it deliver.

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The center of Jinbocho is the intersection of Yasukuni-dori and Hakusan-dori, but more importantly to foreign travelers it will require multiple transfers. You’ll have to get on a train line that isn’t the Yamanote line (the Chuo/Sobu line!), and then you’re going to have to get off the train at Suidobashi Station, and exit the station and walk across the street to get on the subway (Metro)! And take that 2 or 3 stops! And then you will end up roughly here, at said intersection, with bookstores on I think 3 of the four corners.

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As I mentioned, Jinbocho is home to a number of famous publishing companies, including Shueisha…

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…and Shogakukan. Now, while these two behemoths have teamed up to run our beloved Viz Media here in North America, in Japan they remain fierce competitors and closely guard their publishing secrets. Actually, that Shogakukan Building looks a little familiar now that I think about it. Where have I seen it before?

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Why, I remember the Shogakukan building from when it was wrecked in 20th Century Boys Volume 5 by Naoki Urasawa. A volume of manga that… coincidentally was published in Japan by… Shueisha! Heh heh heh. There, now we’ve all learned something hilarious.

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So anyway, the bookstores in this neighborhood are awesome, predominantly Japanese but with lots of great foreign bookshops as well, and the prices run the gamut. This one just down the street from the main intersection was pretty outstanding, with an amazingly curated selection of books. Here’s a few more pictures.

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This was a pretty neat, tiny little manga store that only stocked the absolute newest stuff, floor to ceiling. No pics inside… no room!

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So I was lucky enough to meeting a friend in Jinbocho for lunch, and this is where he brought me. The first floor is a rare books store. The second floor has a really wonderful, delicious little curry restaurant in it. But to get to the curry restaurant, you need to go through:

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Yeah, that’s right. It’s a manga shop. A totally amazing used manga shop. According to @tke918 on Twitter, the signage in the window in the pic above this one roughly translates to “We are selling anime cells and out of print mangas… at Nakano Bookstore” hah! So maybe it’s a little like Nakano Broadway afterall. Anyhow, the curry in back was fantastic, the best Japanese-style curry I’ve ever had. But the bookstore? The bookstore was heaven.

Here’s how to get to it:


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And here’s why:


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Untold riches… and children’s masks.

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Why yes, it’s a case full of rare manga, including first-edition and second edition Tezuka graphic novels.

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That’s a first-edition Lost World Volume 2, going for 126,000 yen, or about $1260. While I was in the shop, the proprietor had just bought a bunch more early Tezuka and was wrapping them. He let me hold a 2nd edition ‘Treasure Island’, the first-ever Tezuka manga. That was pretty cool.

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So good. But for more, you’ll have to look under the cut…

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