Special displays, sales, and even book fortunes commemorate Sanseido moving on to its next chapter. 

Tokyo’s unassuming Kanda-Jinbocho district is known as a mecca of used bookstores and publishers. Sadly, a landmark building in the area is set to undergo reconstruction soon, prompting a long-standing business in the neighborhood, the Sanseido Bookstore, to close its doors on May 8.

When people think about large booksellers in Japan’s capital, the big names that come to mind are Shinjuku’s Kinokuniya, Ikebukuro’s Junkudo, and Jinbocho’s Sanseido. To say that losing Sanseido is like losing a holy site for a bibliophile isn’t an exaggeration. Thankfully, the silver lining to this all is that Sanseido will open its doors in Jinbocho again in 2025 after the new building is completed. That’s still a long time to go without such a beloved business in its rightful place.

▼ Sanseido in Jinbocho, Tokyo

In commemoration of the closing, a fair dedicated to the bookstore’s large presence in the community is currently being held. Our Japanese-language correspondent Mariko Ohanabatake recently went to check it out and share her findings.

The sight that immediately struck her once she reached Sanseido’s building was the large, suspended sign in the shape of a bookmark which reads, “We’re putting the bookmark in for a moment.” She felt that it was a nice gesture to assure the public that while the building may change, Sanseido’s legacy would continue on.

Within the building, several little exhibits related to the reconstruction were on full display.

First up, an interesting display showcases the most-read books in 41 years of the current store’s purchase history. The books are stacked in a creative tower style.

Another exhibit features a collection of books recommended by 83 celebrities. It was fun to scan the shelves for picks by Mariko’s favorite authors and artists such as Tomihiko Morimi, Miyuki Miyabe, and Naoki Matayoshi.

However, it was a display with book recommendations by ordinary customers that really grabbed Mariko’s attention. The books are neatly arranged along with short note cards by people who have poured their souls into this little writing exercise. Some of the messages are bittersweet, including those dedicated to family members who were no longer there or past lovers, while others were cheerful recommendations to their book-loving friends.

▼ This card features a book called Constellation Story, which the customer’s father had bought them in elementary school. Though the father is no longer in this world, the customer bought a copy so that they can read it to their future child together with their father in the starry night sky.

All of the feelings aside, another space that delighted Mariko was the “book fortune corner.” There’s a large shelf with mystery books wrapped in special paper, each displaying a particular number. Similar to drawing an omikuji fortune at a shrine or temple, visitors can shake a small fortune box for free to receive a slip of paper with their fortune and a number. The mystery book with the corresponding number is the resulting recommendation.

Mariko immediately set to shaking the box and received the best possible outcome on her fortune slip. What good luck! She then looked on the shelf for the book labeled “17” as her fateful recommendation.

▼ There was a hint on the slip that the story would feature a bitter romance.

A total of 132 numbered books were on the shelf but she quickly located No. 17. She was excited to open it and will reveal its identity later (sorry, folks–there’s no big reveal now).

On the practical side of things, a big closing sale will be going on  until May 8 with an assortment of stationery items and other goods marked 50 percent off.

The first floor’s “Jinbocho Ichi no Ichi” novelty section in particular has some dishware and other goods that reminded Mariko wistfully of how fun it was to browse through these kinds of stores with fun knick-knacks.

Meanwhile, the third floor’s stationery corner boasts the usual kind of practical writing tools including fountain pens for half off.

It was strange to see even the famous Moleskine journals discounted so steeply.

She then unexpectedly made eye contact with a group of feline stuffed kitties. Would they guilt her into bringing them home with her…?

It was hard to believe how jam-packed Floors 1 through 6 are with books and other related goods. You could really find anything you wanted here at this book department store of sorts.

Mariko even found interesting-looking books in sections she wouldn’t normally venture into, like natural sciences, politics, and economics. It felt like an unknown world of knowledge was expanding before her very eyes just by looking at the shelves.

Every floor also features a display of single books curated by publishers and Sanseido managers which are promised to be life-altering in some way.

Back outside again, Mariko was momentarily startled at the sheer size of the Sanseido building. It’s so large that other groups of buildings around it appear to be like walls encircling a castle.

It’s not just Sanseido’s building that will be closing down. The annex building next to it, for example, will also be affected.

Housed in this particular building were an Ueshima Coffee Company storefront (normally a perfect place to relax while reading a newly purchased book), which already shut down at the end of March, and the Yakitori Dojo izakaya pub, which closed on April 28. The landscape of the district has already begun to change rapidly and would continue to do so.

Lastly, to end on a good note–a temporary Sanseido store location will be located near Shin-Ochanomizu Station and is set to open on June 1.

Three years seems like a long time to go without Sanseido’s iconic presence in Jinbocho. We’ll be waiting in anticipation for it to reopen in its new digs while grabbing some of the area’s popular Chinese Lanzhou Lamian noodles in the meantime.

Source: Sanseido Press Release
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