1. Kadokawa Culture Museum
    Photo: Kadokawa Culture Museum
  2. Hakone Honbako
    Photo: Kei SugimotoHakone Honbako

9 most beautiful bookstores and libraries in Japan

These architectural marvels from the likes of Kengo Kuma and Tadao Ando are like shrines to literature

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Written by
Kasey Furutani
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Japan is a book lovers’ paradise. Home to internationally renowned authors such as Haruki Murakami and Banana Yoshimoto, Japan has plenty to offer both on the page and on the streets. Whether you’re in Tokyo’s book town, Jimbocho, or one of the manga cafés dotting the country, you’re never far away from some quality reading material. 

But it’s not just about the words themselves – every bookworm knows the importance of having a perfect place to read and Japan knows it, too. From rural Tokyo to Osaka and even up to Hokkaido, these bookstores and libraries combine Japan’s love of architecture and literature.

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A bookworm’s best friend

  • Art
  • Tokorozawa

The Kengo Kuma-designed Kadokawa Culture Museum in Tokorozawa Sakura Town is a must-see if you find yourself in Saitama. Opened in August 2020, the Culture Museum displays Japanese arts and culture, with a focus on books and manga. 

Walk up to the fourth floor and see the impressive ‘bookshelf theatre’, a library with 8m-high shelves holding a whopping 50,000 books. The theatre houses the full collection and publications of Kadokawa, the manga publisher, which you’re welcome to read to your heart’s content – just be sure not to take the books outside the building. Stick around for the Play with Books, Interact with Books projection mapping light show, every half hour from 10.30am.

Nakanoshima Children's Book Forest, Osaka
Photo: Nakanoshima Children's Book Forest

Nakanoshima Children's Book Forest, Osaka

Located in Osaka’s Kita ward, the Nakanoshima Children’s Book Forest is a peaceful haven from the city’s hustle and bustle. Designed by Tadao Ando, the Book Forest is a place to relax and for kids to broaden their minds. 

Everything here is designed to keep children comfortable so they can focus on their reading. Instead of boring catalogue numbers, books are divided into twelve themes, from nature and international culture to the concept of life and death. The interior design is also a marvel – the books are housed in cubby holes and curved shelves to keep the space feeling open and organised. Don’t forget to see ‘Blue Apple’, Ando’s sculpture inspired by the American poet Samuel Ullman.

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Kanazawa Umimirai Library, Ishikawa
Photo: sawasawada/Pixta

Kanazawa Umimirai Library, Ishikawa

Somehow both minimalist and creative, industrial and warm, the Kanazawa Umimirai Library seems more like the inside of a spaceship than a place to study. From the outside, the library looks like an egg shell white building that ran through a hole punch, not ideal for trypophobes. 

However, when you walk inside, you’ll see that all 6,000 perfectly spherical holes let plenty of sunlight into the building. Designed by Coelacanth K&H Architects, the library is one giant room where readers can feel a sense of openness and space bathed in natural light.

  • Shopping
  • Ginza

Bibliophiles and aesthetes should also head to the Tsutaya bookstore inside Ginza Six shopping centre. Dedicated to art books, Ginza Tsutaya Books is where you’ll find 60,000 international books on photography, painting, history and more. The beautifully designed open space lets you browse and discover established and up-and-coming artists from Japan and all over the world. Keep an eye on the event calendar, Ginza Tsutaya regularly hosts free exhibitions in the bookstore.

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  • Shopping
  • Bookshops
  • Daikanyama

No book lover’s trip to Tokyo is complete without a visit to T-Site. Arguably the most beautiful bookstore in the world, Daikanyama’s T-Site consists of three buildings delicately adorned with small ‘T’s’. The first floors are dedicated to English and Japanese books – you can find gorgeous hardback cookbooks, Japanese zines, children’s books and a good selection of English bestsellers. After you purchase your books, head upstairs to the Anjin Library and Lounge, an elegant yet affordable café and bar decorated with vintage magazines and books.

  • Hotels
  • Takebashi

Before the pandemic cut down on Tokyo’s nightlife, if people missed the last train after a late night of drinking, they tended to crash at a 24-hour manga café for the night. Filled with endless comic books and dark rooms, they’re the perfect hideaway for a quick night’s sleep or reading session. For an upscale combination of manga café and capsule hotel, this venue is a boutique hotel with shelves filled with comic books. 

The Manga Art Hotel consists of two floors of bunk beds (one for men and the other for women) with Japanese and English manga lining the walls. Promising a safe space where you can relax and read, the Manga Art Hotel prioritises the books, with over 5,000 volumes of popular comics and hidden gems, plus some helpful staff recommendations to get you started. 

Other amenities include free wi-fi, shower rooms, in-room safes, comfy pajamas (for sale), slippers, hangers and electrical outlets. Ladies and men are separated on different floors, as most capsule hotels in Tokyo.

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  • Hotels
  • Boutique hotels
  • Hakone

Japan has plenty of book hotels and hostels where you can sleep surrounded by literature. For an upscale option, Hakone Honbako (which translates to ‘Hakone Bookcase’) is a boutique book-themed hotel in one of Tokyo’s most popular day trip spots. 

Each Instagrammable hotel room comes with a small library and mid-20th-century-style living room for cosy reading sessions. Hakone Honbako is a modern ryokan, complete with a restaurant, onsen and even a co-working space, so you’ll never have to leave. Better still, all 12,000 books in the hotel are available for sale. 

Tokamachi City Library, Niigata
Photo: Tokamachi City Library

Tokamachi City Library, Niigata

The Tokamachi City Library in Niigata prefecture looks like a regular old study space to the untrained eye. However, when you look closely, you’ll notice the Escher-like stairs and bookshelves containing thousands of tomes. Architect Hiroshi Naito, who designs modern buildings in rural areas, created an illusion where books are stacked upon books in the open space. While it looks like the building has four stories, it’s actually a slanted one-storey building connected by slopes, which also makes it accessible to everyone. 

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Yusuhara Library, Kochi
Photo: kochu/Pixta

Yusuhara Library, Kochi

Also designed by Kengo Kuma, the Yusuhara Library in Kochi prefecture combines Shikoku Island’s natural splendor with a community centre of literature. The library is an open space decked out with local Yusuhara wood lining the floors, bookshelves and intricate ceiling sculptures. Stunning glass windows allow natural light inside and let studious readers admire the mountains of Kochi. 

A quiet and welcoming space, Yusuhara Library asks visitors to take off their shoes before entering and get comfortable, just like they’re at home. While you’re in Yusuhara, be sure to check out the town’s five other buildings designed by Kuma, including an art gallery and a hotel.

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