Seihin Seikatsu, located in the COREDO Muromachi Terrace in Nihonbashi, is the newest bookstore in Tokyo to host a hefty stock of English print. Nihonbashi is in the throes of a district-wide rejuvenation project aimed at creating a new visage for the city. Plans have been set in motion to strip away the unsightly, rusted highway which masks the capital’s most historically significant bridge, and the skyline is now dominated by the towering, glass facades of the new COREDO Muromachi complex. The hope is that it will usher in unprecedented levels of business and tourism in the area. Seihin Seikatsu is just one small cog in this new-look wheel racing toward the future.
But an impressive cog it is – at least if you’re a bookworm. With Tokyo in the thralls of a rapid and seemingly undeterrable decrease in the number of bookstores, it’s refreshing to see one of such quality entering the scene. I visited the store following its official opening to peruse the shelves and get a sense of what it brings to the table.
Among the Aisles
Seihin Seikatsu, based on Taiwan’s famous Eslite bookshop chain, dominates the third floor of the Muromachi Terrace building. It differs from many other bookstores in Japan by deliberate design: rather than having an ‘English books’ section displaying a slapdash mix of miscellaneous titles and authors, the English books are littered throughout the store alongside Japanese books in their preordained categories. For example, Haruki Murakami novels in English and Japanese sit shoulder-to-shoulder on the shelves. Conceptually, the idea is that one must walk the aisles of the store in search of one’s book of choice.
Thankfully the modern, wood-finished interior is a pleasing one to wander around, with soft furnishing’s placed carefully – and at times discretely – among the neatly stacked shelves (in case you want to sample a book before buying). “They want to create a culture where you can sit down and read everywhere in the store… people can stay all day long,” a PR representative tells me.
On the Shelves
In terms of the sheer number of English literary titles, Seihin Seikatsu may not hold a candle to Tokyo’s finest English bookstore, Kinokuniya in Shinjuku Takashimaya. But the current stock is far from insubstantial.
The bulk of the store contains a fair number of English books, particularly in the popular fiction and Japan-related sections; your chances of finding books by Stephen King, John Grisham, Kazuho Ishiguro or Alex Kerr, would be considerably higher than locating the works of obscure fantasy authors or English-speaking academics. English titles also feature heavily in the less “wordy” departments: photography, art, architecture and design to name a few.
The rest of the store is split into sections around a U-shaped corridor. Along the spine (and sometimes the flanks) of the corridor are magazines of all types stacked high upon tables and stands. The collection of English magazines is surprisingly impressive, even compared with suppliers in the Western world where printed issues are on the wane. The genres run the gamut from travel, lifestyle, fashion and sports to film, TV, music and comics.
Depending on the popularity of the English stock (in all categories), they will look to increase it in the future.
Not Just a Bookstore
Where Seihin Seikatsu really sets itself apart, and where the business model plans to succeed, is in its variety. There’s a workshop section in the store where acclaimed authors will give talks and presentations (initially in Japanese, with a look to including English talks in the future). A kitchen studio is also located on site, featuring cooking demos and culinary lectures. Other outlets include: a glass blowing workshop a, a culture center, a Taiwanese tearoom and a café and delicatessen. The representative says, “Selling books isn’t so popular anymore so we needed to do something different.”
As the need for the printed word and bookstores declines, it’s nice to see a company use a little innovation to push back against the ineffable tides of change. Yet at its core, Seihin Seikatsu is a place for bibliophiles: a thoughtfully curated store-cum-library where you can sift through bountiful shelves and read undisturbed in peace and quiet.