TOPArt & CultureBooks & Literature5 Foreigner-Friendly Libraries in Tokyo

5 Foreigner-Friendly Libraries in Tokyo

These Tokyo libraries speak your language

By Paula Chiarino

A wonderful resource for struggling students and bookworms, libraries are usually free and open to everyone. In addition to national and university libraries, your ward or city surely has one too. Foreign residents can visit these institutions freely, though for some there may be a language barrier. Most libraries in Tokyo can be daunting to navigate if you’re still working on your Japanese skills. Even if you find your way around with limited Japanese proficiency, they won’t have a good selection of foreign-language books. Thankfully, there are some exceptions. In these five libraries, you’ll find multiple books in foreign languages and Japanese learning materials completely for free. You can easily become a member and all you need to do is read away.

1. Minato Library

This library is located right next to Shiba Park, not far away from Tokyo Tower. Since Minato is one of Tokyo’s areas with a high concentration of foreign residents, it follows that the city library will have them in mind. Minato Library has an impressive collection of books in foreign languages which is frequently updated. There is also a Japanese learning corner with a variety of textbooks, graded readers, grammar guides and many other resources to improve your Japanese skills. Additionally, they are subscribed to magazines in English like Reader’s Digest, The New Yorker and TIME.

This library has automated lending machines and a book disinfecting booth at the entrance. Once you check out your books, you can disinfect three books at a time before taking them home. This has proven especially handy during the pandemic. You can borrow up to 10 books or magazines and two DVDs each time for two weeks. However, it is possible to extend the loan time online.

5 Foreigner-Friendly Libraries in Tokyo
Book disinfecting booth at Minato Library

Anyone can visit the library and read on-site. Becoming a member is free of charge and you don’t necessarily have to be a resident of Minato Ward. To be eligible, you must either live, work or study within any of the 23 wards of Tokyo. To apply for a library card, you should provide an ID that proves your address residence, school enrollment or work location.

Website

Hours: Mon-Sat 9am—8pm | Sun and Holidays 9am—5pm
Where: 3-2-25 Shiba Koen, Minato-ku

2. Yotsuya Library

Shinjuku Ward has the highest concentration of foreign residents by far and the local public library system reflects that. Yotsuya Library and Okubo Library, both in Shinjuku Ward, are among the most foreigner-friendly libraries in Tokyo.

Yotsuya Library, located near Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, has plenty of books in English and many resources to study Japanese. They also have books in Chinese and Korean, as well as foreign magazines. Anyone living, working or studying in Tokyo can become a member.

Hours: Mon, Wed, Fri, Sat 9am—9:45pm | Sun and public holidays 9am—6pm
Where: 87 Naitomachi, Shinjuku-ku

Photo courtesy of Okubo Library
Photo courtesy of Okubo Library

3. Okubo Library

Okubo Library is known for being a multicultural library. Apart from having books in several languages, they offer multilingual book search services — the library staff can assist you in English, Korean, and Chinese. On the 4th Saturday of every month, they hold a talk session in two languages, Korean and Japanese. Finally, they have a wish list where one can request foreign books for the library to acquire.

Hours: Mon, Wed, Fri, Sat 9am—9:45pm | Sun and public holidays 9am—6pm
Access: 2-12-7 Okubo, Shinjuku-ku

Bonus: Also in Shinjuku Ward, French speakers can find thousands of books, comics, and learning materials at the French Institute in Kagurazaka. Anyone can become a member for ¥3,500 a year.

4. The Japan Foundation Library

Reopened last year, this modern and conveniently located library is owned by the famous Japan Foundation, which conducts the JLPT exams overseas. Any member of the public can use it, but this is one of the libraries in Tokyo specifically geared towards internationals. Besides resources to study Japanese, you can find an assortment of books mostly about Japanese culture and international exchange, in eight different languages.

Due to the state of emergency (at the time of writing), the library is only open on Wednesday afternoons and only by appointment. However, they have a books-by-mail service for members, through which you can receive and send the books you want by post (shipping fees excluded). You can also select books online and just go to the library to pick them up.

Anyone can visit the library. To borrow books, you’ll have to become a member and it’s free of charge. Anyone residing in Tokyo and staying for at least two months from the date of the application is eligible for membership.

Website

Hours: Wed 1:30—5:30pm (Temporary pandemic measure)
You can only book to go there once a week. You can only stay there for one hour.
Where: 1-6-4 Yotsuya, Shinjuku-ku

5. Katsushika Central Library in Kanamachi

5 Foreigner-Friendly Libraries in Tokyo

A three-minute walk from Kanamachi Station, Katsushika Central Library is a reading paradise located on the third floor of Vinas Kanamachi Bright Court. With over 4,000 books in English and 300,000 books overall, you’re certain to find something that interests you.

This library is open to everyone, but similarly to the rest, only members can check out books. Here as well, to be eligible for membership you must either live, work or study within the 23 wards of Tokyo and provide an ID that proves your address, school or work location. Membership is free of charge.

Website

Hours: Mon-Sat 9am—10pm (Closes at 8pm during the state of emergency) | Sun and public holidays from 9am—8pm
Where: 6-1 Kanamachi, Katsushika-ku