Coffee and books go together splendidly. So well, in fact, that it took me a lot of time to think of another perfect pairing. Movies and popcorn perhaps? Anyway, all you need to do is bring a book to a café. However, a book café is a little bit different. In searching for good Tokyo book cafés, we had two criteria: to be surrounded by books that you can buy or borrow and be able to order delicious, freshly made coffee. In short, to have the experience of sipping coffee in a bookstore or a library.
Naturally, we started looking around Jimbocho, Tokyo’s book town. Known for classic dark coffee and streets lined with both new and second-hand bookstores, Jimbocho yielded several excellent book cafés. The search also took us to Kagurazaka, Tokyo’s answer to Montmartre, as well as the always-lively Shinjuku and Shibuya areas. Here are the best Tokyo book cafés we found.
Jimbocho Book Center
Jimbocho Book Center has walls lined with 9,000 books. The sofas and pillows are comfortable, whereas counter seats have electric outlets and are more convenient. Visitors are welcome to work on their laptops, read or just drink coffee and relax. Light jazz carries through the spacious café and the atmosphere is pleasant. Aside from the café, regular remote workers have the option to rent an office or a desk in a separate area.
Understandably, the book selection is Japanese, but you can come in just for the coffee and the vibes and won’t be disappointed. Jimbocho Book Center serves excellent dark roast coffee, as well as food such as sandwiches and curry. The menu, designed like a retro book from the 1950s, is filled with different coffee blends and drinks, from darker to lighter roasts, so coffee lovers have a choice.
Jimbocho Book House
This café opened in 2017 and is part of Kitazawa Bookstore, which was founded in 1902. To this day, the bookstore is known for rare books and second-hand books, proudly displaying its certificate of membership in the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB) outside. It’s also known for books in foreign languages and for being a welcoming space for events by the international community of translators and writers.
The Jimbocho Book House café is particularly focused on children’s books, having approximately 10,000 picture books available. There’s a children’s space for play as well as exhibitions of children’s illustrations and artwork in the gallery rooms in the back. Visitors can enjoy freshly made coffee as well as cakes and pies. For more substantial meals, the cafe has curry, pasta, sandwiches and more.
Bonus fact: Book Hotel Jimbocho opened recently next to Jimbocho Book House. It’s a small hotel with a library, capturing the atmosphere of the book town it’s situated in.
Books + Coffee + Gallery
Weekenders Coffee, Kamome Books and Ondo Gallery joined together to create a space for books, coffee and art. The name of the establishment is self-explanatory. This café is in Kagurazaka, just opposite La Kagu, designed by Kengo Kuma. The café is bright, with floor-to-ceiling windows looking toward the street. A couple of outside tables are perfect for people-watching too. The gallery in the back, always has some art on display. Weekenders Coffee serves freshly ground and brewed coffee and the menu surprises with concoctions such as turmeric latte and espresso whiskey.
The location, elegant classical music and quality light roast espresso aside, this café is great for reading. You can bring your own book or buy something from the shelves stocked with books and magazines. There are a few things in English, but the majority of the reading materials are in Japanese.
Bundan Coffee & Beer
Located in the Museum of Contemporary Japanese Literature in Komaba, this little café is a hidden gem, albeit hiding in plain sight. A couple of tables are bathing in the sunlight on the terrace, while inside, the seats and sofas are surrounded by bookshelves. Rare old books are at your disposal and a looking glass for deciphering those little complicated kanji. The cozy atmosphere is enhanced by ambient music, accent lamps and welcoming staff. You’ll probably want to stay here indefinitely, but it closes early and also has a 90-minute seating limit. Those 90 minutes, however, can be filled by reading, conversing and enjoying the delicious coffee.
Coffee is provided by Café Paulista in Ginza, Tokyo’s legendary oldest coffee shop. From Mori Ogai coffee, which is a dark mellow Mandheling, to the Akutagawa blend and Terayama Shuji blend, every menu item is inspired by a book or a specific writer. To name just a few food items, there is a breakfast set inspired by Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami, salmon pie from the Sherlock Holmes books and scones to represent Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Shakespearean bloodshed aside, the scones truly are to die for. Everything on the menu is both delicious and creatively tied to the world of literature.
Note: Google maps routinely sends people down a narrow dead-end, so make sure you locate the main gates and enter through those. The East Gate is the closest to Bundan Coffee & Beer.
Book and Bed Shinjuku
Primarily a lodging, Book and Bed Shinjuku is a dream come true of living and sleeping in a library. It’s a blend of a hostel and a capsule hotel, with the beds fitted in between bookshelves. There is also a private room option. However, you don’t need to be staying here to visit. There are hourly rates for using the space at ¥700 per hour, as well as an affordable day pass. You can spend your day reading, drinking coffee and nibbling on sandwiches and go back home to your own bed at night.
There is also a café space available for walk-in customers. The coffee selection is as much of a reason to visit as the books and neon-lit views of Shinjuku. Book and Bed Shinjuku Lounge specializes in charcoal food and drinks and has menu items such as black macchiato, black latte, sandwiches made with charcoal bread and more. There are, of course, non-charcoal drinks too.
Technically not a café, Forest Library is also not really a library. Unlike a library, there’s groovy music, drinks and food available and you can freely chat. It’s closest to a coworking space, as you pay per hour to use the facilities that include free Wi-Fi and electrical outlets. You get unlimited drinks too, included in the hourly rate. The reason Forest Library found itself on this list (despite its seriously bad coffee) is the fact that its walls are lined with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. You can just take and read any of the books, many of which are manga.
Located just a few steps from the Shibuya Crossing, Forest Library is almost hidden on the eighth floor of an unassuming building. It’s then behind a simple wooden door, making you feel almost as if you’re crossing into a secret world. Even if you don’t come for the books, it’s good for escaping the constant chaos and din of Shibuya. It’s affordable, welcoming and has some English language support too.
In addition to the Tokyo book cafés above, here are some honorable mentions that we were considering.
Paper Book Café in Jimbocho is similar to Jimbocho Book Center and Jimbocho Book House. Just a few minutes away from both, it also has a classic kissaten atmosphere and is very cheap.
R-za Dokushokan is a whimsical café in Koenji full of plants and antiques. Here you must be completely silent when you visit. They take reading in peace very seriously.