In my article about Akihabara, I suggested that the Kanda district, specifically its Jimbocho neighborhood, might be a nearby area you’d want to explore while you’re in the area.
Kanda-Jimbocho (神田神保町) is Tokyo’s hotbed for publishing houses, used-book stores, and is an academic center attracting many young scholars. It’s just a few minutes’ walk northeast of the Imperial Palace. If you’re using the JR Yamanote Line or JR Chuo, get off at Kanda Station.
I’ll discuss places to see, food to eat, and festivals to attend in Kanda. You won’t read about many tourist spots, but you’ll discover hidden gems that few tourists know about. Get ready for a town full of second-hand bookstores, curry, one of the greatest festivals of Japan, and more!
The History of Kanda
As always, let’s start by taking a very brief look at the history of Kanda (神田).
Kanda used to be a ward. But in 1947 it merged with Kojimachi to become the Chiyoda ward. It used to be the upscale residential area during the Tokugawa era. Nobles, samurai, scholars, and wealthy businessmen chose to live there because of because It’s very close to the Imperial Palace. This is also why Kanda is called until today as the neighborhood of Edokko.
Edokko means a true-blue child of Edo (former name of Tokyo). This is a person who is born and raised in Edo. He or she is urbane, honest, cultured, and generous. An Edokko treasures the old but always seeks for something new.
Today, Kanda continues to be primarily residential areas and an academic center. You’ll find the University of Tokyo, Meiji University, and other schools. It has 30 neighborhoods, some of which are known for one thing only. For example, Jimbocho is known for its bookstores.
The History of Jimbocho
Are you obsessed with books? Then Jimbocho should be one of your first stops in Kanda. It is full of bookstores, many of which sell second-hand or used books.
You can reach it via the Tokyo Metro Hanzōmon Line, Toei Mita Line, or the Toei Shinjuku Line. Get off at Jimbocho Station. If you’re coming from the Kanda Station, walk west along Yasukuni-dori Avenue.
The town’s name is from Nagaharu Jinbō, a samurai who lived in that area during the 17th century. This is why the town’s name is sometimes spelled as Jinbocho. But locals fondly call it Jimbou.
The redeveloped Meiji University and the Senshu University were placed in Jimbocho during the Meiji era (sometime late 1800s).
After fire razed the area in 1913, university professor Shigeo Iwanami opened a bookstore. This became the Iwanami Shoten publishing house. Other bookstores and publishing houses followed suit. Considering the numerous schools surrounding the area, this was a natural development.
There have been programs in recent years to develop Jimbocho. In 2003, three high-rise buildings were completed. In 2007, the Jimbocho Theater was built. But, despite these activities aiming to modernize the area, Jimbocho continues to retain its unique old-style charm.
There are almost 200 bookstores, mainly along Yasukuni-dori Avenue. The bookstores sell a wide range of printed materials from new books to second-hand ones to antique ukiyo-e (woodblock prints) to old magazines. Some even sell maps and newspapers from as far back as the Edo era. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a special book for only 100 yen. The majority of the books are in Japanese. But there are odd books in other languages.
If you can understand Japanese, here’s a map of the area. For English-speaking visitors, here are some recommendations for you.
- Kitazawa Bookstore – specializes in English-language books. If you want to browse through something you can read, then you might want to start here before you move on to other bookstores.
- Isseido Books – sells a wide array of rare Japanese books and some English titles. If you’re looking for some unique souvenirs, you can look through the prints the store sells that are authentic Edo and Meiji products.
- Shosen Grande – is famous for its books and collectibles. Each floor is dedicated to a subculture. For example, you’ll find anything and everything about trains on the sixth floor. If you’re a collector, you might want to visit this.
- Books Sanseido – this is a Japanese chain of bookstores. The Jimbocho branch is the flagship location. Besides Japanese books, it offers English books on the fifth floor, Japanese toys, pottery, and tea.
- Sawaguchi Books – sells mostly Japanese books. But if you go to the upper floor, you’ll find the store’s second attraction. It’s a cozy space by a window with a coffee vending machine. Coffee, books, and people-watching, what could be better?
- Toyoda Books – offers a wide range of printed materials from textbooks to novels, from magazines to maps. It contains the Paper Press Café, which offers free coffee refills.
- Komiyama Bookstore – has been selling photography and art books (new and second-hand) since 1939. Like Sawaguchi Books, don’t forget to go to its upper floors. Since it’s focused on art, its upper floors exhibit art collections.
- Bumpodo – is one of the oldest stores in Jimbocho. It was established in 1887. It specializes in stationery, gifts, and more. The third floor is a café.
- Anegawa Bookstore – specializes in cats. This is why it’s also called Nyankodo (Little Meow Shop). You’ll find cat books, cat cards, etc.
These are just recommendations. The best part of touring Jimbocho is finding a hidden gem among the many books you will see. Just a note, stores open at around 10:00 am so don’t go there early.
For manga lovers, Jimbocho is where Shueisha Inc. and Shogakukan Inc. are headquartered. The first publishes the popular Weekly Shonen Jump while the latter publishes the Weekly Shonen Sunday, among other titles. These two giants in manga own Viz Media, one of the largest manga publishers in North America.
Where To Eat In Kanda-Jimbocho
If you’ve had your fill of books and coffee and want something more filling, here are some places to get some grub.
Jimbocho is famous for its curry shops. One such shop is Kitchen Nankai. Try the tasty rice, curry, and tonkatsu (breaded fried pork) set for lunch. You can walk off the calories for the second half of your tour of Jimbocho’s bookstores. Another restaurant is Matsuya Curry, which has several branches across Japan. Matsuya is famous for its curry with beef set.
Kanda Gyoza Honten is famous for its gyoza (dumplings). The gyoza can be a la carte or part of a noodle or rice meal. Try their kurobuta gyoza, which is made from Berkshire pork.
If you’re craving a different type of ramen, go to Yosuko Saikan. People say that this restaurant started hiyashi chukka (cold ramen). Chilled ramen noodles are topped with various ingredients just like regular ramen, all of which are smothered in sauce. Yosuko Saikan’s hiyashi chukka is usually arranged to look like a mountain.
If you want a fusion of fine dining and street food, try Ranjatai. This is a 1-Michelin star restaurant specializing in yakitori (chicken skewers). You’ll have a new appreciation of a chicken’s various parts in this restaurant. It’s located just behind the Jimbocho crossing.
Wash all of the food down with some beer at the Craft Beer Market. This bar serves around 30 local brews and a wide range of international brands. It’s a very popular spot, especially for students.
If it’s too early for beer, go to Tea House Takano. This shop has been serving a wide variety of tea blends since 1974. They have Ceylon and even Uva Pekoe St. James teas.
Go-To Festivals in Kanda-Jimbocho
Curry is so popular in Kanda that the district hosts the annual Kanda Curry Grand Prix. For this year, it’s from November 2-3. More than 20 types of curry will be offered by different stalls. Besides just sampling the fare, why don’t you join the Curry Stamp Rally? Booklets are distributed in various offices of the Chiyoda City Tourism Association. Whenever you finish a curry, the stall owner will stamp your booklet as proof of your curry-eating prowess.
The Kanda Old Book Festival is celebrated in the fall. Bookstores bring out their wares to the sidewalks. Special events like book sales of rare and valuable books are held. For this year, the festival is from Oct. 25-Nov. 4.
The Kanda Festival is one of the three greatest festivals of Japan (the two others being the Tenjin Festival of Osaka and the Gion Festival in Kyoto). It is celebrated in May. During the festival, Japanese participants (and even some foreigner ones) wear happi (traditional festival coats), tabi (two-toed socks), and headbands. They dance to the beat of taiko drums and flute while collectively carrying a mikoshi (portable Shinto shrines), which are sometimes 800 to 1,400 pounds. Onlookers douse participants with water. Food and beer stalls line up the streets. Hikisha (floats) showcasing works of art are also pulled through the streets.
Notable Places In Kanda-Jimbocho
If Jimbocho is famous for its bookstores, then Ochanomizu (lit. tea water) is a neighborhood within Kanda that is famous for its stores selling various types of musical instruments. There’s even a Guitar Street there. There are various jazz clubs and venues for live performances in this town.
The town also contains the Saint Nicolai Church (aka Nikolai-do aka Holy Resurrection Cathedral). This is a Russian Orthodox Church named after St. Nicolai of Japan whose real name was Ivan Dimitrovich Kasatkin. St. Nicolai brought Christianity to Hokkaido (and eventually the whole country) in the 1860s. The original structure was built during the 19th century. But this was damaged during the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923.
The church was rebuilt in 1929, and features very unique architecture showcasing the Russian heritage of its patron saint. It has a green dome as a roof and a bell tower.
Start Book Collecting!
There you have it, a small and complete guide to Kanda and Jimbocho. If you are staying in Tokyo for the week, hit this place up during your visit to Akihabara, as they are pretty close. I strongly recommend visiting to get a little taste of old Tokyo. Going to popular tourist spots is great. But, sometimes, venturing off the beaten path can lead to awesome discoveries. Have you been to Jimbocho? Tell me your story.