Lonely Planet Writer

You have to pay to get into this Tokyo bookstore (but it’s worth it)

Would you go to a bookstore if you knew they probably didn’t stock the specific title you were looking for? What if you had to pay to get in? That’s the unusual step one Japanese bookstore has taken, but they’re offering a very different literary experience instead.

The books are arrange in a way to inspire discovery. Photo by Bunkitsu

Bunkitsu is making headlines as the the first bookstore in Tokyo to charge an entrance fee. For 1500 yen (about US$14), you’ll get access to this a huge and carefully curated range of 30,000 mainly obscure and rare titles across a range of subjects, including design, art, humanities and natural sciences.

There are few bestsellers to pick up here; instead there is only one copy of each title which is arranged according to its genre, but in random order after that. Looking for a particular book? You’ll have to look for it yourself. Staff don’t have access to a book search so you’ll just need to browse. With this unusual layout, the bookstore hopes readers will stumble across new and surprising titles that may pique their interest.

There is an exhibition space instore. Photo by Bunkitsu

As well as the bookshelves, onsite there is a library and a reading room where you can bring the books to read them and a ‘laboratory’ where you can host book discussions. You can also relax in the tea-room, which serves unlimited coffee and green tea, as well as full meals, treats and even alcohol.

There’s also a dedicated exhibition space with rotating exhibits examining some aspect of books, with the current exhibition looking at the power of magazines. This space is open to the public for free and there are a range of magazines and books that are available to purchase.

The store is also a cafe and an exhibition space. Photo by Bunkitsu

While the idea of paying into a bookstore may not appeal to everyone, the unusual step was taken in an effort to protect the future of bookstores in Japan, which have reported flagging sales. It’s also not a world first; Portugal’s famous Livraria Lello brought in a €5 entrance fee when thousands of people began visiting the photogenic store, most of whom did not purchase anything.