Finding English books

For people who are coming to visit Japan (which is apparently doing away with most of its restrictions for travelers starting October 11th), there’s very little need, I think, for you to find English-language books, but for those of us who’ve lived here a long time, you can find yourself (at least I do) wishing you could just wander into any bookstore and find a book in your native language.

So here is a list of where all I have managed to find books.

Disclaimer: I know the internet means you can just download books onto Kindle and such, but I’m only interested in physical books in this entry.

Most Expensive Options

Kinokuniya in Shinjuku – stored behind Takashimaya Times Square in Shinjuku, Tokyo, this “annex” used to house books on all floors, with foreign-language books taking over one of the upper floors. Today, the bottom floors have turned into an affordable interior store called Nitori, while the foreign-language floor remains. This has quite a few options for you to enjoy, but expect to pay about double what you would in an English-speaking country.

Maruzen in Otemachi – Just across from Tokyo Station’s north side, this is an ever-dwindling supply of foreign-language books (mostly English, from what I’ve ever seen). I can’t help but notice more and more of the floor housing the books is being taken over by people selling arts and crafts, which is fine, but I miss the books. Again, expect to pay about double what you normally think you should.

National Azabu – This is a “foreign” grocery store in a wealthy neighborhood of Tokyo with a second floor dedicated to household items, toys and books. They also have quite a few magazines, though nothing like Kinokuniya can offer. Again, jaw-dropping prices for literature. – They have a fairly wide selection of books, but so far I haven’t found any for what I think is a decent price.

Relatively cheap

Maruzen book sales- The store I mentioned above, and other Maruzen stores, sometimes will have foreign books on sale. The Maruzen store near Tokyo Station used to have a massive foreign-language book sale right in the New Year, but I’m not sure if they’re still doing it. If you speak Japanese, then feel free to check this events list for when it might happen again.

Infinity Books – This bookstore seems to be relatively cheap. It might depend on the book you’re after, though. It’s an entire bookstore just for foreign-language books.

Really cheap

Bookoff – This is a bookstore selling used books only. You can also bring your books here and try to sell them, though don’t expect to make much money off of anything. I think if you go into major Bookoff stores in Tokyo and major cities around Japan, you should find a decent foreign-language section with books nicely on sale. I would like to use this space to brag I found a children’s encyclopedia with a retail value of about $60 selling for $5 at a Bookoff.

For free

Major libraries – It certainly never dawned on me when I first started living here, but a lot of large libraries in major cities here have decent English-language sections. I’ve even been able to get a hold of recent editions of National Geographic at a few libraries near me. Making a library card should be free, but if you don’t speak Japanese, it could prove a challenge.

Typhoon Season

Today feels like summer never even happened here. It’s about 24 C, dark and gloomy as Typhoon No. 11 heads toward us.

Taken from Japan Yahoo Weather

September is the month of typhoons in Japan, and the season can go into October. One day (like yesterday) it’ll be in the 30s, the next day dark and cool. This is the season of sinus migraines and aching joints as the air pressure wildly fluctuates.

I think in terms of off-seasons, September is the perfect chance to visit Japan (whenever it finally is more open to people from abroad), but typhoons are always going to be a risk if you do visit around now.

Typhoons can wreak havoc on the infrastructure here, meaning train lines shutting down (Shinkansen bullet trains are usually the first to stop if the wind picks up too much) and mad dashes for busses, taxis and rental cars.

For me, the best option is to keep a sharp eye on typhoon forecasts (Japan Yahoo! Weather has a typhoon tracker, which I usually use) and try to plan things around it. Of course, typhoons will suddenly change direction or move slower than predicted (or faster) so September can be a month of sudden changes in plans.

So far, the most I’ve done for typhoon preparedness while living here has been to stock up on water (sometimes I’ve just left the bathtub water in the tub when I know a typhoon is coming, just in case) and move my outdoor plants under a roof our condo’s terrace has. I know people who own houses here have storm shutters they use for their windows when typhoons come.

Getting to work during a typhoon is never pleasant – I used to bike ride to one of my jobs, which meant I have been stupid enough to bike ride during a typhoon to work. If you can, try not to go out during one. That being said, I do know a lot of companies expect you to find alternate routes to work should your usual line gets shut down.

Typhoons are fairly common in Japan so unless it’s an unusually nasty one, not many people I know tend to think much of them beyond an annoyance.

The best thing to do when a typhoon hits is to have a nice supply of food and water in your apartment/house/hotel/hostel and such and just try to wait the storm out indoors.