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.
Amazon.co.jp – They have a fairly wide selection of books, but so far I haven’t found any for what I think is a decent price.
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.
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.
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.