By HIROO SUNAOSHI/ Staff Writer
October 8, 2021 at 07:30 JST
An image of the interior of the Ohya-Shobo bookstore, which handles Japanese-style publications and ukiyo-e prints from the Edo Period (1603-1867) and historic photos from the Meiji Era (1868-1912), is shown in the virtual walking tour on the Jimbou Book Town site. (Provided by Kanda Koshoten Renmei)
Hunting for that perfect find amid a trove of old, leather-bound antique books is one of the earthly pleasures the novel coronavirus crisis robbed from bookworms and collectors.
But while becoming immersed in the ambience of the historic bookstores in Tokyo’s famous Jimbocho Book Town in person is still impossible for many, store owners have teamed up to make that experience possible online.
The effort is aimed at promoting Tokyo’s Kanda-Jimbocho district, an area well known for its many specialty secondhand bookstores, in the hopes that book lovers will still enjoy touring through used bookshops, even if only done virtually, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Based in the Kanda-Ogawamachi district of the capital’s Chiyoda Ward, an association of 130 bookstore operators launched a new website (https://jimbou.info) to enable readers both in and outside Japan to search for titles and enjoy a virtual tour of the interiors of the historic bookshops.
A 360-degree camera recorded inside 130 used bookshops for three months, so visitors can bathe in the district’s atmosphere.
Tetsuya Yaguchi, who was involved in the project, said the bookstores are just like the books they house: They cannot be judged by their covers alone.
“The characteristics of secondhand bookshops cannot be assessed just by looking at them from outside, so people may have found it difficult to enter them in some respects,” Yaguchi said. “These barriers can be overcome in digital spaces.”
Kanda-Jimbocho is one of Japan’s most renowned spots for looking for secondhand books. Streets are lined with secondhand and specialty stores, boasting a massive selection of old books and manga comics, antique maps and artwork, and even vintage movie posters.
It draws in hordes of visitors from across Japan and brings in many overseas tourists as well.
But customers have not returned due to the prolonged pandemic.
Kanda’s used book fair attracts hundreds of thousands of bibliophiles every October, but the big event has been canceled. Each time a state of emergency came into effect, the shops would institute more measures to prevent the virus from spreading, such as suspending operations and shortening business hours.
Seeing the normally busy main street deserted, store operators came up with the idea of making it possible for many people to discover the town’s unique atmosphere in a digital space.
The project began in November to modernize the old website for the Kanda Koshoten Renmei association and launch a new virtual tour.
Yaguchi, 58, is a former president of the organization and the third-generation manager of the Yaguchi Shoten bookstore, which opened in 1918 and is known for exclusively selling publications connected to films, theaters, dramas and scripts.
He played a key role in the effort and went over the project details with other shop managers. He wants people to “drop by the site at their leisure to discover their own favorite outlets.”
The new Jimbou Book Town site went online in late June, showing off the stores’ characteristic jam-packed bookshelves and tight spaces. It also offers translations for English and Chinese visitors.
Its virtual walking tour was designed to make users feel as if they are really inside the bookstores, showing striking panoramic views of the interiors without the feeling of being crammed next to other customers.
The site shows an outline of each store and allows users to search for secondhand titles.
Although some 2,000 people a day were visiting the site shortly after the site’s launch, the figure will now sometimes top 10,000. Visitors come from all around the world, from Africa, Europe, the United States and other Asian nations.
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