Infinity Books Japan
On Friday, March 24, 2017 I visited Infinity Books, in Tokyo's Asakusa district, across the Sumida River from Asakusa Station. With the exception of the antiquarian bookstores in the Kanda Book Town district (closer to Jimbocho Station than to Kanda Station, actually), Infinity is the last foreign English bookstore standing in Tokyo from a list of formerly lively and beloved cultural outlets - Good Day Books, The Blue Parrot, Caravan Books, Dragon’s Egg - all gone now. It's a sign of the times, the way digital media and the Internet have cut into the paper book trade. There remains a real need for shops like Infinity, and there always will be so long as there are foreign readers here. What are we to do if/when Infinity closes? Some manner of local online book exchange network probably already exists. Although I have known of Infinity's existence for a while, March 24th was the first time I visited.
Sumida Ward is part of Tokyo’s “shitamachi.” Some translate “shitamachi” as “downtown,” because that’s what it means literally. But that would be wrong. The “shitamachi” is the low-elevation marshy area in the east of the city, near the sea, opposed to the more elevated “yamanote” area in the west of the city. Although it is easy to describe the two areas geographically, they also have distinct cultural identities. Traditionally Yamanote (山の手, "mountain's hand(s)") refers to the affluent, upper-class areas of Tokyo west of the Imperial Palace, long ago settled by Tokugawa Shogunate vassals. Shitamachi (下町, "under city) was inhabited by lower castes (merchants and artisans).
In the spring of 1945 there were a number of incendiary bombing raids against Tokyo. The great fire raid of the night of March 9, 1945 is the most infamous. Sumida Ward is in the heart of the targeted area. More civilians died in that one night attack (estimated 100,000) than died in the Hiroshima atomic bombing a few months later. Local residents continue to say the area is haunted. And this is where Infinity Books can be found.
I haven't been to Asakusa in 27 years. The famous Senso-ji Temple there (on the west bank of the Sumida River) is a major tourist draw with its glorious Kaminarimon Gate. Nearby docks on the river offer barge or boat rides and tours up and down the river. I figured as long as I was in the neighbourhood I ought to visit the Temple once more. I did not possess a digital camera the last time I visited, so this time I could capture some good images - which I did. But the experience was exhausting! Crowds! Tourists!
The temple precinct is a maze of alleys branching from the main approach called Nakamise dori - an avenue lined on both sides with small Japanese souvenir shops. Trinkety stuff. It’s so packed, crowded and tight that a person can’t see what’s right in front of them. There are exits, public toilets and eateries, but unless you already know where they are they will be practically invisible behind the mob of throbbing humanity. And this was on a weekday afternoon. A holiday or festival would be worse.
I’ll go back in another 27-years.
Infinity Books Japan,
1F Komagata-bashi Heights Bldg.,
TEL: (81) 080-3412-2564