At the end of one particularly hot summer, my boyfriend and a friend helped me pack as many books, magazines, CDs, and DVDs as possible into a cardboard box. It was one of my last days in Japan before returning to Canada to start my PhD.
That box, totaling just under the 50-pound limit for freight shipping, as well as the carry-on suitcase threatening to break open as I dragged it through Narita Airport, were filled all courtesy of the same store: Book-Off.
A New Discovery
Before coming to Japan for the first time, I never would have guessed that yearly pilgrimages to a second-hand store would become such a central part of my Japan experience. Yet, as a graduate student hungry for language practice and SMAP photo books on a limited budget, there was no way I could stay in Japan as long as I liked every year while buying all my research goods and fan materials brand new.
As such, egged on by my PhD supervisor, the ultimate Book-Off detective, each subsequent trip to Japan brought me to more and more of the second-hand books, clothes, and furniture chains’ locations until I planned an entire month of my summer in 2016 with the goal of visiting as many of the Tokyo locations as I could. Read on to find out why this discount used book and goods chain stole my heart and why it should be a must-visit for every international woman visiting and living in Japan.
Welcome to Book-Off
Book-Off, founded in 1991, has managed to build up an incredibly successful brand throughout Japan’s long recession. With incomes dropping, precarious work on the rise, and fewer full-time jobs for new graduates, Japan’s economy has been rife for second-hand and discount chains to prosper in the post-financial bubble period. And prosper Book-Off did, expanding to 807 locations in Japan with 13 overseas stores by 2018.
Although its floors are dominated by Japanese paper media of all types, different Book-Offs also have a varying selection of many other goods, ranging from English used books, gently used electronics to toys. Book-Off’s Super Bazaar stores, for instance, have a wide range of used clothing, accessories, furniture and bags, and even some designer brands. The electronics sold in many locations are also priced very competitively; I can vouch for their cellular phones which my husband purchased when his unexpectedly met its maker when we arrived to live in Japan.
Many Book-Offs also contain a large toy and hobby section, a playground for both collectors and children. My daughter’s vintage car toys, a ¥200 attempt at pacifying her as I looked at books while she was still being carted in a baby-carrier, are still on her list of much-loved items.
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