Japan Today

Book-Off: More than just a Japanese book lover’s paradise


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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© Savvy Tokyo

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These are great places for bargains, BUT they dont beat the good ole days when all you had to do was check things on sodai gomi day to get tons of stuff for free!!

I literally started my existence here 30yrs ago with tons of free great stuff, even have a few bits still around to present!!

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Thank god the bookstore wasn't named Book-On.

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I love book off but I didn't even know they sold books. They seem to sell everything second hand. Great place to get electronics and music instruments.

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I like Hard Off as well, its sister brand. What a great name for a store.

I actually owned shares in Book Off corp for a few years. Nice dividend payer for a Japanese company.

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The various “Off” stores in that chain are pretty good, I’ve been shopping at them for twenty years now. Some locations are better than others, the bigger they are the better the selection tends to be.

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Thank god the bookstore wasn't named Book-On.

There is now a Book On as well as part of the Group.


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There is now a Book On as well as part of the Group.

Dear lord. I hope there'll be a native English speaker to advise them when they start to open shops selling brand new musical instruments and TVs.

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Their spin off chain is Kimono-Off. No, I'm not kidding. https://www.kimono-off.jp/ I miss Hard Off. Great for cameras and recording equipment.

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Modern novels should also have interesting pictures like those classic ones 100 years ago so that more people get interested to read the actual book rather than on the screen.

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