We’ve already talked about where to track down Hiroshima’s best hot coffee in the depths of January, but once you’re in the cafe, you’ll need something to read, surely. You can swipe through Instagramm, sure, but for now we’re shooting for urbane sophistication, and that calls for print.
Unfortunately, Hiroshima still hasn’t been able to keep a decent English language bookstore afloat, and the offerings at many of the large chains can be fairly thin. Used bookstores are often your best bet, though the one used bookstore in town that focuses on English volumes doesn’t seem to have rotated its stock for the better part of a decade.
For bookstores selling new books, the best option in downtown Hiroshima is Maruzen. It’s not one you’ll just stumble across though, since it’s located on the 7th and 8th floors of the Yamada Denki building on the corner of Aioi Dori and Chuo Dori, between the Fukuya and Mitsukoshi department stores. The English-language selection is concentrated at the north end of the 7th floor, left of the elevators. It’s pleasant enough, and the shelves are lined not only with a modest but well-chosen selection of classics and bestsellers, but also magazines and children’s books.
If you’re looking for Japan-themed gift books for people back home, they have an excellent selection of those as well. From here, to enjoy your new purchases with a coffee, you can head back to the ground floor and exit from the south side of the building, which will put you in Ebisu Dori and only seconds away from the entrance to Chamonix Mont Blanc, one of the city’s best surviving Showa era coffee houses. Alternately, there is Tully’s Coffee located right on the seventh floor itself, though seating is limited and slightly cramped.
My favorite stop for used books, not far from Maruzen, is Academy Books in Hondori. Academy has two locations within easy walking distance of each other, but the better of the two is located between Aioi Dori and Parco in the shopping arcade, a little south along from Fukuya Department Store on the arcade’s west side. Look for glass shelves of used books and glass cases displaying vintage Hiroshima Carp memorabilia and more valuable volumes and hanging scrolls. For a book lover, the entire shop is a delight, two narrow floors of tantalizing spines interspersed with boxes stuffed with old postcards, maps, and other treasures.
The foreign language section is on the second floor, near the windows looking out on the arcade. I haven’t asked, but you get the distinct impression that Academy regularly buys up the libraries of recently deceased university professors. Where other used bookstores may have unused, Teddy bear-themed address books or a field guide to the Birds of Indiana (actual finds), here you’re more likely to find the collected poems of Edmund Spenser or a survey of Norwegian ghost stories. If nothing appeals, come back in a week because things change quickly. There’s almost always something worth buying, especially when paperback prices are sometimes under 500 yen.
A little farther afield, in the quirky Yokogawa district, is the appropriately quirky Hon to Jiyuu, or Books and Freedom. This is another rambling, narrow, used bookshop, hard by the railroad tracks just east of Yokogawa Station, in an alley filled with funky little shops and restaurants, a few steps away from the entrance to Yokogawa Cinema. There’s not much in English here, but the shop focuses on fine art and literature, and some of the books are either in English or so focused on imagery that the text is an afterthought.
Like Academy, this shop is worth taking your time with, running your finger along the crammed, creaking shelves to see what jumps out at you. Rest assured, something will. And when you’re done, one of the best things about Books and Freedom is the (small) in-house bar and performance space. There may not be a concert underway when you drop by, but you can sit at the bar and enjoy a coffee or beer and talk with one of the friendly people staffing the place. Don’t forget, either, to wander up and down the nearby streets of Yokogawa when you finally leave. The area is well worth an entire article of its own.
Address: Ebisucho 5-2 2, 7-8F, Naka-Ku, Hiroshima, Hiroshima Prefecture, 730-0021
Access: On the 7th and 8th floors of the former Tenmaya department store building, presently a Yamada Denki Labi electronics store on the first floors. Corner of Aioi Dori and Chuo Dori, between Fukuya and Mitsukoshi Department Stores.
Hours: 10:00 to 22:00 (closed January 1)
Address: 1-7 Hondori, Naka Ward, Hiroshima, Hiroshima Prefecture 730-0035
Access: Look for a narrow storefront with bookshelves and glass display cases on the west side of the Hondori shopping arcade between Parco and Fukuya.
Hours: 10:00 to 20:00
Address: Chome-4-14 Yokogawachō, Nishi-Ku, Hiroshima-shi, Hiroshima-ken 733-0011
Access: Approximately two blocks east of Yokogawa Station. In a narrow lane of bars and restaurants south of the tracks.
Hours: 2:00-23:00 Saturday to Sunday. (Closed Mondays)
Telephone: 082 233-9239