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Finding Solitude in a Tokyo Library

Posted about 15 days ago by Ryan Dunn

Tokyo is a frenetic, fascinating city of nearly 14 million people. Residents and tourists pack the sidewalks in a rush to their destinations. Massive digital signs hang overhead, constantly vying for attention. But step inside a city library, and the sense of relief is immediate.

I spent a recent vacation in Japan exploring a beautiful country quite different from our own. Over a few days each in Tokyo and Kyoto, I visited historic temples that marked centuries of changes. The sites now sit alongside conveyor-belt sushi restaurants and interactive robot displays. Inspired by my colleague Heather's “Bookcation” blog post, I sought to experience the culture in part through libraries and bookstores. It proved to be a meaningful break from the cityscape.

Japan’s first public libraries opened in the 1870s. Passage of the Library Law in 1950 ensured these institutions would be taxpayer-funded and free for use, according to The Japan Times. I never expected to feel so at home in a Japanese library. Though smaller in size, the layout and materials of this local branch felt like a Toledo Lucas County Public Library branch. There were reading rooms, computers, newspapers and a children's library. Customers of all ages filled the building on a Saturday afternoon. They appeared to relish the quiet moments, free from distraction and in pursuit of materials at their own pace.

Bookstores, likewise, were popular shops that enabled a quick step back from the city. They were active gathering spots, often with cafes and a collection of best-selling American books. Patrons would linger instead of taking part in the rush outside. In one of the most connected cities on Earth, I found bookstore and library customers alike enjoying a good read. It was an affirming sight.

There is a favorite message of mine emblazoned outside TLCPL’s Main Library. It reads, “Never be afraid to sit a while and think.” I learned the sentiment was just as true at a library 6,500 miles away.

Go Far

Where will the Library take you? There are services for securing your passport and plenty of materials to accompany your trip. Here are just a few:

Cover of Lonely Planet Tokyo

View Lonely Planet Tokyoin Catalog

By Rebecca Milner And Simon Richmond

An indispensable guidebook for your travels to come. Lonely Planet features extensive recommendations on hotels and restaurants. Become a quick study on your next vacation site.

Cover of Convenience Store Woman

View Convenience Store Womanin Catalog

By Sayaka Murata

This novel, recently featured in the excellent Books on Tap series, considers Japan's rigid desire for conformity through the eyes of convenience store employee.

Cover of The Power Broker

View The Power Brokerin Catalog

By Robert Caro

If your flight is 13 hours long, I find a hefty book to be essential. Consider this one from Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Caro. His fascinating work examines Robert Moses and the building of 20th-century New York, telling a larger history of cities as a whole.