It was a place I never managed to get to when I lived in Tokyo, so I decided to visit last week when I was back in Japan.
I had imagined the place would be bigger, but it’s really no larger than an average size room. (Click images below for larger versions)
There are three lines of bookcases with books in Korean and Japanese. There’s also some audiovisual content, which I’ll get to in a moment. I saw only one book in English, a biography of Kim Jong Il.
They include titles in both languages published in Japan by the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (with which the bookstore is linked), books from Japanese and South Korean publishers on the North-South issue, and Korean-language books from North Korea.
Without a doubt, the highlight is the North Korean content, but there is little that is fresh. Most of the books are several years old, if not older. It’s difficult to tell roughly how old the North Korean books are without looking inside however, because the quality of printing and binding makes them look older than contemporary western or Japanese titles.
I managed to locate one of the newest books, and the printing and binding quality is much improved:
There’s one bookcase with audiovisual contents, although the majority of it is taken up by a few hundred VHS cassettes of North Korean TV dramas and cartoons. Some carry the Mokran Video label. There’s a very small DVD selection and a few audio CDs.
Among the DVDs are three computer software titles: a North Korean version of Baduk, a Korean dictionary, and a multimedia CD-ROM on Mount Kumgang. All carried the “Korea Computer Center” label.
If you’re interested in visiting for yourself, here’s how to get there:
The Korea Book Center is located in Hakusan, an old neighborhood in the center of Tokyo that’s served by the Toei Mita line subway.
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It’s open from 1pm to 5pm from Monday to Saturday, closed on Sundays and public holidays. It has a website at www.krbook.net and its phone number is 03-6820-0111.
Take exit A1 from the subway station, turn right when you get to street level and walk about one minute until you hit the major Hakusan Dori.
From the crossing at the corner, you’ll be able to see the large brown building that houses the shop.
It’s easy to spot because of the large shortwave radio antenna on the roof.
The address is Hakusan 4-33, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo; or if you need one in Japanese, it’s: 東京都文京区白山４丁目３３.
Cross over the street, turn right and in no time you’ll be in front of the building.