No19 [Youth] The happy dream factory

no194Created by a group of mothers, the Kodomo no honya bookshop’s reputation now stretches beyond the capital.

Sometimes the best places in Tokyo are tucked away in a quiet corner of the suburban sprawl and finding them turns into a treasure hunt. Kodomo no Honya is such a place. Actually getting to this tiny shop, which specializes in children’s books, is not that difficult, but first you have to take a train and head west to the laid-back Asagaya district. On the way to the bookstore you will also have a chance to explore the impossibly long Pearl Centre shopping arcade, which is famous for its Tanabata Parade in August, but for now we will concentrate on the book-hunting. Finding the shop is quite easy; you only need to look for the bright yellow sign outside, and even if you get lost you only have to ask around as everybody knows it. This little jewel of a bookshop was opened in 1993 by five enterprising mothers who wanted to find the best picture books available for their kids. Twenty years later Kodomo no Honya has become a local landmark, beloved and supported by the local community. When you step inside, the wooden shelves and colourful books tidily arranged along the walls create a cosy and warm atmosphere. More books sit on a table in the middle of the room, while handmade pictures and other decorations hang from the walls and even the ceiling. The overall effect is that of a playroom, even though there is actually no space for the kids to run around. The shop interior is only 17 square metres, but don’t be misled by the size because at any one time they have more than 1,500 books in stock. The shop’s location may not be very convenient, but even those families who don’t live in the area need not worry as they can subscribe to its popular nation-wide mail order service. “We send one book every month to each subscriber,” the shop’s Tanigawa-san says. “The children’s mothers tell us their ages and what they enjoy, send us their comments, etc., and we use their feedback to personalize our service. In other words, we don’t send the same book to every child”. In the eyes of to the shop’s owners, books are a child’s treasure trove and have the power to make them laugh while teaching them many things. “Especially now that children are so attracted by video games and don’t know how to communicate with other people, and even the adults are forgetting how to read and write kanji (the Japanese ideographic alphabet), I believe that books should play an important role in our life,” she says. ”Everybody remembers their favourite books, and I like to think that Kodomo no Honya contributes to these important childhood memories”.

J. D.

Photo: Jérémie Souteyrat