Maruzen Book Store, Nihonbashi, Tokyo, c. 1920.

1910sArts & CultureCommerce
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“It was thanks to the upstairs section of Maruzen that the surging currents of thought of nineteenth [and early twentieth] century continental Europe broke relentlessly through onto the shores of this remote Far Eastern island.

“It was a small and gloomy section. The attendant, who had a limp and was very pale, had a ready smile. The shelves were thick with dust, and the literature books were put away behind the glass with a mixture of science books and guide-books. Nonetheless it was here that one came across the masterpieces that shook Europe.

“… You’d encounter some young man walking along the streets of Marunouchi in the vicinity of the Palace, clutching a copy of ‘Fathers and Sons’ that he’d ordered some time before and looking as it he’d just met his sweetheart. You’d see some other young man spotting a copy of ‘Anna Karenina’ on the second-floor shelves at Maruzen and emptying his month’s allowance from his purse to buy it with a look of delight on his face.

“In those days I often went searching for such books with Yanagita Kunio. With great excitement we searched out advertisements appended to magazines, and catalogues appended to books. And then, with money we could scarce afford, we ordered these rare books from Maruzen.”

“The Second Floor of Maruzen”, by Tayama Katai, Thirty Years in Tokyo, 1917 (translated by Kenneth G. Henshall, 1987)

An elevated view of Nihonbashi, Tokyo, c. 1920, from Shirokiya department store. The reddish brown building at center is the bookstore and haberdashery Maruzen. In the far distance in the haze is the unclad skeleton of the Dai-ichi Sogo building under construction. It would be completed in 1921. Maruzen was more than just a bookstore. Western-style raincoats, first brought into Japan by Maruzen from Great Britain, were big sellers in 1914. Keyboard calculators, imported from the United States, were first sold in Japan at Maruzen in 1918.

“It had been a dark day for me, because it was the day after summer vacation ended. For most students it was a day full of enthusiasm for the resumption of school. Not for me. It was also the day of the ceremony opening the second term, an event I always found disgusting.

“When the convocation ended, I set out for Maruzen, Japan’s largest foreign bookstore, in the downtown Kyobashi district. My oldest sister had asked me to pick up a Western-language book for her. But when I got there, the store hadn’t yet opened. More disgusted than ever, I headed for home again, intending to try once more in the afternoon.

“Two hours later the Maruzen building would be destroyed and the horrifying photograph of the ruins sent around the world to show the devastation wrought by the Great Kanto Earthquake.”

Something Like An Autobiography, by Akira Kurosawa, 2011

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