The Genteel
December 1, 2020

Best Kept Secrets

A selection of reading materials at Bibliothéque, Tokyo (Photograph by Haydee Kobe).

One of my favorite books, a little gem titled Too Loud A Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal is about a simple man who acquires a vast amount of knowledge through the books he rescues from a municipal trash compactor. He works diligently to save as many books as he can, stores them in his small space until he is confronted with the fact that his beloved collection will eventually drive him out of his home, dead or alive. For many who work in a creative field, this is a real dilemma. Over time we amass objects, books, magazines and anything else that inspires creativity; all of which we keep to reference later. The obvious result is that we run out of physical space. However, an alternate space does exist, it's cozy and one which carries a carefully curated library, ripe for discovery. The name of this reading room and café is Bibliothéque, located in the Sendagaya area of Shibuya-ku. The concept for Bibliothéque is a noble one, which is to share and inspire.

Bibliothéque was opened in February 2010 by Super Studio, Inc., an advertising agency that produces commercials and advertisements for high-profile clients. The owner of the agency has been collecting books and magazines since he founded his business in 1975. Once it became apparent that he was growing out of his vast collection, he came up with the concept to share it with the public.

Bibliothéque interior
(Photograph courtesy of Bibliothéque).

The space consists of three floors: the top floor houses the advertising agency, the floor directly below it belongs to Bibliothéque and the basement floor is used for exhibits and events. Currently, the library holds about 6,000 titles managed by librarian Karube-san, whose memory serves as the library catalog. He adds about three to five books per month to the varied contents of the collection which include: limited edition and out of print books, fashion magazines and other trade publications. A new discovery for me was the graphic design publication, Avant Garde, which had a limited run from 1968-1971. The distinct typography was a standout designed to make an impact by graphic designer and art director, Herb Lubalin. There are also books for sale published by Super Studio, Inc., most notably, the "Beautiful Japanese Traditions" series, small coffee table books that offer a historic visual reference to a plethora of traditional everyday items.

Bibliothéque is not just a reading room, as you can also use the space to sketch, take notes and photos from your reading materials. The customers who use the facilities are architects, fashion designers and graphic designers to do research, find inspiration or hold meetings. Other frequent customers are neighbours who live or work in the vicinity. The only requirement for taking a browse is to purchase either coffee or tea for 500 Yen, a small price to pay for such privilege.

Bibliothéque is currently showcasing Czech graphic design with a particular focus on vintage children's books, and an upcoming event will feature a discussion between Portuguese director Pedro Costa and Japanese illustrator Akiyama Shin. Their book, a visual documentary, titled Casa De Lava is based on Costa's 1994 film of the same name.


Hours: 12:00-20:00 Tuesday-Saturday, 12:00-18:00 Sunday & Holidays

Train Station: Harajuku station (15min walk)

3-54-4 Sendagaya Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 151-0051

Tel 03-3408-9482



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