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Tokyo's 'best book town in the world' radically retools online strategy for pandemic era

This screenshot shows the "Book Town Jimbou" website.

TOKYO -- The self-proclaimed "best book town in the world" in the Kanda-Jimbocho district of Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward has radically recrafted its online presence to combat the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

    The relaunched "Book Town Jimbou" website introduces some 130 stores in multiple languages, and allows people around the world to enjoy virtual visits to the district's antiquarian bookshops currently forbidden to them by pandemic travel restrictions.

    When Japan's first coronavirus state of emergency was declared in April last year, used bookstores in the Jimbocho district temporarily closed at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's request. Even after the declaration was lifted, sales at the stores apparently halved as visitors dwindled, with buyers from abroad -- big customers -- unable to come. The Kanda Bookstore Federation, consisting of used bookstore owners in the district, decided to relaunch the website as part of an "unconventional service," and did so with a subsidy from Chiyoda Ward.

    The Kanda Bookstore Federation's former chairman Tetsuya Yaguchi, center, shows off the new-look "Book Town Jimbou" website in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward. (Mainichi/Natsuki Nishi)

    Features newly added to the website include the "Stroll Around Town" -- in which site visitors take a virtual walk around the district and see the inside of about 30 stores shown on the map -- and the "Virtual Bookshelf Gallery" -- in which users can look for what they want to read from high-resolution images of book spines lined up on the store shelves. The website, which used to be in Japanese only, is also now available in English and Chinese. Furthermore, the new website is suited for browsing on smartphones and tablets in addition to computers.

    Tetsuya Yaguchi, 58, the former federation chair who led the website renewal, said, "We want many people in and out of the country to use the relaunched website as a new way to experience Jimbocho for now -- during the coronavirus pandemic -- and to come back to this town after the coronavirus is under control."

    The relaunched website "Book Town Jimbou" can be found at https://en.jimbou.info/

    (Japanese original by Erina Sato, Tokyo Bureau)

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