Japanese people love to read–from my anecdotal experience, anyway. This being the case, books are sold everywhere you go. Naturally, most people go to book stores to buy them. But in Japan, you can find them everywhere: convenience stores, kiosks at the train station, airports, and even in grocery stores.
English books, however, are difficult to find even in a big city like Sapporo. Sapporo is not as big as Tokyo, so there aren’t as many bookstores that offer English books. However, if you’re vigilant, some of the smaller Japanese book stores would have a couple of English books lounging in their shelves. The trick is to look for them in the Language Learning Section of any bookstore. Usually, you can find copies of English books next to the English-language learning resources for Japanese learners (textbooks, drill books, and dictionaries) that are very popular.
The four places to get them downtown are: Kinokuniya, Sanseido, Maruzen-Junkudo, and Book Off. I’ve linked to their Japanese websites.
Located right next to the Century Royal Hotel and across from the JR Sapporo Station, this is one of the bigger stores that offer lots of English books on sale. If you go up to the second floor using the escalators, go straight and then left. You’ll find a pretty big section of English books. There are lots of recent and classic novels, recently released non-fiction books, and English teaching resources. Not only that, there are lots of English-translated Japanese novels and manga available. If you speak another language other than English, there are a few books available in different languages, too.
They also sell a few English magazines in the same area.
If you’re a long-time resident, it might be a good idea to get the ubiquitous point card. For every ¥100 you spend, you get 1 point. This counts as 1 yen towards your next purchase. Since any book will be at least ¥1000, it might be worth it to save up those points.
Bonus: There is a Starbucks on the same floor. A few benches are also available for you to sit and read a book without buying them. Japanese people often stand before a shelf and read a book or magazine right then and there. However, they frown upon you sitting and reading because it’s seen as “dirty.” If you don’t care about that, go ahead and make yourself comfortable at a bench.
Sanseido is located inside one of the shopping malls in the JR station. If you’re in the station, get to Stellar Place East and go up to the fifth floor. Once you’re there, go towards the back of the store almost to the comics section, but veer right before you get there. There are two shelves full of English novels and textbooks. Interestingly, the English section is next to the Japanese language learning textbooks geared for non-Japanese speakers. If you’re looking for a novel or something light to read, this is the place. It’s not as big as Kinokuniya’s, but they have a decent section available.
Bonus: The UCC Cafe allows you to take up to three books into the coffee shop to read before you make a final purchase of the book–like they used to allow at the US bookstore Barnes and Noble. Note, however, that Japanese magazines and comic books are not allowed, though.
However, I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve read whole novels and books at the UCC cafe without having buying them. I know it’s not very honest of me, but what can you do when you’re a fast reader? At least I paid for the coffee.
Okay, this bookstore requires you to haul your butt away from Sapporo Station and into the Odori area. However, I promise you that it’s worth the ten-minute walk or one minute subway ride. In my opinion, Maruzen-Junkudo offers you the best variety and choices of English books in Hokkaido. Located in the first two floors of a hotel, it is located in central Odori. If you work in the area or are visiting, it is conveniently located and easy to get to.
The English section is on the second floor next to the watch/leather shop. You go up to the second floor on the escalator and immediately exit to your left and go towards the end of the corridor. Once you’re there, you’ll find yourself looking at so many English textbooks, novels, non-fiction books, magazines, and kids resources–rows and rows of them! They also have more copies on stock than Kinokuniya. At the end of the rows of books, there are several benches where you can sit quietly and read. Nobody ever bothers you there.
Bonus: There is a cafe on the second floor, directly in front of the escalators. The coffee is cheaper than the Starbucks and UCC cafe mentioned above.
If you don’t mind used books, Bookoff is literally a few steps away from Maruzen-Junkudo. As soon as you exit Junkudo, hang left and go past the outdoor display cases of the drugstore. Right now, the area is under construction, so keep your eye out on the orange sign on the sidewalk.
The first floor of Bookoff is sells mostly CDs, DVDs, some game cards, and comic books. The second floor, directly in front of the escalators is where the English books are. You should see a section of Japanese children’s books. Once past that area, beyond the escalator, you’re looking at all used Japanese books.
As this store specializes in used books, there’s not a lot to choose from. Most of the books for sale are older, so the conditions differ. Some are slightly used and some might have things growing on them. However, if you find anything that interests you, these books are usually cheaper, less than ¥1000. You can even find some for just ¥100.
Bonus: The store offers discounts to visitors via tax-free purchases. But I think you have to spend a certain amount to get the discount, though. The good thing about the store is that there are more expensive things like plastic model toys, second-hand appliances, and electronics for sale, not just books.
As an added bonus, you can also sell them your old books once you’re done reading them. You won’t get much, but it will help save the earth. This also saves you the time and the effort it takes if you sell your books online.
So there you have it, four places to search for English books in downtown Sapporo.
Then again, you can always order books online. But you’ll find that shipping to and from Hokkaido is expensive. Sometimes it’s just cheaper to go to the actual bookstore to pick out your book.