Town Libraries Connecting People through Books

A New Library that Fosters Exchange

What exactly is a library? According to the Library Law, it is: “where books, records, and other important documents are collected, organized and stored for public use. A place with the purpose to contribute to pursuits such as education, research and recreation.” (from Library Law, Chapter 1, Article 2 (Definition))
A “Town Library” is a small library in a town where people from the area come together and bring books and share knowledge. Building a book shelf in a cafe, office, hospital, temple, or even a private home, and have everyone bring a favourite book to share. The giver of the book gives a card with their thoughts on the book along with the book to the person who takes it out. The person who borrowed the book then writes their thoughts regarding the book on the same card. With sharing these thoughts, the books become a new community to connect people.

A New Library that Fosters Exchange
The Town Library won the 2013 Good Design award.

The Small Bookshelf beside the Inari

Choteruyama Hiunji Temple in the Yotsuya area of Tokyo enshrines Oiwa-san of the famous ghost story Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan. On weekdays, the temple attracts endless stream of visitors. Beside the Inari fox, the Shinto god’s messenger, there’s a bench and a small birdhouse-shaped bookshelf. Worshippers here often take a small break, and take a book. Hiunji Temple started participating in the Town Library program in 2011 when it was invited to by advocate Yoshimitsu Isoi. According to Vice Priest Kenro Uematsu, “in the past, they were a place where people gathered together, for the temple schools, Noh or Kabuki plays, and so on. ”Hopefully this will resurrect the temple as a place for the community.” With this in mind, they agreed to take part. The library inside the temple itself is open on the first day of each month in conjunction with the prayer for good fortune. The birdhouse-shaped bookshelf outside can be used by anyone as long as the temple gates are open.

The Small Bookshelf beside the Inari
The birdhouse-shaped bookshelf outside. Those coming to worship often take books.

To a Place Where the Local People Come Together

Hiunji Temple is located right in the middle of office buildings. Recently high-rise apartments have been increasing, and with new residents in the area, there is a weakening of connections amongst the neighbours. “The first step is to have a place where people can come together,” says Uematsu. If one borrows a book, they’ll come to return it, and this is the birth of communicating with others. With the cards to write thoughts regarding the books, people can share their values, and touch on new experiences. There is also the possibility to meet new people through these books. Currently, there are 460 Town Libraries all over Japan. With their gradual increase, this is a new GOOD Japan.

To a Place Where the Local People Come Together
Also possible to select books for a set theme.


When did this start? Advocate Yoshimitsu Isoi started this in 2008 in Osaka in a small room called “IS Library”. From there, it started expanding nationwide in 2011.
Where can we see this? The Town Libraries are available to be seen on the following website. There are 45 in the Tokyo area.
When is the recommended time or period to go? Depending on the place, the opening hours are different. Hiunji Temple has its library for members open on the first of each month (for the prayers of good fortune). The outside bookshelf is accessible as long as the gates are open. (Please note that due to renovations (from June to October 2017), the inside library has been reduced in size.)
Data related to this topic: Number of Town Libraries: 460
Number of prefectural, municipal, or organization libraries: 3,331
(From the Ministry of Health, Labor and Science, 2015 Investigation on Society and Education)
Please note: These books belong to everyone, so treat them with care. Try to write your thoughts on the book in a positive manner!