Fantastic Fukagawa Library – Japan

Abutting the 20 exquisite acres of Kiyosumi Gardens…

…the public library in the Koto Ward has the prettiest surroundings I’ve seen.  Though it’s in the heart of Tokyo, the Kiyosumi-Shirakawa area has a tranquil, residential feel, and is full of small stores, temples and young couples. 

Not speaking Japanese, it would have been impossible for me to get information or take pictures for this blog post, so before leaving the US, I put out a plea to English-speaking Japanese librarians, and Hitomi Takeuchi of the National Diet Library kindly answered my call.  She arranged tours of two libraries (this one a short walk from our hotel), and she and her friends and colleagues, Yoko Suzuki and Kanako Komatsu spent the day with us.  What a wonderful thing to do for a stranger, and it was the perfect introduction to Japan for my husband and I – truly the ties that bind librarians are strong!

The Fukagawa Library moved into this fine three story Carnegie style facility in 1928 (for those of you who don’t read Japanese, here’s the English translation of their website).

Despite being erected in 1909, the inside is modern with gleaming, light wood floors, furniture and fixtures, and arched windows that give it a bright, airy feel. 

Large, eye-level wood magazine racks have storage underneath while a gorgeous curved low one with kid’s and parenting titles borders Children’s.

Librarian Yuko Chiba, who gave our tour, was so friendly and informative.  She showed us the textbooks that are put out for parents, schoolchildren and residents to review.

Then took us to the youth section – a large area with an inviting upholstered circular seat…

…and a lovely storytime area with a dual-service child and adult size door and a convenient crib outside. 

Quite Japanese (we took off our shoes before entering and the tots sit on tatami mats) it hosts storytimes at 3pm on Wednesdays, plus a monthly baby storytime mothers love as it gives them a chance to chat.  Fukagawa has about four programs a year for adults, but because everyone here has TV and access to the latest technology at home, they aren’t that popular. 

Inside, what I thought was a little puppet theatre is actually used for story “cards” – instead of a book, the large stiff pages are inserted and withdrawn as the librarian tells the tale.  The room also has some adult seating, and a handy ledge.

Outside two tree trunks serve as stools and there are lots of picture and board books, including the longest I’ve ever seen.  Tots always want to check it out, but I’m sure their mother’s backs are thankful it can’t leave the library :)

There are books for older children too and kids love this cuckoo clock which chimes on the hour.

Library services are funded differently in Japan.  (This was a bit confusing, but any mistakes are mine.)  Evidently, 30-40 years ago, the Tokyo government decided to put a lot of tax money into their libraries, especially on the west side of the city where there weren’t any.  The goal was that everyone should be within a ten minute walk of a library.  However, there are 23 wards (areas) of what used to be the City of Tokyo, and they have governments too.  Fukagawa isn’t part of the Tokyo Metropolitan Library (which has just two facilities, the Central Library and the Tokyo Metropolitan Tama Library offering children’s magazines and services). 

Like the other wards, local (Kota ward) government manages Fukagawa Library and gives its own card.  Here, you can checkout up to 20 items and (perhaps a testament to the honorability of the Japanese) there are no fines!  But by getting cards at other libraries, you can obviously – as Yoko demonstrates – check out more items.

As in the US, the economy here has had an effect on libraries. 

Fukagawa has seven Koto government staff (the full timers, I think) and about 30 private sector staff.   The libraries work together for ILL – they have a weekly courier, and will borrow items from other wards etc. if they aren’t available at a Koto location.

Library education differs from the US as the colleges have bachelor-level library support courses.

The adult stacks were a vivid surprise.  The books have such colorful covers I thought they were Manga, but there are no pictures inside, just graceful characters.

But they do have Manga, as well as Anime and fiction.  Nonfiction uses a classification system that’s divided into tens similar to Dewey (e.g. 494 is Industry and 500 is Engineering).  Stories from the Edo period on CD are very popular and magazines and newspapers can be checked out.  Most materials go out for two weeks and can be renewed.   There’s also an English collection and a large audiovisual area.   

Like Cambridge UK’s Mediatheque, they even have viewing booths for videos etc.

They have a small collection of databases, though it costs to print and you must do so while in the library.  A few Tokyo libraries offer e-books, and I noticed that they use QR codes – a great way to get a lot of info onto your cell phone quickly – on promotional materials. 

There are a number of PACs and two Internet computers and manual checkout.  Though closed on Mondays, they are open 9am-8pm Tuesday to Saturday and 9am-5pm Sunday.

Upstairs there’s a local history room, a low vision area and a reference area with maps, encyclopedias etc.  People making cell phone calls are the primary users of the study room.  The third floor has a meeting room and offices.   

It was so pleasant visiting this delightful and bustling place!

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3 Responses to Fantastic Fukagawa Library – Japan

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