Book Reviews

Days at the Morisaki Bookshop by Satoshi Yagisawi — life transformed through reading

Cover of Days at the Morisaki Bookshop by Satoshi Yagisawi a sweet gentle novel about the power of books to transform lives

Days at the Morisaki Bookshop is a sweet, gentle tale about the power of books to bring solace to troubled souls and offer them hope for the future.

The title takes us inside a bookshop housed in an old wooden building on a quiet corner of a Tokyo district that has come to be known as “Book Town.” This paradise for book lovers does actually exist — this article on the Savy Tokyo website tells me there are more than 100 bookshops in Jimbocho, many of them selling second hand and antique books.

The Morisaki bookshop becomes a temporary home and a refuge for 25-year-old Takoko when she’s unceremoniously dumped by her boyfriend. Her uncle Satoru who owns the store, offers her a room rent free in exchange for some help running the business.

She doesn’t relish the prospect because her uncle is “a weirdo … “the exact opposite of anyone’s idea of a dignified man.” but the alternative is even less palatable — return to her hometown to live with her parents and very likely get pushed into an arranged marriage. So she moves into a miniscule room above the shop, so full of books that “If I got even the slightest bit careless, my Towers of Babel would collapse.”

Days at the Morisaki Bookshop has a simple structure. In the first part we follow Takako’s experience of living and working at the bookstore and see how she develops a deep and abiding love of literature. The second part gives us the beginnings of a romance and the start of a new life for a woman who has grown in self respect and confidence.

That’s where my real life began. And I know, without a doubt, that if not for those days, the rest of my life would have been bland, monotonous, and lonely.

None of this would have been possible but for the supportive presence of Uncle Saturo. He not only gives practical support, urging her to view the shop as a harbour, but passes on lessons he learned from travelling the world as a young man. it took him years to decide what he wanted from life, he tells Takako, now it’s time for her to start figuring that out for herself.

“Your life is yours. It doesn’t belong to anyone else,” he tells her.

Taken in isolation Saturo’s words of wisdom about life and love can come across as trite; a bit too much like those awful slogans found on motivational posters; but they do play an important role in the novel. It’s through those conversations that Takoko learns how to trust people again, so she can make friends and build relationships.

The most important relationship she develops is the one with books.

Takako hasn’t been much of a reader before, beyond the occasional visit to a chain store to look at their Manga shelves. All it takes to turn her around is one book, one that she picks out at random from the thousands of modern classic Japanese novels piled floor to ceiling in the shop. She’s stunned by the revelations a book can hold:

It was as if without realising it, I had opened a door I had never know existed. That’s exactly what it felt like. From that moment on, I read relentlessly, one book after another. It was as if a love of reading had been sleeping somewhere deep inside me all this time, and then it suddenly sprang to life.

In the course of the novel we learn of the joy of discovering a new author, the delight of walking into a bookshop and that feeling you just have to finish your book despite the late hour.

Inevitably when I read any book about books, I end up with a list of authors I’ve not heard of previously and now want to read: Jun’ichirõ Tanizaki, Osamu Dazai, Kafū Nagai, Haruo Satõ. I’ll have to temper my enthusiasm however because at the end of the book there is a warning from translator Eric Ozawa, that not all these authors are available in English. In fact the book that spark’s Takako’s reading passion — Schoolgirl by Osamu Dazai — has yet to be translated.

I suspect Days at the Morisaki Bookshop will appeal to bookworms around the world. What’s not to love about a tale set in a bookshop?? It’s a gentle story told with a light touch; doesn’t have the quirkiness of some more recent Japanese fiction (like Before the Coffee Goes Cold) but it’s a wonderful reminder of the way books can open doors to new experiences and emotions.

Days at the Morisaki Bookshop: Footnotes

Published in Japan in 2009, the English translation by Eric Ozawa was released by Manilla Press, an imprint of Bonnier Books in the UK. This is the debut novel by Satoshi Yagisawa, an author born in Chiba, Japan. My copy was provided by the publishers via Net Galley in return for an honest review.


What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

20 thoughts on “Days at the Morisaki Bookshop by Satoshi Yagisawi — life transformed through reading

    • Just read your review and we do seem to have had similar reactions

  • I’ve heard good things already about this, and your reactions have added to the chorus of approval – you’ve certainly sold it to me!

    • It’s much lighter than my usual kind of reading but still enjoyable

  • Pingback: Fall 2023 #TBR #toptentuesday #ReadingList #BookWorm #BookTwitter #BookBlogger - Reading Ladies

  • Oh, I love the premise of this book. I’m off to hunt it down.

  • I had once a two years sting in a library and never read more then during that time. All the books the library purchased during this period passed over my desk and I could cherry pick them before they disappeared into the vaults (it was a closed-stack library).

    • I once had an idea of training as a librarian. It was probably a wise decision not to go down that path – I would have found it so hard to tear myself away from all the books and do actually do some work!

      • It was during that time I’ve learned not to have more then 10 books on my tbr. When it reached 11, one had to be axed off. Only exception on that rule I’ve made since then was when I made a newyear’s resolution to read the 100 best books in world literature. It took me almost 2 years because some of them consisted of multiple books.

        • Wow, you have only 10 books on your TBR! I’ve been trying to get my down to less than a 100 but not having a great deal of success

  • As they say, you can never be lonely with a book.

    • It baffles me when I see people in waiting rooms just staring into space when they could be reading a book

      • Yes… and how strangely they look at us, with a mixture of puzzlement and envy.

        • Oh yes, it is so disconcerting to look up and find someone just staring at you as if you are their entertainment

  • tracybham

    I am glad you reviewed this. I had been wondering what it was like and you gave a very good description. The fact that it is Japanese is a bonus.

    • I enjoyed learning about that district (such a shame I never knew about it when I was in Tokyo) and their annual book far where all the stores put tables outside for people to browse.


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