It’s the little bookstore crammed with enough books to fill a shop twice its size. It’s the Shelf bookshop in Tokyo. Its speciality is art-photography books, especially imported titles, from hefty coffee-table tomes to slim and smaller-format volumes that could easily fit in a handbag.

Shelf’s collection is beautifully curated, though its books are haphazardly organized in no particular order, which makes looking for books serendipitous fun. We always browse its inventory hoping to find something we’ve never seen before, say, a rare out-of-print edition of some Kyoichi Tsuzuki book (e.g., “Tokyo Style”) or a thick volume on the works of Daido Moriyama or Nobuyoshi Araki, or to discover a monograph of some new, young underground Japanese photographer.

The shop sits in a little alley off a busy boulevard that skirts the fashionable Harajuku and Aoyama neighborhoods. It’s conveniently and fittingly around the corner from the Watari Museum of Contemporary Art. Every time we pass through this part of the city we stop by Shelf to look through the shelves and stacks. Shelf is barely the size of small bedroom, but one could easily wile away hours there. It’s one of our favorite places in the “Impossible City.”

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