Days At The Morisaki Bookshop was first published in the original Japanese back in 2010, a debut novel that won Satoshi Yagisawa a sizeable Japanese fanbase and the Chiyoda Literature Prize. It took over a decade for the beloved story to reach Anglophone readers, but it finally did in 2023, an English translation by Eric Ozawa that soared to the top of the best-seller lists.

Days At The Morisaki Bookshop - Satoshi Yagisawa - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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It’s popularity might simply be due to the fact that the premise of Days At The Morisaki Bookshop sounds like every wistful booklover’s dream: living in a spare room on the second floor of a bookshop. I mean… that’s the dream, right?

That’s where Part One of this story begins, with twenty-five-year old Takako moving into her uncle’s overstuffed secondhand bookshop in Tokyo’s Jimbocho book district. She’s fresh off the back of a nasty break-up from a gaslighting clown, and struggling to stay upright most of the time. Her benevolent uncle offers her room and board, in exchange for a few hours working in the bookshop each day. Lacking any other options, Takako accepts.

Gradually crawling out of the fugue, Takako discovers a latent love of books and reading. The musty smell of the Morisaki bookshop becomes comforting, and she befriends several regulars at the nearby coffee shop. She gets to know her eccentric uncle, and discovers that they have more in common than she originally thought (his wife left him, suddenly and dramatically, a few years prior). The bookshop and human connection nurse her back to health, and after several months she is ready to leave and re-enter the real world.

Part Two of Days At The Morisaki Bookshop moves us forward, and Takako returns to the bookshop after one and a half years away. Her life has moved on, but she’s drawn back by the sudden reappearance of her uncle’s estranged wife. Her uncle begs her to discover the reason for his wife’s return (like, bro, ask her yourself?), and as Takako forms a friendship with her, some tragic truths come to light.

The story is all told in very simple and straightforward prose (though, as always with translated works, it’s not really possible for this monolingual reader to know whether that’s a feature of the original text or the work of the translator). Days At The Morisaki Bookshop moves fairly quickly, even though – as you can see – nothing much really Happens, exactly. It’s a short book, just 150-odd pages, so there’s not a lot of room for things to drag.

I guess I’d describe Days At The Morisaki Bookshop as a mild read – a little flat, but perfectly fine for a lazy afternoon. The best thing I can say in its favour is that it’s a surprisingly realistic portrayal of working in a secondhand bookshop, in my experience (though the customers in Jimbocho seem a lot more stable and well-adjusted than the ones you might encounter elsewhere). It’s a quiet book, one to pick up when you need a story that’s minimally challenging and easy to digest.

My favourite Amazon reviews of Days At The Morisaki Bookshop:

  • “This book was like listening to very boring person droning on and on about nothing important. Like following someone going about their day to day life, cleaning the house, dusting the furniture, eating the same thing for lunch every day, in a house with no windows and padded walls so no sound gets through.” – Tweedlebomb
  • “too shallow or silly …like a very diluted curry” – Nandu
  • “This was ok. Steady and without flourish. A bit like a cheese sandwich. You could fill yourself up on it, but you wouldn’t want to live on it forever” – S Robinson