Memory of a Midnight Bookshop

During my final year at college in Tokyo, I worked part-time at a small local bookshop. The bookshop was located right next to my university campus, and since I used to live nearby, the job was a perfect fit for me.

I said “local bookshop,” but that’s not quite right. Even though it was located among small local businesses and was equally tiny as its neighbouring stores, the bookshop was one of the nation-wide chains. What it meant was that the store opening hours were regulated by the headquarter office. And this particular bookshop chain was well-known for its long opening hours – the stores were usually open until 1 am!

I was assigned evening shifts. I would arrive at the store at 5 pm and work as a cashier until the 1 am closing. There was usually one more person working in the back, organizing and stocking books. At around 8 pm, my coworker would come over to the cashier so that I could go to my dinner break. I would walk to the nearby grocery store to buy a bento box along with my favourite cream bread, then eat them in the tiny messy office of the bookshop before resuming my work as a cashier for the final hours.

For the obvious reason, there were much less people coming in after 10 pm. I would enjoy this time folding book covers, cleaning the cashier desk, organizing and reading some books in the front, and sometimes helping the customers finding their books.

From my tiny cashier desk, I could see the street outside and feel how the evening was progressing. At the beginning, the street was bustling with many students, young children, and local residents, then with people in business suits after their work. Dogs’ barking sound. People’s chattering voices shopping for dinner or heading for restaurants. And slowly, that bustling sound would fade into the quietness of the late evening.

After midnight, there was a final wave of people to be seen on the street. These were people coming out from drinking places. Merry and drunk, their loud laughter and talking echoed on the street. Some of these merry people would drift into the bookshop. After browsing through the shop, they would pick a few items and come to the cashier for the payment. As I scanned their items, I always wondered what made them want to come to a bookshop at such a late hour. After losing themselves in drinking, picking up a few books might have given them a sense of comfort.

At 1 am, there were still a few people wanting to come in, but my coworker and I would politely but firmly announce the closing of the store. We still had to count the money and close the shop before running home to finally rest.