We are fortunate to leave in an age where nearly unlimited resources, in nearly any language, are available online. This is a boon especially for those studying a foreign language. Blogs, news, message boards, and even videos are available with a simple search, in a matter of a seconds.
But the quality and variety of what is available online (legally) is limited. Also, many people still prefer physical, paper books for things like novels, magazines, and manga.
There are many places, such as Amazon Japan, where books can be purchased and shipped to anywhere in the globe. But high shipping costs, long waits, and the inability to physically search for and scan through books are major inconveniences.
Most American chain book stores, such as Barnes & Nobles, do not have a section for Japanese language books. Fortunately there are two great bookstore chains which focus primarily on Japanese works and other products related to Japan. Their locations are limited but if you find an opportunity to visit one, I highly recommend it.
1) Kinokuniya (紀伊國屋) : http://www.kinokuniya.com/us/index.php/fho003
For all those learning Japanese or just fans of Japan in general, this chain represents the most awesome set of Japanese-centric bookstores available in the US. It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that I’ve planned vacations around visiting one of these.
These are only 8 of these in the US now: Chicago, Seattle, New York, Portland, Costa Mesa, Los Angeles, San Jose, and San Francisco. The fact that 75% of these (6/8) are on the West coast shows how big of a Japanese population is there.
The one I’ve been to the most often, the most recently, is in New York. I’ll give you a basic idea of the store layout:
- Underground: This is where the more ‘serious’ books are: novels, study books, magazines, cooking, travel, self-help, etc. There is even a large area with children’s books in the center area. To get to the underground you have to take the elevator from the first floor (near the English book section)
- First floor: There is a big section of English language books here, some related to Japan/Japanese and some not. There is also a section with Japanese magazines. I generally skip this section and go right to the underground or second floor.
- Second floor: This is an otaku’s heaven – rows of children’s manga, young adult manga, manga art books, anime and other movie DVDs, and anything else that is more related to fantasy than real life. There is even a cosy cafe with authentic Bento（お弁当）boxes and desserts. Just don’t forget you can’t bring in any unpaid merchandise into the cafe.
The biggest frustration of this store is the large number of wrapped books (magazines, children’s books, and magazines) which makes reading on the spot (立ち読み) impossible, though from the perspective of a money-making business it makes perfect sense.
Though you’ll save money versus buying on Amazon Japan, many of the books here are still quite expensive. Fortunately, for those of us who are not completely fluent (including myself) it’s always fun to just read the back and front covers, trying to pick out words here and there, or try to grok the basic synopsis. For the books you just have to have you can shell out the cash, or even better, first check the next store I’m going to introduce.
2) Book off: (ブックオフ) http://www.bookoffusa.com/?cmd=store
This is the second best Japanese book store chain the US (to me at least), and it just happens to be sell primarily used books. The selection is not quite as good as Kinokuniya, and it can be a little more difficult to find a book, but things are generally much cheaper. If you are looking for a specific book, you can try asking one of the salespeople to guide you, just be sure to provide the publisher as well as the author and title. There is a portion of native Japanese speakers, but many of those speak English quite well. Kinokuniya is the same in that regard.
This store has locations in New York, two in Hawaii, and six in California. Since it’s used bookstore you can try and sell back the books you’ve finished reading.
Regarding the store in New York – there are a good amount of English texts here as well so you can take a breather from the massive number of Japanese novels on the second floor. The manga is located in the basement (take the stairs) and contains many recent hit series as well as classics. The manga here are a lot more open for perusal, though I don’t recommend sitting and reading through them without paying. After all, they are very reasonably priced, starting at only $4-$5 dollars for one manga book.
Since I’m in Florida I have to wait months, if not years, between each time I visit one these, but it’s always worth the wait. Both of these chains have many stores in Japan as well.
For those living near or visiting New York for the holidays, be sure to stop by each of these stores, both located close to Bryant Park in Manhattan.
Happy book hunting!