Friday, September 6, 2013

Bookstore Tourism: Tokyo Edition

Still recovering from massive jet lag accrued over my recent flight over the International Date Line, I was reading Murakami's Sputnik Sweetheart as I tried to lull myself to sleep at something resembling a decent hour. It's still hard to get to bed on time, and harder still to wake up in the morning and feel alert during the day, but since the time change between Brookline and Tokyo is (only) 13 hours, according to Wikipedia I only have 5 more days to recover from the jet lag. I should be right as rain just in time for my birthday! Anyway, back to the Murakami. At the beginning of chapter 6, the narrator says: "The day the letter arrived, I'd gone out to Shinjuku for the first time in quite a while, picked up a couple of new books at the Kinokuniya bookstore, and taken in a Luc Besson movie." While in Tokyo, I stayed in Shinjuku, and visited this very Kinokuniya, with it's staggering 8 stories of books.

There were tons of bookstores in Tokyo, and even a neighborhood of used bookstores near the major universities. The reading culture in Tokyo is alive and well, with many of the passengers on the clean, efficient Tokyo subway lines reading paperback books carefully covered in leather, canvas, fabric and even tidy paper book covers. The displays in many of the stores were gorgeous and vibrant, twisted stacks to the ceilings, beautiful piles wrapped around the bookshelves, and book design is beautiful there, with many of the books in similar trim sizes, with a sewn in bookmark in the popular-sized paperbacks. There's even a magazine devoted to the art of book design and illustration!

Kinokuniya was a little special for me because even though it's technically a chain, the only others I've visited were in Seattle and New York, two cities near and dear to my heart. I bought a copy of Alice in Wonderland in Japanese at the Seattle location, with a cool slipcase, and in New York I bought Finn Family Moomintroll in Japanese complete with illustrations. In Shinjuku, I loaded up on cute magazines with bunnies and stunning Japanese architecture magazines, and even rode the elevator with a real live attendant decked out in lace gloves and hat. I was on the hunt for a particular book and having trouble with the organization at one point (it didn't seem entirely alphabetical, even knowing the Japanese alphabet), and when I asked for help, the very kind and gracious bookseller bowed, ran to the computer, looked at me, excused himself and apologized profusely, dashed past me and returned with a Japanese to English dictionary and pointed at a word. "Not in stock." They have a single word for that! I thanked him, bought my treasures, which the cashier placed elegantly in the bag, taped shut, bowed and thanked me.

All of this was a microcosm of my stay in Japan, orderly, elegant, everyone takes such care with details and politeness I felt so welcome and happy and impressed and overwhelmed and soothed all at the same time I had a hard time leaving. So how about it kids, who's coming with me to set up Booksmith Tokyo?

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