Bringing you yesterday’s news from Japan and Asia, today.
Japan’s biggest chain of used books and other media blends right in with the City of Lights.
I live fewer than three hours by car from New York City. For most people, a trip to the Big Apple means Broadway lights, a boat ride to the Statue of Liberty, or nighttime views from the Empire State Building. For me, however, 95 percent of the time my motivation for heading into Manhattan is to make a beeline for Book Off, conveniently located just a few blocks from each other in Midtown.
If collecting books and CDs is your hobby (and there are many worse ones out there), Japan’s largest chain of used bookstores, Book Off, is your special paradise. Want to buy a full set of your favorite manga for a fraction of the cover price? Book Off’s got you covered. Looking for an obscure anime drama CD from the ’90s that isn’t produced anymore? Book Off’s likely got it. The treasure hunt is addicting–I once spent a full SIX HOURS browsing at the Ikebukuro, Tokyo Book Off location, which, as is the norm for the chain, is well-lit, spacious, and stocked with items in excellent condition.
All of this is why when I saw that our globe-hopping Japanese-language reporter Ikuna Kamezawa (who recently found herself in Spain as well) unexpectedly stumbled upon a Book Off while strolling the streets of Paris, I was possibly even more excited for her than she was. When she first glimpsed the store’s sign from afar near the Quatre-Septembre metro station, she thought it must be a mirage–or at least some other French store that just happened to have the same name.
However, as she drew closer, she realized that it was unquestionably the same ubiquitous used book chain as the one in her home country. A little research told her that Book Off’s first overseas location opened in Hawaii in 1998. It arrived in Paris in 2004 and there are currently three locations in the French capital. She had had no idea…
And yet, the store seemed to blend right in with the streets of Paris. The usual blue, yellow, and/or orange signage had been converted into a simple blue-and-white style, though, to better fit the local aesthetic. Fancy!
With a sense of anticipation Ikuna grasped the door handles…
…and stepped inside. Bonjour, Book Off of Paris!
As she perused the aisles, she looked up in wonder at the shelves upon shelves of used books for sale. She likened the spacing, number of customers, and other aspects of the store to the Book Off location in Akihabara, Tokyo.
Of course, she wasn’t surprised to see that the vast majority of the books for sale were in French.
While it was definitely the basic Book Off that she knew and loved, this one also gave off some kind of a stylish vibe.
There was also a designated corner of Japanese-language paperbacks.
While the prices of most books were higher than she’d expect back home, they were still well under the list price. She thought that any travelers with too much time on their hands should come here for a break.
Ikuna was particularly delighted to spot a popular series of Japanese travel guides called Chikyu no Arukikata (“How to Walk the Earth”).
While the “Paris” edition in stock was a good decade old, it was a bargain at only one euro (US$1.16). She wondered if maybe a Japanese tourist had brought it with them to the city but hadn’t ended up needing it much after all.
She found another assortment of how-to guides in the home and living section…
…as well as a number of random books that she was puzzled about how they came to be there in the first place. What was the story behind these stories?
▼ A title about then-15-year-old Japanese Olympic figure skater Mao Asada, who is now 31
The section for people wanting to study Japanese made a lot more sense.
After exploring for a bit, Ikuna decided to move on to the second floor, where even more treasures awaited her.
This floor held mainly DVDs and CDs and was quite expansive.
The anime, figures, and gaming section was jam-packed, making it a perfect destination for any Parisian fan of Japanese pop culture. Some of the titles were quite nostalgic.
She also laughed to see that the J-Pop CDs in stock were distinctly of the Heisei era (1989-2019).
Here’s Ayumi Hamasaki’s 21st single “Never Ever,” released in 2001. It was listed for four euros. Ikuna couldn’t decide if that price was cheap or expensive for a 20-year-old CD (and as a huge fan of Ayu in the early 2000s, I now feel very old).
Meanwhile, the soundtrack for 1988’s childhood classic My Neighbor Totoro was listed at 34.30 euros. She figured that Studio Ghibli works must be really popular in France.
A greatest hits compilation album by legendary J-Rock group X Japan was also listed at a steep 35.40 euro. It came with a little note praising the band and Yoshiki‘s talents as a drummer and pianist in particular. Someone on the staff must be a huge fan or a musician.
After wrapping up her exploration, Ikuna decided to purchase a Paris-exclusive reusable Book Off bag for 1.70 euro. It had the kanji for “bag” boldly imprinted on the front.
The back featured a simpler rendition of “Book Off” in katakana.
This would be sure to grab people’s attention while walking down the street. It could also be a fun souvenir for friends back home.
Once back outside, Ikuna also found Junkudo, another Japanese bookstore chain, not too far away. Since the materials for sale there were almost exclusively in Japanese, most of the customers in this spot were Japanese themselves.
It was full of popular magazines and other new books, which were approximately two times the price of what they would retail for in Japan. She thought that Paris would be relatively easy place for Japanese people to live, as long as the cost of living didn’t present a barrier.
By the way, Ikuna also swung by one of the other Book Off locations while she was at it. This one also looked fairly fancy from the outside.
Well, if I ever make it to Paris, I certainly know one–or three–places that I’ll be stopping by. It’s nothing against your native charms, City of Lights–I just can’t ever pass up a chance for a good literary treasure hunt.
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Bringing you yesterday’s news from Japan and Asia, today.