Saturday, April 25, 2009

『本屋の掟』 ("The Laws of Bookstores")

This week went fast as well, with normal classes, but we were also visited by the rector magnificus of the University Leiden and professor Smits to check upon the guinea pigs for this project (which is supposed to be offered to a selection of second years Japanese students every year from now on), a birthday party as one of the group ... had his birthday and lots of news on television about naked idols prancing around in parks at night.

Today, it's filthy Dutch-like weather. Rain. And I still have a paper for Material Culture to write. So to uphold a long-held tradition, I'm going to distract myself by writing about other stuff. And it was about time I got this off my chest. This will the superspecialawesome all-defining post about my experiences with bookstores in Japan. I warned the reader in the first post for this.

(I should have made book stores the subject of my Material Culture research.)

イ) Murder on the Orient Express (On the location of bookstores)

Bookstores here are just about everywhere. You couldn't swing a bat around without hitting a bookstore. Of course, you'd first hit a vending machine and then a restaurant, but for the bibliophile, Japan is the holy land. Also, there are both big bookstores with new books (like the Kinokuniya near Shinjuku Station), but also chains like Book-Off that sell second hand books.

ロ) The ABC Murders (On the logic of bookstores)

When first entering the bookstore (after surviving an avalanche of irasshaimase! ("welcome!"), you'd be stumped with how the heck you're ever gonna find the book you want. Different from bookstores in other countries, here the books are first categorized by publisher and then the name (in the Japanese sound order of A-I-U-E-O). Which means you need to know by whom the book/author you're looking for is published. Making things even more difficult, authors might have books published by different companies (yeah, I'm looking at you, Higashino Keigo), which pretty much forces you to skim every part of the store when looking for books.

ハ)The Chinese Orange Mystery (On people standing in the alleys)

As you're browsing for some books, you'll definitely walk into someone blocking your way through the aisle. Or blocking your sight at the bookcases. That's because everyone here participates in the activity of tachiyomi, reading standing. People are reading manga comics and books in the store, sometimes reading for more than half an hour. And it's considered normal here. People actually finish some books, return it to the shelf and move further down to read even more and might leave without buying anything. My reading speed isn't anywhere near fast enough to pull this off as neatly as the Japanese, so even if I wanted to do it, I couldn't do it. But seeing all those silent bodies in the library as zombies is quite strange sight. And slightly annoying.

ニ) 容疑者Xの献身 (The Devotion of Suspect X) (On bookcovers)

Bookstores often wrap an plain book cover with only a store logo around your book, preventing from people seeing what you're reading. It feels strange to me that you would want to hide want you read. Of course, the Harry Potter books are also sold with all over the earth with both a 'normal' cover as a 'adults cover', so maybe it's not that strange (as a side note though, you also have 'normal' and 'adults' cover versions of Tezuka Osamu's manga).

ホ) Ellery Queen: The Adventure of the Black Secret (On second hand stores)

You have some great second hand bookstores here and second hand here is usually quite good quality (in comparison to the Dutch "Zo goed als nieuw", "Pristine quality", which usually actually means that it's in bad shape). Most second hand stores have a great selection (ranging from older books to books which released just a month earlier ago) and with a large part of that selection going away for just 105 yen a piece, it is difficult to leave the store without something in your hands.

へ) The Burglar in the Library (On detective fiction in stores)

As noted earlier, detective fiction is available everywhere in Japan. A large part of the 現代日本作家 (contemporary Japanese writers) section consist of detective writers and larger stores like the Shinjuku Kinokuniya even have an entire section devoted to criticist literature on detective fiction and writers. After some years getting into Japanese detective fiction, I still don't why the genre is still so popular here (in comparison the pretty much dead situation in the Netherlands), with great drama shows, anime, books et cetera being available everywhere. This is not a complaint by the way :3 The detective writers usually have some tachiyomi-ing people and I have even seen a kid frantically trying to get that one Higashino Keigo book just outside her reach. I love Japan's love for the detective novel.

And thanks to the omnipresency of cheap detective novels, my room here is steadily looking more and more like my room in the Netherlands. Which some might know, is pretty much like a well stocked bookstore. I fear the day I have to leave Japan and get all this back to the Netherlands.

1 comment :

  1. you can first leave them here, and then return after another year with even more books! wait, that won't help much.