When I lived in Austin, Texas, I had only one way to sate my addiction to Japanese pop and indie rock — order it through the Internet.
If I wanted to head to a store and pick up an Utada Hikaru album or a Cocco DVD, I’d have to visit a city with a large enough Asian population to justify the existence of a retail location. That usually meant I would have to wait till I visited Hawai`i to head to Book-Off in Shirokiya.
But you can bet your arse that if I went somewhere with either a Kinokuniya or a Book-Off, those places would be my first destinations.
Now I live in a city with a Kinokuniya, so I no longer wait nearly a month for Internet orders from Hong Kong or Tokyo to arrive. (Special orders still take about a week to fulfill.)
All the traveling I’ve been doing in the last three months got me thinking of the nooks and crannies I search to get my J-Pop fix. I’ve already compared Seattle record shops and two of three Amoeba Records locations. It’s time to fix my gaze on the stores where Japanese popular music can be found in the USA.
Kinokuniya could be considered the Barnes and Noble of Japanese bookstores. It’s the largest chain in Japan and certainly the first place I think of when I want to find Japanese books and music. I’ve so far visited four locations in the US: New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles and, of course, Seattle.
I visited the New York City location in 2005, but I’ve since learned the store moved near Bryant Park in 2007. Still, that visit set the bar for the others to follow. I found a Shiina Ringo band score at that store, the only one to stock such items.
Every trip to the Bay Area means a visit to the Kinokuniya in Japan Center. If I were into manga (I’m not), the first floor of the San Francisco location would be a wet dream. Instead, I spend most of my time on the second floor, browsing the shelves on the off-chance I might find a title on which I’ve had my eye.
By comparison, the Los Angeles and Seattle stores are more like satellite locations. I patronize the Seattle store regularly, but the shopping experience isn’t really great. The music inventory doesn’t move much, and it’s haphazardly organized. More care is put into the books. I think the Los Angeles store is slightly smaller than the Seattle store, which mean its CD selection was even more limited.
If Kinokuniya is Barnes and Noble, then Book-Off is Half-Priced Books. Book-Off specializes in used stock, and I’ve so far only visited two locations in the US: Honolulu and New York City.
There isn’t much of a comparison between the two locales: New York City is a complete store, whereas the Honolulu location is a corner in Shirokiya. (I’m not considering the Pearlridge location because I saw no Japanese CD inventory when I visited.)
The nature of used stock, however, means gems can be found at unexpected times. The Honolulu store has yielded some rare finds for me, including some WINO albums and Parasitic People by SUPER JUNKY MONKEY. Yes, Holidailies readers, those are real band names.
On my most recent visit, I walked away with nothing. But I could find something else on my next trip.
I would, however, love to visit the New York store again. I’m pretty sure I spent an hour just browsing when I visited in 2005.
Oh, and remember that trip to Vancouver with the outdated guide book? It mentioned a Book-Off location, but it had shut down long before I arrived.
A side effect of having a Japanese bookstore in town is finding used Japanese CDs in general interest music shops.
Here in Seattle, used J-Pop CDs can be found at Everyday Music and Silver Platters, but only the latter has its selection neatly — and surprisingly accurately — organized. In San Francisco, Amoeba Records has a very tiny corner devoted to J-Pop, and it too is organized to the point where the staff leaves recommendations in the placards.
I would like to mention one more place in Honolulu: Hakubundo. Unfortunately, the news is bad. The store recently relocated from across Ala Moana Center to Ward Warehouse. The smaller space has pretty much squeezed out its music selection, which was small but well stocked.