Japanese bookstore goes open kimono downtown
The downtown Portland outlet of Books Kinokuniya has opened at last.
The store, which occupies the former space of the Guild Theater in Director Square, sells Japanese and English literature, manga, movies, toys, pens, paper, and all the minimal and cute (kawaii) stuff that Japan exports so well.
Books Kinokuniya ("Bookstore of Kii Province") is a Japanese bookstore chain founded in 1927 in Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan. Its headquarters are now in Meguro, Tokyo, and it has stores in San Francisco, Seattle and a small one in Uwajimaya in Beaverton.
The store was slated to open in summer 2018, but didn't open until Aug. 22, 2019. The space, which was once a mainstream movie house, later became an art-house theater rented by the Northwest Film Center for $1 a year.
It closed in 2006 and remodeling stalled until 2017. The look of Kinokuniya Portland Downtown is light and airy, to the point of being sparse. The high ceilings are decorated with long strands of fiber, and the upstairs balcony, once the domain of the projectionist is given over to tightly packed rows of Japanese comics and graphic novels.
The new manager, Takahiro Miura, just relocated to Portland from the Chicago branch. He lives three minutes away downtown.
"I think Portland people are very interested in Japanese culture," Miura told the Business Tribune. "And there is a big Japanese Garden, right?"
The interim manager, Takamaru Hirano, is heading back to Japan. Hirano added, "What's different from the Beaverton store is that this one is double the size, and this one is more for Portlanders (and tourists). The Beaverton store is more for Japanese (expats)."
Certain things sell well in Portland.
"Manga and Studio Ghibli are going to be the best-selling products," he said. And the most exciting products coming soon are figurines based on animations such as Naruto, Dragonball Z, and One Piece.
But there is a definite Portland twist to the inventory. There are books for sneakerheads such as Nike Chronicle Deluxe and Old School Vs. High Tech Kicks. The design section includes books about graphics such as Bi-scriptural, Design is Storytelling and Why Fonts Matter. Hardback journals with designer covers sell for $27.95.
Haruki Murakami — the American ideal of a Japanese novelist — has his section, books facing front, and so does Studio Ghibli, maker of classic animated movies such as Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro. Kinokuniya is an official merchandise seller for Studio Ghibli, so there is a grand display of stuffed toys and other objects.
Much of the store is given over to neatly organized stationery, such as writing instruments, designer notecards and peripherals such as triangular rulers and scented erasers.
Although patrons are asked to leave their outside drinks on a table as they enter the store, there is a drink counter with the de rigeur La Marzocca espresso machine and pour-over coffee flasks. The boutique, at times, feels like Powell's without the books, a store of fast-selling, non-book items.
Just as Portland is particularly famous in urban Japan, for its combination of forest fantasy and artsy culture, so Kinokuniya has a spot set aside for interesting stickers and patches of the Pacific Northwest.
Whether Portland needs another Japanese boutique remains to be seen. Floating World Comics in Old Town at 400 N.W. Couch St. has done an excellent job of balancing imported and translated Japanese books and artwork. Japanese global chain store Muji opened in the old Meier & Frank Building in 2018, and sells a wide range of minimalist housewares and clothing.
Market share expands
Floating World Comics owner Jason Leivian told the Business Tribune that he welcomes the new Japanese bookstore. "I haven't been yet, but I go to the one in Beaverton, it's a really cool store. What's great is they import Japanese language books, which is popular with college students and people learning Japanese. It's better than just seeing it on the internet."
Leivian opened Floating World Comics in Old Town Chinatown in 2006 and had flourished as an independent retailer selling mainly indie comics, books and magazines.
"It's just like having Powell's up the street, we all specialize in different things. It'll give people one more reason to come shopping downtown. Some people on the east side have a thing about crossing the river."
Floating World refers to the pleasures of the "fleeting world" of urban Japan, but over 16 years, Leivian says Japanese titles now make up only 20 percent of his inventory.
"It's more international now," Leivian said. "We have a big European section, and comics that are not just superhero genre."
He is optimistic Portland can support more Japanese retail. A bulge of Japanese-culture-loving consumers is coming down the pipeline. "With my generation, Gen X, it was exposure to Nintendo and Hello Kitty, but we still had to find a lot of stuff on import. I think because the current generation (Zs and Millennials) were exposed to Pokemon and Japanese cartoons, it's become pretty mainstream. With the explosion of the Internet, everything's international."
Kinokuniya Portland Downtown: 829 S.W. Ninth Ave., Portland
Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Daily
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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