Sharing the vision of Kinokuniya’s overseas stores, Books Kinokuniya Tokyo is a branch devoted to carrying English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Vietnamese, Korean and Chinese books (traditional and simplified characters). Their English section is one of the largest in Japan. From picture books for young children to the latest in fiction, art and design, ELT or academic titles, they have something for everyone, as well as a wide selection of imported magazines and a comprehensive section of Japanese-language textbooks. We spoke with the shop’s manager Mona Sumi (pictured below) about Books Kinokuniya Tokyo’s aim to promote mutual understanding between cultures through books, her favourite Yale titles (she loves the bestselling Little Histories series) and celebrating the shop’s 8th anniversary! Read on to find out more:
1. What makes your bookshop unique and how has this changed over the years of trading?
We want to serve the international community here and be a safe haven for people interested in different cultures. To that end, we intentionally leave out Japanese books that the majority of the population read. You may think it goes against instinct, but by focusing on a specific group of customers to serve, our goal is clear and we’re able to attract like-minded fans. Our store used to have 3 times more floor space and a complete sister branch nearby, but we shrank and changed the range completely when rent became an issue, and now we complement each other. It’s working great.
2. Do you think that the pandemic has made readers more interested in bookshops and independents?
I think some of them missed coming to physical bookshops a lot during SOE’s and lockdowns, so we did see many customers joyfully selecting books afterwards. On the other hand, people are still not as mobile as before, and newer shops may have a harder time being discovered.
3. Do you think that attitudes around books have changed in the past year?
Social media has definitely affected how people find out about books; so many of us ‘discover’ the next book to read online. Maybe it’s the pandemic effect. There is also higher demand for beautiful book jackets that make buying physical copies worth it.
4. Do you run any subscription/ gift choosing services?
Wish we had the time!
5. What is the reading community like in Japan? What are the bestselling Yale titles at Books Kinokuniya Tokyo?
A lot of people are shy! But on the other hand, many Japanese fans will discuss books on social media like Twitter.
And our Yale bestsellers are A Little History of the World, then A Little History of Philosophy and then A Little History of Economics.
6. What is the most rewarding part of working in a bookshop? What is the most difficult part?
It’s most rewarding when we’re able to help customers find the book they were looking for. The most difficult is that we never have enough time! I’m sure all booksellers will agree.