Kinokuniya: A Hidden Gem of Japanese Culture!

There is a center for Japanese culture in Midtown that some people might be unaware of and that place is called Books Kinokuniya, but most people just call it Kinokuniya or “Kino”. Kinokuniya is a multi-level store in Midtown, which sits across from Bryant Park. This store is not the only one in the United States though. Kinokuniya has stores in New York, Los Angeles Little Tokyo, San Francisco, Japantown and Seattle as well. These are only a few of the branches, which also go into countries like Indonesia and Thailand. Kinokuniya was founded by Moichi Tanabe in January 1927. The store was located in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo and it was a simple two story wooden building with an art gallery on the second floor. Kinokuniya started selling English literature in 1949 and the official headquarters was established in Shinjuku in 1964. According to Kinokuniya, bookstores should be places where culture and art are promoted. The main store in Shinjuku has nine floors above ground and two floors that are underground. Kinokuniya claims to have two theaters in their main store, which acts as a testament to their belief on bookstores being a home to culture and the arts. The first U.S store was opened in San Francisco in1969, which had to goal of providing some aspects of Japanese culture to the local community. The first store in New York was in Rockefeller Center, which opened in 1981 and was replaced by the current store by Bryant Park in 2007.

Kinokuniya by Bryant Park is known by many “Otaku” (anime, manga, video game and idol enthusiasts) and fans of Japanese culture. The company’s philosophy states “The Company is like a stage. Books and information products are like actors and actresses. Staff are like producers and directors, and customers are like the audience. Once the customers come into contact with Kinokuniya, their theatrical experience begins. To receive a standing ovation from the customers, the Company must provide a well-designed stage. The staff must provide clear directions to the actors and actresses and they must ensure all props are in place. Actors and actresses are well cared for so that they can perform their very best before the audience.” This policy can be found on the website for Kinokuniya and experiences from shoppers reflect the positive feeling pursued by the policy. “It’s a cute store and the staff was helpful, which is always a good sign of an excellent business,” says Georgia Gelly, a new customer of the store. This claim is also supported by a few reviewers on Yelp.com, such as Mary Q. from Boston, Massachusetts. “It goes without saying that customer service is top notch at this place. I once asked a store clerk to unlock the glass case for me to pick out a blind box toy and he made sure to hold only the base so that I was the only person that touched the box that I wanted,” says Mary Q., a Yelp.com reviewer of the Kinokuniya by Bryant Park. Behind the counters are boards, which cover what is expected from each employee and the core values of the store. These core values are professionalism, the spirit of kaizen (improvement/change for the better), service excellence, pleasant ambience, welfare for employees, integrity, trust, harmony, finest range of titles and competitive pricing. The prices can vary with books going from $20 to sets with DVDs and comics costing up to $170. Kinokuniya is not surrounded by Japanese stores with imported items from Japan, so the main source of competition would be from online shopping sites for Japanese products.

The benefit of Kinokuniya is they get the same items you are likely to order online and you don’t pay for shipping and handling. The sales tax is the only addition, but it’s also a simpler process. The second floor of the building is home to a variety of “Otaku” goods, which are Japanese comics (manga) in Japanese or translated into English, anime DVDs, figures and more. This floor is also home to two special places, which are the WAZA SHOP and Café Zaiya. The WAZA SHOP is a small shop across from the café, which sells goods like shot glasses and wallets. There are other types of artistic creations for sale, but these are professionally made and they will be costly. Café Zaiya is a small café that serves hot and cold beverages, as well as sandwiches and bentos (similar to boxed lunches). The food is kept in the center of the café and it contained in a refrigerated unit. The café is near the window, so some people can get a nice view of Bryant Park while they eat or they can sit near the back to relax on the comfy sofa-like seats. Kinokuniya is a flourishing business and most of its customers in a visit will appear to be from the Japanese community, but there are plenty of non-Japanese people that have discovered Kinokuniya as well. Kinokuniya is located at 1073 Ave of the Americas (Between 40th and 41st ST) and they can be called at (212) 869-1700 or emailed at nyinfo.kinokuniya.com.