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This post is a guide to navigating Japanese bookstores, or, more precisely, to navigating the manga sections of Japanese bookstores in the US. (Most of this is applicable to Japanese bookstores anywhere, but my focus is the US.) If you're shopping online at expensive web stores designed for English speakers, no problem. If you're 100% fluent, no problem. If you're like most English speakers buying manga to practice their Japanese, there are a few nasty pitfalls that make it hard to shop for manga in an actual bookstore. Below are a few tips you should know before you make that pilgrimage to Kinokuniya or Bookoff.

1. Japanese bookstores organize manga by imprint.

That's right: The big sections are done not by genre, author name, title, etc. but by who published the volume. There are sometimes exceptions at stores that cater to non-Japanese, but if there are Japanese customers, that's what you should expect to find. Usually, the shounen/seinen imprints will be in one section with the shoujo/josei/BL imprints in another. Sometimes there are separate BL, wide-ban/oversized, and bunkoban (digest) sections. Most series that are popular in the West will be from imprints like Jump Comics, Shounen Sunday, Hana to Yume, or Ribon, but there are dozens of other more obscure ones. There should be a distinctive graphic on the top (or sometimes bottom) of the spine of each volume that will let you recognize the sections even if they're poorly marked or you can't read the signs.

If you are looking for a specific series, especially if it is old, unusual, or not currently popular with Japanese people, you should make a note of the imprint before you go shopping. Japanese shop staff often won't be able to help you find things if all you have is the author and title.

2. Japanese bookstores use Japanese alphabetical order.

No, no, not the iroha, but you should either know kana order or bring a cheat sheet. Parts of the alphabet won't be well marked (if they're marked at all), so if you can only read a handful of author names, it can be quite challenging to find the right part of a large section. In case you've forgotten, each row of kana goes in order of: a, i, u, e, o. The rows are: a, k, s, t, n, h, m, y, r, w, (plain) n. 'Da' comes after 'ta'.

3. Wonky volume numbers

You might think you know how to write numbers in Japanese... Unfortunately, volumes of manga aren't always numbered the normal way. A few short series use Japanese novel ordering, which is 上下 or 上中下 (beginning, end or beginning, middle, end). Many other series, purely for artistic effect use variant kanji for 1, 2, 3, and 10. These are 壱, 弐, 参, and 拾 respectively. This is very common even in some series that otherwise use very easy kanji and vocabulary.

4. 1 standard size tankoubon ≠ 1 bunkoban

Most shounen and shoujo manga (but not seinen, josei, or other types of manga) get collected first in a standard tankoubon size. Series that are particularly popular get reprinted in wide-ban and/or bunkoban sizes. (Wide-ban are slightly larger than the standard size. bunkoban are the small digest size.) Beware: wide-ban and bunkoban versions of the same series often have the same number of pages per volume. Standard size tankoubon almost always have fewer pages. If you buy volumes of the same series in multiple size formats, the volume numbers will not match up!

5. There is no yuri section.

BL sells well in the US. Yuri doesn't. You might find a little filed with the porn for adult men, but there isn't going to be a separate section. Note: Japanese people don't call this stuff "shoujo ai"; if you have to ask Japanese store staff where to find something, call it "yuri" or mention specific magazines/publishers/series. And make sure you know the Japanese title: "Sweet Blue Flowers" is actually titled "Aoi Hana".

6. How to tell what the markup is:

Only you can determine if you think a given manga is a ripoff. Personally, I base this on the original price. In the US, I expect to pay about 150% of the original sticker price. More than 200% is pretty high and not worth it for most things.

So how do you tell what the markup is? Most manga have the original Japanese price printed on the back somewhere. The exchange rate varies, but ¥1 is roughly equal to 1¢. Normal tankoubon are around ¥400 these days. Wide-ban are often more like ¥1200. Sometimes, a high price in the US indicates unreasonable markup; sometimes, it indicates that the manga is kind of expensive in Japan too.

7. How to tell if something is in print:

Just because you've heard of it and/or someone scanlated it doesn't mean it's in print. On the other hand, just because you've never heard of it doesn't mean it's out of print. The easiest way to tell is to look at amazon.co.jp. If they have new copies available to ship, it's in print.

8. How to tell if Kinokuniya carries something:

Kinokuniya has a book lookup feature on their website that will tell you which of their US stores have a book in stock. This is primarily intended for ordering purposes, but it's also a good way to tell if a book is likely to be carried in the US. (Like all store inventory lookup features, I wouldn't trust it too far though. Just because it's there on the website doesn't mean it will be on the shelf when you arrive at the store.)

Paste the name of whatever you're looking for (written in kana/kanji, not romaji) into the search box here: http://bookweb.kinokuniya.co.jp/indexohb.cgi?AREA=03
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j_rant: Possibly the second most generic Japan-themed icon! (Default)
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