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Kinokuniya, Midtown Manhattan: Turning Japanese

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kinokuniyaCleo Fleming spent her Tuesday lunchtime browsing the fiction section of Kinokuniya’s bookstore, located opposite Bryant Park. Its display tables feature the most recent in American pop culture: Lena Dunham’s “Not That Kind of Girl,” Aziz Ansari’s “Modern Romance”, Allie Brosh’s “Hyperbole And a Half” and more. But Kinokuniya feels very different from Midtown Manhattan’s chic bookstores.

“I feel a bit like I’m there,” Ms. Fleming, an Australian expatriate who spent many years in Japan, said. “Not in New York’s middle.”

Kinokuniya opened its first Tokyo branch in 1927. It is Japan’s largest chain bookstore. In 1981, the store opened a New York branch in Rockefeller Center to serve the Japanese community. It moved to Avenue of the Americas in 2007 and is still the largest chain bookstore in Japan. The store’s mission was slightly changed by the move.

Shigeharu Ono (a senior vice president at Kinokuniya’s United States operations), said that “we wanted to distance ourselves” from Barnes & Noble. He has been with the store for 25 years. “So, we don’t sell the ‘Tax Return 101’ or ‘How to Play Golf better.

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Kinokuniya offers a wide range of Japanese artifacts, including manga; books with pages upon pages of geometric dog coiffures; action figures; armies of kawaii plush animals; a remarkable selection of gel pens; instructions on how to create anime costumes; and popular Japanese potato chips.

There are also books.

All the English-language books can be found on the first floor. These include volumes on photography and design as well as fiction. A large Haruki Murakami section is also available. Marie Kondo’s “The Magic of Tidying up” is a bestseller about the Japanese art of organizing and decluttering.

Manga heaven is found on the second floor, which is brightly colored and has Japanese pop playing. There are shelves upon shelves of comics.

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This includes the popular Naruto series about an adolescent Ninja who dreams of being the best in his village. There are thousands of manga titles in English and Japanese.

The store also has collectible figures, special-edition T-shirts, and a section for Western comic books. Yvon Jerzak (21), a former fashion student with silver hair, was browsing the manga that afternoon.

He comes in five to six times a month. Cafe Zaiya is also located on the second floor. They sell bento boxes as well as Japanese pastries such as sweet bread, Hello Kitty-shaped buns, and Japanese pastries.

The basement floor of Kinokuniya is geared more toward Japanese expatriates. It is large and open and features Japanese fashion magazines, the “mook”, a magazine-book hybrid, thousands of bunko editions or paperback books, and language-instruction materials, for Japanese speakers and those who are learning Japanese.

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Toshiko Hasegawa, 45, was there to peruse magazines. She was looking forward to spring editions, and she knew Kinokuniya would have them.

Ms. Hasegawa, originally from Osaka and moved to New York six months ago to take an English language course at Bluedata International Institute, is originally from Osaka.

After a few attempts, Ms. Hasegawa finally explained what the attraction of the bookstore was.

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