Once again, I intended to go out taking photos and ended up shopping instead. This time it was Kinokuniya‘s Foreign Book Sale which was held this past weekend in the Shinjuku Takashimaya department store. About two-and-a-half hours after getting there, I was loaded down with books, less loaded with cash than I was before, and hungry and not in the mood for pictures.

Nevertheless, like last week’s sojourn to a suburban 100-yen shop, I did notch yet another ii kaimono (“good shopping”) experience. Frankly, I wasn’t expecting much, a few remaindered titles by authors I had no interest in reading, you know, Anne Rice or John Grisham books or the like. However, I was pleasantly surprised, and frankly, at least in terms of fiction, the “good” books outnumbered the mass-market paperbacks (all in my humble opinion, of course). And though I ended up spending more money than I wanted to, I took solace in the fact that I saved a bundle doing so. Here’s what I bought:

Norwegian Wood (special edition), by Haruki Murakami
A Wild Sheep Chase, by Haruki Murakami
The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi & Arrowroot, by Junichirou Tanizaki
The Key, by Junichirou Tanizaki
Runaway Horses, by Yukio Mishima
Shipwrecks, by Akira Yoshimura
Five by Endo, by Shusaku Endo
When the Emperor was Divine, by Julie Otsuka
Enduring Love, by Ian McEwan
Speed Tribes, by Karl-Taro Greenfield
The Thin Man, by Dashiell Hammett
Pagan Babies, by Elmore Leonard
Get Shorty, by Elmore Leonard
The Music of Chance, by Paul Auster
Eyewitness Travel Guide Japan (2001)

I was particularly happy to discover that there were some Japanese-authored fiction among the offerings, and regret a little not picking up more than I did. Though I’m non-plussed on Haruki Murakami, on the basis of one novel (Sputnik Sweetheart) and comments from folks whose opinions I respect, it was hard to pass up the special edition of Norwegian Wood, published by the UK’s Harvill Press, which presents the work in its original red and green two-volume format. Especially hard when it was only ¥700, compared to its original sticker price of ¥3200 (£15.00 in the UK).

The whole experience was like that, constantly doing mental calculations in my head as to how much I was saving, which was probably my way of justifying what I did spend. In point of fact, having to content myself for now with reading Japanese literature in translation, if I want these books while living in Japan I’m relegated to having to buy these books at import-enhanced prices, or ordering them from Amazon which after international shipping costs, comes to the same thing. In furtherance of my rationalizating, when I got home I popped in the titles and prices into an Excel spreadsheet:


The upshot of my calculations was that I spent exactly ¥10,000 for the above-listed 15 titles, which works out to ¥666 ($5.64) average per title cost. Compared with the books’ sticker prices, I saved ¥19,096 (or roughly $161). If I had bought the books new in the countries they originally came from (either the US or UK), my ¥10,000 still ended up being ¥12,797 less than what I would have spent. (Of course, if I was still living in the States, I wouldn’t have bought this many books at one time, nor would I have bought them new).

I’m not exactly sure why Kinokuniya was selling off so many good books at bargain prices (I passed up a few wonderful coffee table photo/art books in the ¥1000 – ¥2000 range, which I now regret), nor if this sale is a regular occurrence. Interestingly, after I finished at the sale I went over to one of the Kinokuniya branch stores nearby (trying in vain to find one of Natsuki Ikezawa’s two books translated into English), and sitting on the shelves of their foreign books section were some of the same books, in the same editions, that I had just bought, with no mark-down of course.

As is my wont at these types of book sales (the annual San Francisco Friends of the Library book sale at Fort Mason was always something I looked forward to), my eyes are always much larger than my actual capacity to read all of my purchases, and though I tell myself that this time it’ll be different, I won’t at all be surprised if some of these books remain unread 10 years from now. (At least, unread my me. Who knows what future generations of Easterwoods will make of them? Speaking of which, I did buy a few children’s books at the sale as well.)

With 10 out of the 15 titles Japanese works or Japan-related, what should I have selected for my first read? Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man!


6 Responses to Book buying on the cheap

  1. Lisa says:

    You can buy books from – saves on shipping at least. They have some pages available in english now, but for those that aren’t I recommend opening up the usual .com page and comparing, as the layouts are identical!
    (having said this, I did end up with an audio book rather than pages once – but just sent it back, no worries)

  2. nils says:

    I had the used bookstore thing really bad before I came to Japan. I had to unload several crates of books at the local library (they have a fundraising used bookstore) before I came to Japan. I got The Devil’s Dictionary at Maruzen (Japan’s first kabushiki-gaisha, or stock-issuing corporation) in Kyoto. They have a free-standing rack of poetry titles, single Shakespeare plays, Wordsworth, Beowulf, English Lit. class kind of stuff, for 300 each.

    When I was in San Francisco a few years ago, I went into the Kinokuniya in Japan Town (kind of a Mexican version of Japanese stonemasonry) and there were a whole bunch of Japanese in there doing tachi-yomi. That was a hoot.

  3. gomichild says:

    I think Haruki Murakami is fab – I’ve been caught up in every one of his works so far. If you haven’t had the chance read his non-fiction work Underground, about the Aum gas attacks – very interesting stuff.

    Use Speed Tribes to prop up a wonky table – that’s about all it is good for. A collection of old stereotypes thrown together with a slick title.

  4. Andrew Abb says:

    Hi… You should read Mishima’s Spring Snow before Runaway Horses.


  5. Kurt says:

    oh great Andrew, now you tell me 🙂

    yes, Kinokuniya was one of my favorite haunts during all the years I lived in San Francisco, lord knows how many books I bought there. Of course, there I experienced the opposite problem to what I have now…that I wanted all these books published by Kodansha or the Japan Times etc. and I had to pay through the nose for them!

  6. Bargain Books

    The theme is Japan.

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