Before we traveled to Japan, I was warned by a number of people that books are notoriously expensive here. As though that would give me pause. But who needs an expensive new book when you can get a perfectly good used one? And really, a nice, gently used book makes a much more interesting souvenir than your run-o-the-mill "I love Sumo" t-shirt.
I've seen several used book shops in Tokyo. Most have been near Metro stations and have been small, crowded, and not very inviting to a harried mom with two boisterous all-American boys in tow. I've stopped a couple of times, but never ventured far, fearing the chaos that would ensue if I tried to squeeze Thing 1 and Thing 2 into a narrow aisle of delicate Japanese art books.
Imagine my delight, then, when I happened upon Book Off, Japan's hugely successful used book store chain. (Here's the truly fun part for all of you New Yorkers out there with a yen for a Japanese experience: there's a Book Off near Rockefeller Center!) We ventured inside and found three floors of well lit, well organized aisles meant for browsing and reading. I took a deep breath, and we headed to a salesperson. Kodomo no hon ga arimasu ka? (Do you have children's books?) Surely you cannot be surprised that I asked for that. What did you think I'd ask for? Fifty Shades of Grey? I think not. The lovely saleswoman replied: Hai, 2F. (Yes, 2nd floor.) BINGO! We were off. The second floor turned out to be the repository for aisles and aisles of manga. Not our style. Lots of men and college-age boys reading manga. Lots. The upshot was that they were so absorbed in their books that they did not notice my kids. It took awhile, but we finally found the children's corner. And I do mean corner:
Look at those two, in their Japanese Little League hats (more on that in a day or so), reading so intently. Reading Japanese. In theory. How much reading does it take to look at Where's Waldo ("Mom, Waldo looks different in these books!") and a Pokémon version of hidden pictures (of course). At least they were quiet and interested.
|Note fire extinguisher, in case IW spontaneously combusts from sitting still for 5 minutes.|
While they were engrossed in their books, I had time to find these:
Who could resist Harry By the Sea in Japanese? Not me. It just so happens that it is our favorite Harry book. Plus, what if I need to know how to say "Bushy-backed sea slug" in Japanese?
Nor could I resist Eigo 2, an English-language book for elementary school kids that is set in New York City. It's a fantastic cultural record of 80s New York and a Japanese take on the United States:
|Yes, it is.|
But my favorite picture of all is this:
Feeling a little giddy at such awesome finds, I scooped up the kids and headed out with three books: Pokémon, Harry by the Sea, and English 2 (sorry, no Waldo.) Children's books, folks. I'm telling you--it's where it's at.