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Mixed feelings about Tsutaya Books in Daikanyama

Daikanyama is probably Tokyo's most upmarket suburb. It's the enclave of fashionistas and ladies who lunch. I was struck by the absence of men: it's mostly women traipsing around with designer outfits and designer dogs, looking anorectic (referring to both women and dogs) [whippets seem to be à la mode]. All shops are tiny and empty, and all have French names. All restaurants are French or Italian, and all menus are in English. You might as well be in Europe. 

I went to this area to visit a new bookstore called Tsutaya in Daikanyama T-site. I was so excited about it that I went there two days after I read about it for the first time. Half an hour later I left with mixed feelings. I wanted to like it. I was prepared to like it. I took ¥20 000 with me, just in case. Perhaps this will tell you more about my experience than anything else: I didn't buy one single book. I'm not sure what put me off. Perhaps its ostentatiousness? I've read the design is supposed to be understated, but everything is screaming for attention, from the lighting fixtures to the massive leather couches.

Ah. Ignore me. I'm too poor and too much of a savage to give you a truly unbiased opinion.

Courtyard between two buildings at Tsutaya Daikanyama

Tsutaya Daikanyama is a huge bookstore spread across three buildings. Each building has two floors: books on the ground floor, and then either music, movies or a bar/lounge called Anjin on the top floor (where you order from iPads, not real menus). It's a bold step in an era when book sales are plummeting, even in book-loving Japan, and we'll have to see whether it pays off. Apparently it's primarily aimed at what is called "premium age clientele". That label irritates me. Premium age? How many more euphemisms for old people will marketers create? [Edit added on 31 January 2012: According to this story in The Japan Times, "premium age" refers to 45 to 50. Oh, I see. Middle-aged. If you're older than 50, you're what? A write-off?]

Incidentally, I've read that the complex will soon have an anti-ageing clinic. If the self-help book doesn't do it for you, go get some Botox and sheep placenta.

Its other target market is the "urban premium crowd" and the "burgeoning new wealth who looks for subtle quality". That's marketing jargon for pretentious twats.

Let's examine it not as a reader, but as a former publisher and book retailer. You'll need enormous turnover to pay for that space, and profit margins in the book retail industry are notoriously small. I was there on a weekday morning, and for their sake I hope they're a lot busier on weekends.

I didn't see any premium age persons, but there were plenty of urban premium females, with the emphasis on premium. Oh, they'll cost you plenty, make no mistake. They were looking, not buying, mostly in the cookery books section and in the J-pop section. It's the first time I've ever seen a bookstore in Japan with more female than male customers.

I didn't see any young kids in the store. Might that be because Daikanyama mamas put their offspring into nursery schools affiliated with Keio University as young as possible in order to have more shopping time?

The busiest section was Starbucks on the ground floor. I didn't see any customers with book bags in Starbucks. 

Is it worth a visit? Yes, it's a beautiful store. Go, by all means! It's a temple of the book. However … I left with the uneasy feeling that its emphasis is on looks, not books; that it's meant for people who buy books for the effect rather than for the contents.

I'm glad I went, and I'll go back because I think it deserves a second chance, but it offers nothing that will dent my loyalty to Jinbōcho and Kinokuniya.

I took the interior shots with my phone. The quality isn't brilliant. Sorry!

Looking down towards the magazine section

My intention was to walk around Daikanyama after visiting the bookstore, but I got bored very quickly. I'm just not a shopaholic. I fled, and forty minutes later I was back in my beloved, scruffy, warmhearted shitamachi. That's when I realized what both Daikanyama and Tsutaya lack.

It's called soul.

You can read more about the bookstore here and here.



Kids' corner

Lounge with grand piano

Listening spot in CD section

This is where you tie your whippet while you buy a book on gourmet dog dinners. 

I couldn't figure out what this was, until ...

... I realized it's a dog garden: pet grooming and defrosting of whippets tied to cute gadgets on fake rocks in mid-winter.

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