February 1, 2011 | Japanese
Field Trip: Kinokuniya
I tour a Japanese bookstore next to Bryant Park.
I just got back from an expedition to 1073 Avenue of the Americas, home of Kinokuniya, an enormous three-level Japanese bookstore.
Kinokuniya, As Seen From the Street
Although it is in a very central location in the middle of town (“town” is a funny word to use for New York City), I don’t think I have ever noticed it before.
Kinokuniya’s wares are not confined to books. The store also sells magazines. It sells comics (lots). It sells stationery items. It sells gift items.
There are things about Japan in English. There are things about Japan in Japanese. There are things about the U.S. in Japanese. And many more books and materials whose content I couldn’t grasp quickly enough to record for this blog entry.
I started out wandering around the basement, which was well-stocked with language-learning books and CDs, then toured the ground floor, and concluded on the second floor, where a cheerful little café overlooks Bryant Park.
Bryant Park, As Seen From Kinokuniya’s Café
This trip was a delight for me because, finally, in a public place, I confirmed that I am now more or less able to sound out Japanese words, as long as they are in kana without any kanji (Chinese characters) involved. I wandered from book cover to book cover reading words out loud like a first-grader.
The reading was pretty slow, because I have to sound out the syllables one at a time and still have trouble remembering some of them right away—but I was quite delighted with myself.
In fact, I would say I was considerably more delighted with myself than were most of the five different employees I pestered to tell me whether I was reading and speaking correctly.
New York, in Japanese
A very big thrill came when I sounded out a sign in katakana only to realize it spelled…New York! That’s the great thing about kana. I’ve never actually studied how to write “New York” in Japanese, but once you memorize the Japanese characters, you can—unlike in English—work things out phonetically. At left is how “New York” is written in Japanese. Looks a bit different, no?
To recognize something that looks so unfamiliar as something…familiar is an amazing feeling.
I tried out two improvised sentences on employees. Meaning, yes, I actually spoke out loud, in Japanese, to other human beings. (It has taken me a while; Japanese has been rather shockingly hard.)
The first sentence was (and this is my own probably imperfect transliteration), Omisewa hontoni kireina to omoshiroi des. I was trying to say, “The store is very beautiful and interesting.” I made a mistake in my choice of conjunction (the word to), according to a nice young man behind a counter on the basement level. I’m not sure that means the rest was okay, but he said he understood me, so I hope that’s a good sign.
Things to Help You Learn Japanese
Some Magazines With Cool Guys on Them
So Much Stuff It Looks Like a Library!
Many Books and Gifts Here for Kids
On my way out I told another employee, Omisewa totemo ski des. Meaning, I hope, “I like the store a lot.” She beamed and thanked me in Japanese, and I was happy.