Trip to Kinokuniya

I’m back from my summer vacation. I’ve spent the past couple of days cursing my Email, snail mail, and voice mail. All mail can just die. I’m so happy to be home!

As I mentioned in my last post about my bookbinding-focused trip to San Francisco, June 5th was set to be quite a day. I’ll be writing a series of posts detailing each day on my itinerary. And yes, each stop was cool.

Well, except Chinatown, but I’ll get to that later.

One of my stops was at Kinokuniya, a bookstore that specializes in Japanese texts. I got the idea after reading a book review of Handmade Bookbinding by Yo Yamazaki on Kathrin’s Paperama blog and became obsessed with finding the book.

Handmade Bookbinding by Yo Yamazaki

ISBN: 4579209702

Then I became obsessed with finding other bookbinding books written in Japanese. I spent one late night looking at bookbinding books on Amazon Japan. I couldn’t read any of it, but I drooooooooled over the pictures nonetheless. Yes, I have a problem.

Japanese bookbinding book

ISBN: 4141884677

Handmade Bookmaking by Yo Yamazaki

ISBN: 4579210433

Japanese bookbinding book

ISBN: 4272610023

Japanese bookbinding book

ISBN: 4272611054

Considering that I didn’t have a trip to Japan planned any time soon, I printed out the Amazon Japan pages (including the ISBN numbers) and headed to Kinokuniya. So we’re on the bus heading towards Japantown when the bus comes to a halt. After a few minutes, we decide to hop out of the bus and walk – if the traffic is so bad, surely we can walk faster than the bus, right?

Then we notice that the traffic lights are out. And the buildings have no power. And then we get to Japantown.

No power.

Aha! But the Kinokuniya Building is not locked – we sneak in. At this point, stores are still open and folks seem hopeful that the power is coming back soon. We decide to have lunch and return afterwards. After a super-yummy meal, we return to the building.

The power is still out. The building is open, but now stores are closing.

Crap. Crap. Crap.

Even though Kinokuniya has a closed sign posted outside their door, they haven’t pulled down the gate. I approach a friendly face. “I came all the way from Vermont just to buy these books from you. Can you help me?” A kind man takes the papers from me, then talks to a saleswoman in Japanese. She takes the papers and heads off into the stacks.


She returns with one book – the Yo Yamazaki book. I happily hand over my cash. I hug my book. I am happy.

Of course, I can’t read any of it now. Although I can figure out some of the text by the pictures, I’ll need the help of a friend to translate (thanks Jill!). I still don’t care – it’s the best book ever.

Kinokuniya wins hands-down for the best customer service I have received in a long time. You guys rock!

Just out of curiosity, I did some research and discovered the scoop on the blackout – it seems there was an underground PG&E equipment explosion. I guess that’s a good reason for closing Japantown early…

10 Responses to “Trip to Kinokuniya”

By Carol - 10 June 2009 Reply

Nice post. I’m impressed with your perserverence. I love Kinokunyia (Sydney) but it has never occurred to me to buy book binding books in Japanese. Now I want to have a look at the Yo Yamazaki book.

By elissa - 11 June 2009 Reply

As a Capricorn, perseverance is my middle name…or was that stubborn?

I figured that I had nothing to lose by pushing my luck – I had no time to return to the store again so the worst that could happen was that they’d say no.

Then I’d cry and ask again.

By Kathrin - 11 June 2009 Reply

Oh I’m so happy to hear you got the book. I haven’t really understood much either, but it’s great to just look at the pictures.

And you’re definitely not the only one with that problem. I’ve spend hours obsessively surfing the japanese amazon site and going crazy about the pictures.

BTW I recently found this publishers site via @handmade2_0 that translate and publishes japanese craft books – there aren’t any bookbinding books yet, but maybe we’re lucky soon:

By elissa - 12 June 2009 Reply

Kathrin –

Glad I’m not alone on Amazon Japan…perhaps they need a “translate into English” function for artsy types? It seems like a lot of us are looking for books there.


By Shannon - 11 June 2009 Reply

I’ve bought a few Japanese sewing books from Kinokuniya. They have a great selection. Since most of the numbers are not in Japanese, I can usually figure out the patterns from the pictures. (Being a Canadian ex-pat, the metric measurements aren’t an issue for me.)

I looked at bookbinding books once–they were a little hard to tell from the spine, mixed in with other craft books–and saw some a couple of books with awesome embellished linen book covers. They all have such great photography, they’re inspirational even if you can’t decipher them!

By elissa - 12 June 2009 Reply

Shannon –

I wish I had the opportunity to actually browse the store instead of waiting outside. 🙁 I’m sure I would have spent more…I’m a sucker for good photography.


By gerri newfry - 12 June 2009 Reply

i’ve been to kinokuynia in seattle. i love it there. they have the best pens.

By elissa - 16 June 2009 Reply

Gerri –

Maybe it’s a blessing that there was a blackout – I do have an unhealthy affection for office supplies. I believe it’s related to getting new supplies for the first day of school…


By Shannon - 13 June 2009 Reply

Since the stores were closing you may not have seen this, but for future reference: the stationery is a whole separate store in the SF Kinokuniya, which has a moderate selection of Yuzen papers sold by the sheet, as well as my favorite pens ever, the Pilot Hi-Tec-C (in several colors, in tips as fine as .25mm). There’s also a separate space with manga on the main floor.

They also have a second stationery store on the 3rd or 4th floor in the Westfield Mall on 5th and Market.

By elissa - 16 June 2009 Reply

Shannon –

So I missed an opportunity for Yuzen? Stupid buildings and their need for electricity. Grrr…


So what do you think? I'd love to know!

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