HD does this regularly, and it’s rubbing off on me. I hope this is the only kind of thing that does, and the only time I do it. But here goes: an excerpt of my NYC Manhattan shopping guide or what I did last Saturday.

Golden Triangles Everywhere

Speaking of triangles, East 41st and 5th, 45th and Madison, and the Rockefeller Center are the points that form my main shopping triangle in midtown Manhattan. It’s not that you can’t get good stuff elsewhere, but these places are where you’re going to get anything authentic at all with a real selection in the city, AFAIK.

Personally I like the Bryant Park area–free wifi, a Chipotle near by, and the home of a freaking large library. On top of that, it’s conveniently located between Time Square and 15 minutes by foot to Penn Station. Well, most of midtown are all close to each other, so that’s not something that special–it’s like saying there are Starbucks near it (which there are).

Well, who am I kidding. I like it because Book-Off is right next to it. It’s nice when Japan’s largest used media chain opens a store in the middle of the city (inside a half-block of other Japanese establishments). And I stress “used.” You can actually pick up a lot of used English-language stuff there; all kinds of books and CDs. I was close to picking this up for $3 today, for example. Book-Off, despite its fair inventory, is very much hit-or-miss when it comes to looking for a purchase-worthy CD or DVD (let alone a particular one you want). Its main strength lies in its superb manga collection–easily the largest Japanese-language manga depository in the greater NY area. Nonetheless because everything is used, it is super affordable. God bless the First Sale Doctrine. I think almost half of my import CD collection is from Book-Off. I snagged nice CD sets or that super-rare Out-Of-Print CD more than once. I think I spent a good amount on artbooks as well.

From East 41st it’s a brisk 5 and a half block uptown to the reincarnated Asahiya. In 2003(?) Asahiya’s old storefront in Manhattan closed down. However when it reopened mid-last year, I didn’t find out until earlier this year; a pleasant surprise it was indeed. The new Asahiya is located off Madison, which is way better than their old location off Mulberry, right next to Grand Central. That said my last shopping spree I took a different path, so we’ll revisit Asahiya after I hit up Kinokuniya.

Kinokuniya at Rockefeller Center has been a landmark for many years now. The walk up 5th from 41st takes you through some of the more glamorous shopping areas in midtown, which includes both a CompUSA and a Best Buy; two Borders; plus God-Knows-How-Many caffeinated beverage vendors and apparel stores. That said, Kinokuniya is much like Borders; it seems kind of lame to get your anime/manga/music fix there. Well, it’s not so bad. Kinokuniya is the largest corporate B&M vendor out of Japan after all, and being such a flagship symbol in midtown they’ve recently (well, for a couple years now) retooled their store to have a strong anime media focus. Well, it is a fad in the States, right?

That’s all good for me. Kinokuniya has probably the largest import artbook selection now (and as hard as I looked, never a copy of Flamboyant; but they have a couple of those coveted(?) Sphere++ for $47 a pop…). Blah. What’s more interesting is that they do make an effort to stock at least all the latest jpop hits, plus some of the more mainstream offerings (which made the Joe Hisaishi fan I shopped with splooged quite a bit) like a healthy dose of new game music and anime CDs from shows on the air (I didn’t know Re: Surface was used in Yakitate Japan! for example). Plus what you’d expect from a Kinokuniya in terms of Japanese manga and books, it also now carry a healthy selection of domestic anime and manga.

Kinokuniya still is a good place to shop despite their ridiculous prices. At the least, if not only because Asahiya charges more. However, when I was looking around at Asahiya, I felt the need to take a couple pictures just because they were total Kodak moments. First, I found a new copy of Masami Kobushi special edition. That may not be a big deal, but to me it is about as shocking as seeing your favorite musician’s picture on the wall of a restaurant you’re patroning for the first time. And it’s not just a picture, but it’s a picture of your favorite musician in a pose with the establishment’s owner. Complete with autograph.

I think I might have downplayed that analogy by quite a bit, but you get the idea. It’s way notable than finding the new Eureka 7 albums there (which was quite notable)–I didn’t know The Best Of came with a DVD (and ZOMG, goodies); and I was nigh close from buying OST2…I guess eventually. What’s probably just as shocking was seeing this. I guess this makes me an official Nana Mizuki convert? Or just to make the truthful statement that pirating mp3s make me end up buying them? Something in between. I guiltily paid for it, with little comfort knowing that the copy of Love and Bubble I picked up at Kinokuniya was $3 less than the one at Asahiya.

The other photo-worthy statement was just something words cannot describe. Typically all three of these stores are inhabited by native Japanese. You get the whole “Irrashaimase! Konnichiwa!” treatment as you pass through the door (at least in Book-Off). The cashier hands you your receipt and credit card with two hands and I get mistaken as a Nihonjin more than once. It’s often that Japanese housewives visit these places for leisure while their kids stew around at the children’s literature section. It happens that there’s a small TV playing Laputa (raw, btw) at the children’s literature corner at Asahiya, and there was a little boy about 3 feet away from the screen watching it. The TV was set up so it was embedded into a display so it looks like a part of a tree, and the display was set up to be a corner piece between two shelves. There are some carpeted steps (think of a swimming pool’s wading steps) leading up to that tree display. The boy (about 4′ tall) was kneeling on the middle step.

It was just messed up. Alas, words still fails to describe, but I tried. It’s a fateful reminder that worshipping materialism and anime is no good, even in fact that’s what we do often times. Don’t get too deep into it, even if culture programs us to!

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