Interview with Ms. Watanabe, Chief of K-BOOKS Ikebukuro Doujin-kan
What is K-BOOKS Ikebukuro Doujin-kan?
K-BOOKS Ikebukuro Doujin-kan lies in the heart of East Ikebukuro, selling published and self-published works and goods to its largely female clientele. What sets the Doujin-kan apart is its sizable offering of BL content, including manga, CDs, and other goods from a wide range of titles in its BL Floor.
We sat down with K-BOOKS Ikebukuro Doujin-kan’s Chief Ms. Watanabe to ask her about the BL floor, its staff, and its growing global client base.
Thank you for your time today. Could you please introduce yourself?
Ms. Watanabe: I’m the Chief of K-BOOKS Ikebukuro Doujin-kan. I’ve been the Chief here for three years. I used to work in the Comic-kan where the Live-kan is at present. The Comic-kan then had both ordinary shoujo manga and shounen manga together with BL. I worked there for a long time, and then just the BL moved to form the Doujin-kan. The Doujin-kan BL Floor is now like an exclusive shop for BL.
Why did you want to work here?
Ms. Watanabe: I was a K-BOOKS customer (laughs). I often went to the Comic-kan, a branch with a sizable amount of BL works. I’ve always liked comics, so I applied and got it.
So you liked manga and BL?
Ms. Watanabe: Yes. I like both novels and manga, but in my student days I had no money, so I’d have fun borrowing BL works from the library. They have the old stuff. I don’t know if present libraries still carry them, but in my hometown library, there are some old works and long works that I’d borrow and read. Also, I liked going to K-BOOKS and other used bookstores as a student.
What kinds of products do you have in this branch?
Ms. Watanabe: Well, all BL-related items, whether they be in the form of books, goods, and CDs.There a lot of self-published works, too
I see that there are a lot of products here. Where should foreigners best start when they’re looking for something?
Ms. Watanabe: Start from what exactly do you want, is it goods, CDs, and so on. If you like goods then go to Goods aisle, if you like books to go Books aisle, if it’s CD, to CD aisle. It’s rather easy to pinpoint this way, so that’s probably the easiest way to go about things. Concerning the famous series with lots of goods, you can just go to the place with its corresponding panel because all its goods are sorted there. For example, you can buy the series-related things under the big panel. As for books, they’re alphabetically in order by the author’s name, so if you know the author’s name you can find books quickly. It’s the same ordering by voice actor name for CDs.
How about new releases?
Ms. Watanabe: For new releases, each release month is represented by a color on our New Releases corner. Since there’s a lot of new releases coming out, some of our customers might end up forgetting which of them were which month’s releases that they had already bought. (laughs) It’s a common problem, especially since some writers often do serializations. When that happens, customers end up not knowing which they should buy and which they shouldn’t buy again. We are aware of this problem. This way you’d know which book was released in which month.
Is this sorted by the week or by month?
Ms. Watanabe: The November releases are in yellow, and it’s sorted by month. We don’t sort by weeks. At this point, everything released before August doesn’t have colored stickers on them anymore. We have six colors to represent six months so it just goes in a cycle. December is green, January is blue and come August it’ll be using the same color as I had used for March this year. All in all, twelve months. By using one color for two months, you can go around two cycles in a year.
For the drama CDs, what if the customer only knows the title of the work but are not familiar with the voice actors?
Ms. Watanabe: If they ask the staff, the staff can immediately guide them. It used to be sorted by the title, but in that case, people who like certain voice actors couldn’t find them.
How do the staff learn all these things?
Ms. Watanabe: The staff working here all read up on it, and they all like BL.
Do you have study sessions or training?
Ms. Watanabe: We also have training sessions. Because if someone becomes in charge of buying and selling of used goods without knowledge, they can’t do anything. That’s why we study. Of course, the higher-ranking ones teach the ones below them.
When did you learn about specific series/franchises?
Ms. Watanabe: From that initial training we undergo as a new employee. For example, you’d memorize the names of voice actors because you can’t help customers find their names if you don’t know them. Then they study the CD record labels they don’t know. They don’t know what it is, so they make an effort to learn it.
Everyone is working hard, we can tell.
Ms. Watanabe: It comes naturally if you like something.
Earlier you mentioned buying and selling goods. Do foreigners also sell their used items?
Ms. Watanabe: For foreigners who want to sell their used items, they would need an ID issued in Japan, like a residence card, for example. It would be great if you had an ID card issued by the Japanese government.
So you can’t use your passport.
Ms. Watanabe: I’m afraid not. There were cases like that. I sometimes get asked if this is useless, but it’s not legally accepted as an ID card, so we explain that we can’t accept it.
How about house rules?
Ms. Watanabe: They’re written all here. These are the house rules across all K-BOOKS stores.
So there are customers who open the packaging without permission.
Ms. Watanabe: If they want to check the contents, the staff will show which copy they could open, so “please don’t open anything without permission!”
How does one sell their used goods?
Ms. Watanabe: You can just call for a staff member here at the buy and sell counter and they would immediately attend to your needs. They would need a guardian if they’re under 18 years old. As long as you graduated from high school, you don’t need one. We consider 18 to be the legal age because our items are for ages 18 and up.
I see. How long does it take for a staff member to figure out how many of a customer’s used goods would sell for how much?
Ms. Watanabe: The purchaser is in charge of knowing things like the current stock status or selling price of that item. It’s based on sales trends. They would also explain to the customer face-to-face how much it would end up costing. If the customer agrees, then we buy the goods.
So around how long does it take?
Ms. Watanabe: If it’s something like one or two items, it will end quickly. Many customers bring all their things together, so in those cases, it goes on for a long time.
Have there been foreigners asking to purchasing wholesale BL goods?
Ms. Watanabe: Recently there have been foreigners who wanted to purchase in wholesale for the sake of reselling. If one would wish to do so, please use our inquiry form and we will contact you back.
By the way, how good are the staff in English?
Ms. Watanabe: Well, basically there are staff members who can speak English, one in every store. There are a certain number of staff members who can speak Chinese or Korean, but not everyone can speak even a little, so in those cases, we use apps and such.
By the way, how many staff members are there on the BL floor?
Ms. Watanabe: There are 3 people. We have BL badges on our aprons so people will know we are the BL representatives, and they can ask us about the BL stuff (laughs)
Those badges are helpful! Are there a lot of foreigners coming to the store lately?
Ms. Watanabe: Yes. It may still be nothing compared to Akihabara, but it’s been increasing recently.
For example, how many do you encounter in a day?
Ms. Watanabe: There isn’t a day when I don’t see a foreigner in the store. It seems like at least one foreigner seems to be here every day. Recently there has been a lot of Chinese asking if we accept Alipay as a payment method.
What are the payment methods do you accept?
Ms. Watanabe: In the case of K-BOOKS, there are certain payment methods we can’t accept depending on the store. Both the Doujin-kan and Akibahara Hon-kan have 18 and up-restricted goods, so there are some modes of payment which can’t be used. At present, these are the only once, we can accept.
I see. It seems like there’s a lot of signages in English.
Ms. Watanabe: In the past few years, foreign customers have been increasing. So as much as possible, shop signs have translations in Chinese or English, about information within the shop. We make Chinese and English translations.
Are there any titles which are popular among foreigners?
Ms. Watanabe: Something popular among foreigners would be Ten Count; recently Given also seems to have gotten rather popular. Also, foreigners buy Saezuru Tori wa Habatakanai.
Do foreigners buy more goods or manga?
Ms. Watanabe: Recently, foreigners have been buying more goods. More people have been buying special items recently. Lots of purchases of items such as leaflets, illustrated cards, and so on. Coasters and acrylic posters are also amazingly popular. Not just with foreigners but with Japanese people too, both just really love an acrylic coaster. Also, of course, pictures from the original work. Even if it’s been adapted into an anime, the original version is still very popular.
Do they also buy manga?
Ms. Watanabe: They do. A little while back, a foreigner had told me, they don’t know titles much, could I refer them a BL title which has a man with beautiful long hair?
And what did you recommend to that person?
Ms. Watanabe: “Excuse me for bringing my hobby into this, but…” I introduced them a certain title. They said they also like fantasy stories, so I thought it would be good.
Even with the vaguest preference for something, that’s amazing. Does the title just pop up in your head?
Ms. Watanabe: Sometimes it’s like that, but there are also customers asking for titles or authors whose goods are no longer available. It would be nice if the customers continue engaging with staff after that, talking about what they want. If there aren’t any hints, then you won’t be able to do anything. Showing a picture of the product helps us find it the fastest. Of course, foreigners are more likely to be the type to show a picture and tell us, “I want this one.”
This will help foreign fans who’d like to buy BL goods here at Doujin-kan but don’t know how to. We’re happy to be able to talk to you. Thank you very much!
Ms. Watanabe: Thank you very much.
Have you been to K-BOOKS Ikebukuro Doujin-kan? Share with us your experience on our Twitter account @futekiya!
If you’re interested in reading more of futekiya’s interviews, be sure to read our exclusive interviews with Butlers Iori and Kagawa of Swallowtail, Christopher Hepburn, the owner of Local Manga, Seru, the founder of The Yaoi Army, White Eared, creator ofFrom Points of Three, Mingwa, creator of BJ Alex, and Fargo, creator of If You Hate Me So and Love is an Illusion.
About Ikebukuro Doujin-kan
Address: Showa Building 2-3F, 3-12-12, Higashiikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo (Access Map)
Operating hours: 11:30-20:00 on weekdays, 11:00-20:00 (weekends and holidays)
Twitter account (BL Floor): https://twitter.com/kbooks_bl
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