One of the questions I get the most emails about is something along the lines of “I’m going to Japan, where can I get Yuri?” The answer is not as straightforward as “go here” or “nowhere.” It’s important to remember that things change all the time in manga stores in Japan, just as with any store. They move stuff around, highlight different things, close stores, move locations, etc. So what I experienced last year in Tokyo is likely to have changed when you go next spring. In fact, things have changed quite a bit since I was in Tokyo ten months ago.
I’m going to focus on three sections of the Tokyo Metropolitan area in today’s report: Akihabara, Ikebukuro and Nakano, because those three areas have well-developed personalities. None of this may apply outside Tokyo, even in chain stores, except for this, which is is pretty universal in all Japanese book stores:
To effectively shop for manga in Japan, you need to know three things. Books are not generally shelved by genre, but by imprint. So first you need to know what age/gender demographic you’re looking at, then publisher/imprint, then author. I’ll explain more about this in a bit.
Ikebukuro has changed quite radically in the past year. The Animate has moved, is much larger than it used to be and is much more strongly focused on female consumers. That meant that they really didn’t have any Yuri manga at all, not even in publisher sections. The goods were largely the same, but it was clear that the fujyoshi was the focus (you could tell – the store had way bigger, nicer, bathrooms).
Because of this new dedication to the buying needs of female fans, even with a familiarity with publishers/authors, Ikebukuro has been basically shorn of any Yuri. On the day Yuri Hime Comics was released, we had to go to Akihabara to get the new books. And Toranoana in Ikebukuro has moved from its location to a much smaller space nearer the train station, only selling BL doujinshi and a small section of mostly straight, loli porn. This was a huge disappointment for us, as the Ikebukuro Toranoana was previously our favorite store.
2013 Update: This has changed again. You can find Yuri once more. I guess enough of the customers requested it. Not as much as in Akihabara, but it’s there.
The different K-Books stores are still on Otome Road, but are rapidly converting to more space dedicated to BL, and the old Animate space is going to re-open as something “for girls”. Unfortunately for us, Japan’s obsessive gendering of everything is turning Ikebukuro into a BL-only section.
So, for the first time, we had to go to Akihabara to shop.
Animate in Akihabara has a Yuri section:
…actually most of their Yuri was shelved elsewhere, by publisher, as always. Most of what’s under this sign is Mangatime KR comics. One needed to find the Ichijinsha/Hobunsha section to find the rest:
And that’s the way it goes – know if the book you’re looking for is for girls (少女), boys (少年),for women (女性), for men (男子) – these are not often listed as sections in the bookstore, you just need to know who the title you’re looking for is targeted to. Then look for the publisher, (Hobunsha 芳文社, Ichijinsha 一迅社, Futbasha 双葉社) then look for the imprint (YH Comics, Tsubomi Comics, Mangatime KR Comics) then look for the author. If you are new to this, and don’t read Japanese, take a printout of the cover you’re looking for. And take a look at the spine of the books you do have and memorize the characters. The publisher is listed at the bottom of the spine, the imprint along the top. Get to know your books!
The same is true for Toranoana in Akihabara. There is a Girls’ Love sign, but most of the Yuri books are near, next to, around it, or across the store in another section.
And this, in a nutshell, is why we’re not going to see any anime for Yuri manga I like. Yuri is sold in Akihabara to guys. So, since guys are the audience for anime, not women, ever, we’ll never see an anime for Morishima Akiko’s moe, but awesome and about adult women, Renai Joshi series. Anime is for man-boys who obsess about school-age girls.
Proving my point, Animate had a metric ton of Yuru Yuri goods, but the only figurines were in bathing suits. Of course.
Interestingly, despite the series’ insistence that Kyouko is the lead character, everywhere we went, Yui goods were the most sold out.
Animate is still the best for goods. It was ramping up for the release of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A’s The Second movie (and, there are three Nanoha manga series running concurrently right now: Vivid, Innocent and Force), so there was a great deal of Nanoha goods on shelves.
Including this fascinating bit of papercraft.
And there was a fair amount of Fate/Zero stuff hanging around.
I don’t have pictures, but let me conclude with a paragraph on Nakano Sun Arcade. Up until last year, it was the place to go for older, obscure items, things you couldn’t get any more. It was awesome – but not cheap. Now, if you’re looking for figurines – go there first. We saw figurines there a good $40 cheaper for the same exact item than in Rashinban (which has never been a cheap store, but still!) Don’t buy in the first store you see, either. I saw a Mawaru Penguindrum Princess of the Crystal figurine for $48, then $30, then $25 and finally $13.00. I didn’t get it, because it was quite large, and I have nowhere to put it, but at $13.00 I thought about it hard. If you’re looking for really old stuff, Mandarake in Nakano and Shibuya are like rummaging through someone’s attic. Yes, you can find the Sailor Uranus and Neptune henshin wands there with their original lip gloss – for $1000.
In conclusion, we’re both in a better place and a worse that we were last year. Yuri is more plentiful, but more segregated. Yuri, in Japanese publishers minds, is for guys. We are now required to shop in Akihabara, rather than our beloved Ikebukuro, (instead of it being a nice-to-do) but on the good side, there’s a a lot more Yuri to shop for!
Remember, things change all the time in Tokyo, so this guide will probably be useful for 6 months, then not any more. Don’t assume that anything you know from last year is true now. But if you learn one thing – learn your publisher, imprint, author and title, and you’ll be able to find what you want to buy. ^_^