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My parents come from Taiwan and most of my extended family live there so we’d fly there every few years. I have fond memories of my childhood going to stationery store after stationery store with my sister. Since we were the youngest (at that time) on both my mother’s and father’s side of the family we were pretty spoilt and got almost everything we wanted. Our (much older) cousins and aunts would take us shopping for toys, clothes, hair accessories, food(?) and… stationery. How we loved stationery! Especially stickers. So many stickers (at 5c a sheet!). And cutesy mechanical pencils. And pop-up pencilcases that would make Inspector Gadget drool with envy (eg link 1 | 2 | 3).
Back in the 80s most things were made in Taiwan (not China), and since we were getting it from the source, it was super cheap. We’d go back to school after the school holidays and we had the prettiest and cutest stationery ever. Our classmates were quite envious. We ended up bringing back various cutesy things for our close friends. Not just stationery but things like drink bottles too. Back in the 80s and early 90s that sort of stuff was non-existent in Australia (except in Chinatown).
If you’re wondering what this has to do with Kinokuniya, I’m getting to that. I know I tend to ramble on a bit.
I’m pretty sure some people have no idea what kind of country Taiwan is, where it is, or what it looks like. China still thinks they ‘own’ it so obviously you’d think it has more in common with China than Japan but actually, it has similarities with both. And it lies pretty close to Japan (Okinawa) as well. There are huge Japanese influences in Taiwan (in fact, it seems there are bigger Hello Kitty fans in Taiwan than in Japan, but that’s another post another time). So in Taiwan, the fashion, food, and pop culture is heavily influenced by Japan.
Also growing up I had Japanese friends both in primary (elementary) school and high school. I had Japanese pen pals. Oh, my mother also taught me how to make sushi (which I still suck at it!) and origami (which I excelled at) when I was about 7. Growing up I had a lot of Japanese influences which led me to deciding to study the language. But it wasn’t until 2007 that I finally went and visited Japan.
I could have died… I was in heaven! All my dreams had come true. Everything beautiful, cute, and techy was here and there was so much of it! And also the most delicious food ever. I also went when the Australian dollar was very high so everything was reasonably priced.
But books. Back to books. I’ve loved books since I could read and learnt to read English very quickly, which is surprising considering I come from a non-English speaking background and had to teach my parents how to read! Taiwan is a bibliophile’s dream (if you can read Chinese ). The bookstores are incredible and huge! Some of them are over 4 storeys high. There is actually a ‘book street’ in Taipei which consists of 40 bookstores one after another. And of course they sell cutesy stationery as well.
I remember the first Taiwanese craft book I was given by my cousin. I must’ve been only 5 at the time. It’s a small, novel-sized book about how to make stuffed animals, the 12 creatures of the zodiac. I couldn’t read a word of it but I looked at the pictures over and over again. It’s practically fallen apart but I still have that book.
Later, I started to collect more and more craft books. Books are incredibly cheap in Taiwan compared to Australia. I also started buying Japanese craft/design books (some of which had been translated into Chinese). I remember trying to lug back this huge Japanese hardcover book on web design that must’ve weighed 3kg. But it had pretty pictures in it so I had to have it!
Some time during my high school years I discovered that they had Japanese craft books at my local library so that was a ‘goldmine’ for me, and I spent many years being obsessed with Ondori craft books, in particular this one about making small beaded/wire animals which I must’ve borrowed about 10 times.
The funny thing is, these books actually helped my language skills. Since they were mostly pictorial I didn’t have to read them to know what was going on but I itched to know… At first I had to beg my mother to read them to me but as I got older I forced myself to try and read them myself. I’m still not fully literate in either Chinese or Japanese but I can read enough to get the gist.
Kinokuniya first opened in Taiwan in 1987 and I vaguely remember going to the Taipei store. I also went to their new location in Breeze Center.
One of my friends told me about Kinokuniya, a new bookstore in Sydney so I decided to check them out. They first opened in Sydney in 1996 and were a tiny store in Neutral Bay on the north shore. It was good, but small. But the best thing about them was the fact that they specialized in art and design books, including rare titles.
Kinokuniya Sydney relocated to The Galeries Victoria (TGV) building in 2001.
Well, I’m pretty much in heaven now. Being a japanophile and bibliophile from way back, I couldn’t be happier!
This store is HUGE. It boasts 300,000 titles in English, Japanese and Chinese. It features art and design books heavily and lots of imported books from Japan, Taiwan, China, USA, UK, France, Germany and more. There is an extensive manga/anime section (including toys!), and just about every Japanese fashion magazine available. There is also a decent stationery section (woohoo!) and a cafe. It’s all on one floor in a sort of square C or U shape (I think?). It’s almost like being back in Taiwan or Japan…
I have to admit they have gotten a bit worse in recent years, such as the fact they you have to pay to be a member now, and they took away the entire English magazine section. But, I still ♥ them. In fact I love it even more than other Kinokuniyas because the English books section is also extensive (and very small in the Japanese/Taiwanese bookstores).
Ahhh… Kinokuniya, how I love thee…
(’scuse the crappy, blurry, dark photos. They were taken quickly and sneakily).
A small part of the huge design books section
Graphic Design section. The bonus about buying books from this section is that they are all covered in plastic for protection.
Impulse buy. I’m usually very good and restrained but I can’t go into Kinokuniya and not buy something! Stay tuned for a review of this book “The Sydney Design Guide”
Joern Utzon (designer of the Opera House) died November 2008. There will be a tribute event for him at Kinokuniya on Saturday, May 23. Check it out!
The Paumes series of interior design/decorating books
More photos on my Flickr.
The Galeries Victoria
500 George Street
Mon 10am – 7pm
Tue 10am – 7pm
Wed 10am – 7pm
Thu 10am – 9pm
Fri 10am – 7pm
Sat 10am – 7pm
Sun 10am – 6pm
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