End of an era

typed for your pleasure on 30 November 2005, at 11.16 pm

Sdtrk: ‘Surfboard’ by Antonio Carlos Jobim

This Saturday past, before the lads and I took part in our usual parade of Britcoms/kaiju films/yakuza serials/horrible music video viewing, Derek and I headed out to Japan book center over in Livonia. Japan book center, or JBC as we know it, has been a shop that I and my anime-lovin’ friends have repeatedly patronised for roughly 17 years. A nondescript store in the back corner of a strip mall, it was our source for anime magazines such as Animage, Shonen Jump, Terebi magazine, and Animedia. It was also a treasure trove of Japanese films and programmes recorded via satellite. They had all types of genres there, but we usually gravitated towards the anime. And back before Derek and I started hanging out in extant, my best friend Sean and I would motor the 15 miles out there every single month in all sorts of weather, in order to obtain the latest issue of Newtype — keep in mind that not only was this years before the domestic anime explosion, but Newtype didn’t even have an English language version back then.

The shop was run by a middle-aged Japanese lady who knew rudimentary English, and whenever she wasn’t behind the counter or restocking the shelves, she was usually seen with her pair of small white dogs, who functioned like overactive, furry proximity alarms. You’d open JBC’s door, and thirty feet away, those dogs would begin incessantly leaping and yipping behind the counter. The other owner was a man we knew as Jii-san (Grandad), a kindly gentleman who appeared to be somewhat late-middle-aged. As I’d stated before, since Derek, Sean and I et al were shopping there regularly before people in the States knew what anime was, we kinda stood out, and he always recognised us. He knew what we were pretty much after, and always let us know when the latest shipments of whatever magazine would be arriving, or when such-and-such videotape of whatever film or Tv series would be ready. All in all, a nice bloke.

Derek and his roommate Dave both had yearly subscriptions to various magazines at JBC, which was one of the great features that Jii-san offered. Go up there, fill out a form, make a down payment, and Jii-san would set aside a copy of whatever magazine every month in a special pile just for you. Back in October, Derek was telling me that he was at the shop, paying for one of his subscriptions, and the clerks more or less told him to not worry about it and to keep his money, which struck him as not only strange, but somewhat foreboding. Now, over the course of the past year or two, Jii-san and.. the lady.. were up at JBC less and less, and a new couple of clerks were staffing — a bloke and a lass in their twenties, who both looked as if they belonged on the set of ‘Kamen rider 555‘ — and we all didn’t give it much thought, apart from ‘Jii-san is getting older, and these are probably going to be his sucessors at the shop’. Red flags definitely went up, however, as Derek reported that he’d gone back there after work a couple of weeks later, and the store was closed at 5pm on a weekday.
‘Jii-san’s dead, he’s probably dead’, Derek said, in the way that a person says something whilst simultaneously not wanting to believe that it may possibly be true.
‘SHUT UP SHUT UP’, was my well-thought-out response.

So the previous Friday, Derek and I resolved to get up there and find out what the hell was up. We arrived at the strip mall a wee bit after noon and walked round the corner towards JBC, only to see white paper completely covering the glass door. Apart from a UPS shipment notification, there was a piece of paper taped to the door on the inner side of the glass, bearing a note in Japanese. Between the pair of us, we translated it as Tanaka (Jii-san) had passed away on the 19th of September. Hm.
We walked over to Koyama shoten, which is a Japanese grocery store in the same strip mall that we automatically stop round after any JBC visit, and after picking up some Gundam figures and onigiri, I asked the clerk about the state of JBC. He mentioned that since Jii-san died, they were probably going to end up closing the store, and any other books and magazine sales and video rentals would take place in the dry goods retail section of Koyama shoten. Hm.

Derek and I passed JBC for the last time, and I peered in through the window of the darkened shop. It was as if the place was now a museum, or a time capsule, as all of the magazines on the shelves were dated from September. It was a little depressing, I don’t mind telling you.

Saraba (Farewell), Jii-san, and saraba Japan book center. You will be definitely missed

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5 have spoken to “End of an era”

  1. SafeTinspector writes:

    How very, very sad.
    But I am glad you and Derek were able to experience that moment together.

  2. KrazyQ writes:

    This has made me truely sad…

    The many weekends I drove there with Derek, Davecat or other members of the “gang of lads”, I remember Jii-san and his yappy dogs quite well.

    The one particular memory that stood out was how happy he became when I purchased a Shogi set and he hoped that I learned to play well and knew I would enjoy the game.

    When I read this on Derek’s blog as well, I actually got a little misty-eyed.

    Farewell Jii-san and JBC! 1991-2005

  3. SafeTinspector writes:

    I never met the gentleman. Now I never shall!

  4. Sunflower Ted writes:

    I remember JBC too… it was a place that had a casual, used bookstore kind of atmosphere, and there really is nothing like it left around here. Zannen…

  5. Davecat writes:

    It’s bizarre; a lot of the Japanese stores are closing down, at least from my experience. I don’t know if you’d ever been to Arlington heights, a suburb of Chicago, but they had an all-Japanese mall called Yaohan, which was eventually bought out and renamed Mitsuwa, and periodically, my mates and I would spend large sums of money at the bookstore Asahiya, or that toy store whose name escapes me right now. Asahiya had a larger stock than JBC, but it wasn’t as large as your typical Borders. But within the past two years, both the toy store and Asahiya have shut down, and from last reports, Mitsuwa’s open stores consist of the grocery store that comprises a third of the mall, a travel agency, and a food court. It’s getting to the point where if you want an authentic Japanese consumer experience in the States, you have to either go to New York or California, which is really a shame.

    Well, there’s always One World Market in Novi, I suppose, but it’s not the same…

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