Japanese giant Kinokuniya Bookstore opened its first location in the United Arab Emirates capital Abu Dhabi at The Galleria Al Maryah Island, giving residents a literature haven where they can step out of the chaos of city life and immerse themselves in books from all over the world.
In an exclusive interview with Arab News Japan, Managing Director of Kinokuniya UAE Naoya Hirata said that the decision to expand the bookstore overseas stemmed from the shrinkage of the Japanese book market, which prompted Kinokuniya’s divergence into foreign markets with higher demands.
The stability of the UAE both, politically and economically, as well as the purchasing power of the population, were the key factors that impelled the bookstore to open in the region, Hirata explained.
With its organised sections on a plethora of subjects ranging from the latest literary fiction, graphic novels, art and design books, cookbooks, travel books, children’s literature, extensive collection of manga and comics, accompanied with its friendly informative staff, Abu Dhabi's bookish community is bound to find an intellectual instrument that suits their interests.
“We are very excited to celebrate our unique Japanese heritage within The Galleria Al Maryah Island’s vibrant mix, and we look forward to welcoming the Abu Dhabi community to our store,” Hirata said.
Kinokuniya first opened its doors in Tokyo in 1927. Today it has the biggest bookstore chain in Japan and offers one of the largest range of books in the Middle East, with a staggering 150,000 titles in Japanese, English, and Arabic present in its new store.
“Despite being a Japanese bookstore, we have been doing business overseas, such as in the US, Southeast Asia, Europe and Australia. In these countries, we offer not only Japanese books, but also books written in other languages like English, French, Chinese, Thai and Malay. This multicultural and flexible style is one of Kinokuniya’s strengths,” Hirata said.
However, the UAE stores operate differently than the other outlets because it carries an array of Arabic-language books, which are not offered elsewhere, explained Hirata.
The Japanese heritage is most notably celebrated through the availability of a specific section for Japanese books, supplemented with Japanese products such as stationary and games.
The first Kinokuniya branch in the UAE opened in the Dubai Mall, and has ever since served as not only the go-to store for anime, but also as an example of how Japanese anime and manga have globalized outside of Japan.
The new store in the capital spreads over two levels and has a brightly colored manga and comics section, which offers thousands of manga and Anime titles, including the ever-popular "Naruto" series, about an adolescent ninja dreaming of becoming the best in his village, as well as collectible figures.
The social constrictive measures imposed on the public due to the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic negatively impacted Kinokuniya’s in-store sales, as malls across the UAE endured months of closures. Nonetheless, the Kinokuniya bookstore is currently online and offers domestic and international delivery, allowing people to order books from the comfort of their homes.
The availability of the bookstore online during this period has proved to be effective, as according to Hirata, website sales have increased.
The pandemic has also altered people’s demands, Hirata said.
“For example, demands for puzzles and board games are higher than usual, so we try to maintain enough stock of that, in addition to books,” Hirata added.
The decision to proceed with the opening of the Abu Dhabi store despite the pandemic was a result of requests sent to Kinokuniya from booklovers in isolation.
“As people stayed home and spent most of their time there, we had been receiving many requests from book lovers to open an Abu Dhabi store that offers books they enjoy at home. So in response, we decided to comply with people’s demands and open as early as possible, which was right after the reopening of the malls,” Hirata said.
Kinokuniya’s ability to appeal to a wide range of customers through its diversified inventory, as well as the adaptation and expansion of the bookstore into another city in the UAE amid COVID-19, is a testament to the Japanese bookstore’s resilient success in the country.