Once in Japan, you’ll be overloaded with several subjects which you usually run into (in the dealer room) at Japan-related events and conventions. One of those things which I ran into a lot during my first trip in Japan was BL. BL stands for Boys Love and in Japan you have enough possibilities to get into contact with this. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Mandarake, ALTA, TSUTAYA or another books-, anime- or manga related store, you can find something of BL anywhere.
While walking in the Nakano Broadway -which by the way is super cool with all those anime, manga and music shops together- I walk into one of the several Mandarake stores. If I would have looked in the window display I would have known that this was the BL department with manga and doujinshi. Enough girls who are happily looking around for good titles. You are welcomed by one of the employees when you come in, but it’s not like you have stuff being forced on you with them breathing down your neck if you stand at a certain display case a little longer. My Japanese isn’t all that good so I simply take a little longer to understand everything. But that’s something you can easily do in Japan. Even though you’d be in the way rather quickly in stores like these, since they’re pretty stuffed with book closets. The amazing atmosphere of looking around while taking your time reminds mea bit of the time when I used to go to the library on a regular basis to get books. I was looking for a specific subject and looked through multiple books to eventually take a few home with me.
During my trips in Shibuya I walked by the TSUTAYA several times already. I was curious to the contents of the shop; I already saw this store sells music, but also manga. So when I finally had the time to walk in I was confronted with beautiful displays promoting several Japanese and western artists. I wanted to see the whole store so I started with the manga first.
Once at the department I turned around to be confronted with the covers of the manga Super Lovers. The anime had just finished at that time, so apparently, that was enough reason for the store to promote the manga.
Speaking of that; in the several ALTA shops in Tokyo, you can also find shops that sell BL (merchandise). Even though it’s more mixed with other manga and anime merchandise and it might take some effort to find. Right now I was more looking for merchandise from Owari no Seraph, but I ended up in a corner which contained Ten Count merchandise. Or I’m walking around on the fifth floor of the ALTA in Shinjuku and see a Premium Shop from the anime Super Lovers has been opened, with a small exhibition and of course merchandise sales. I don’t really have to look; BL finds me. Apparently.
In Ikebukuro I specifically walked into the Mandarake, which is located just a little further than the Brand-X music store. Here they stated clearly at the entrance that you could find BL inside. But I obviously came for ARASHI and all those other boy bands! You are instantly welcomed by the merchandise of the bands ,while the BL manga, doujinshi and merchandise were at the back. It still looks a little like it’s being tucked away. You can look around and take your time, nobody that looks at you with a raised eyebrow because you’re looking at a certain genre.
Looking at manga is fun, but finding certain names is a bit harder. If you look around with the alphabet in your head at various stores, you’ll come out confused and without any purchases. Some bookstores group their wares on the publisher, others group it in the Japanese alphabetical order. This is known as the gojū-on, 50 characters in kana (hiragana or katakana) which correspond with one sound in the Japanese language. If you are not on to that, you’ll be there a little longer. I personally like to search through the wares myself, so for me that’s no problem.
Enough to see and for sale, I can imagine that manga lovers have quite a list of what they want to buy, considering the prices of manga are pretty low. But some Japanese buy manga to read it once and then throw it away. While I cherish my manga in my beautiful book closet which you can constantly see in the YouTube videos. Overall I had to contain myself with buying manga. I did buy a few, but since my Japanese has a lot to be desired I left it at a few only. It should be a motivation to learn Japanese but starting…!
Those few weeks in Japan don’t make me an expert, but the few times that I accidentally or purposely walked into the BL department of a store I couldn’t help but notice several age categories of people who were looking for their next purchase. Most of them seemed to be taking their time to look through all the booklets calmly to eventually take the right one to the checkout register. There seems to be no shame. I was convinced that the shame would exist, especially because for example ‘otaku’ is more of an insult than a sweet nickname – while in the west that same word is used as a name to be proud of. So then that should be the same with the diverse genres and especially with subjects like sex.
Now I have to say; I walked into the Mandarake in Akihabara. Super cool store with all those floors, but I accidentally walked into the hentai department. You notice soon enough, by the way, thanks to all the covers that don’t hide much. But luckily nobody raises a brow at all those visitors. That makes it easier! And I’m a very curious person by nature, so I just walk into a store and see what I’ll find. Maybe I’ll walk into something that I would never walk into otherwise! That would be a shame, wouldn’t it?