JULY 9 — Have you ever visited a place that both met your expectations and disappointed you at the same time? That was the new Tsutaya outlet at Bukit Jalil for me.

I had been stalking the store’s social media accounts for months and then all the previews from influencers who got first dibs to visit the store.

Thus I knew what to expect — that there would be a lot to see, but the selection was not quite as extensive as KLCC’s Kinokuniya.

There were also various things in Tsutaya’s outlets in Japan that would not be available here, such as DVDs or Blu-Rays.

Malaysia has strict rules when it comes to bringing in merchandise such as DVDs so it is likely Tsutaya decided it was not worth the hassle and focused on items that would receive less scrutiny.

I arrived early Friday morning to see there was already a queue forming outside the book store.

With no seating nearby and no stores open for breakfast, I reluctantly got in line.

Besides, I had been hoping to try the food and drinks at the in-store café as the matcha was apparently from Kyoto and they also served fresh doriyaki, that fluffy pancake-like snack much beloved by the cartoon character Doraemon.

As soon as the shutters rose, I shuffled in behind the others and quickly made my way to grab breakfast.

Tsutaya’s cafe is interesting as it’s merged so well with the book store that you could easily mistake its counter as the cashier for book purchases.

As for the food, the matcha latte was pleasant though I wouldn’t call it memorable and while I enjoyed the mini doriyaki sandwich, and was delighted to find a whole chestnut inside, the lemon loaf was on the dry side.

Still it was a pleasant though slightly expensive breakfast and I was cheered enough to start exploring the store itself.

The little 'hobbit holes' of the children's section make for adorable seats and pictures. — Pictures by Erna Mahyuni
The little 'hobbit holes' of the children's section make for adorable seats and pictures. — Pictures by Erna Mahyuni

Navigating the maze

Here’s a pro-tip: Tsutaya is rather expansive so if you’re focused on books or activities for children, whether very young or slightly older, go left.

You will find shelves in front of you filled with mostly books for slightly older children as well as another exit that leads into a Japanese skincare outlet.

More shelves will appear with child-friendly titles and you will soon see the much touted special alcove for children, with warm yellow lighting and cheery green carpeting.

I find the little recessed circles in the walls adorable and they remind me of the Hobbit holes in the Lord of the Rings, and of course they make convenient seating for the little ones.

What bothers me a little is that part of the section is raised to create a small platform and there is a slight drop that is a little high to go up, while also being a hazard.

If I, a grownup, could easily fall over that drop and hurt myself, what more a small child.

The child selection is fairly expansive but the curators seem to be a little confused as to what constitutes children’s reading as I saw a book dedicated to stills from Pixar movies displayed.

What I know is that the book isn’t meant for kids but for Pixar film enthusiasts and the same goes for another Marvel almanac I saw that should more rightfully be in the graphics novel section.

I would still recommend the section for parents as it is perhaps the largest children’s section in a book store that I’ve seen here, little niggles aside.

You are greeted at the entrance by a row of adorable daruma dolls.
You are greeted at the entrance by a row of adorable daruma dolls.

Almost a museum

If you decide not to turn left, looking straight ahead right in front of the entrance there is a nice display of decorative items including a whole tray of daruma dolls.

The daruma doll is a good luck charm of sorts and besides the traditional little doll modelled after Bodhidharma, the founder of the Zen tradition of Buddhism, there are also little lucky cats and a tiny mountain.

These little charms have a little tassel from where you can pull a slip containing a tiny fortune inside.

All over Tsutaya you will see various other displays that showcase items from Japan including origami-styled handbags, totes and glassware.

Some of the items are, according to their labels, exclusive to the Bukit Jalil Tsutaya.

I spent my first hour just stopping and looking at various displays as the books were definitely not going anywhere.

They were the best part of Tsutaya for me as it elevated what would be just a “trip to the book store” to a more interesting outing.

For a book store, Tsutaya has a lot of greenery.
For a book store, Tsutaya has a lot of greenery.

The books, perchance

When I had enough of admiring golden bears and cups with cat-shaped handles, I decided to look at the books.

Unlike other book stores that divide sections by languages, Tsutaya instead spreads the books out by subject but with various languages together.

It was a little jarring at first to see Malay, Chinese, English and Japanese books dispersed all over the store but perhaps it is not such a bad thing.

However locating a specific book was challenging as there was no app or directory to search.

I decided on what I thought was an easy mark: to find books by one of Japan’s most popular literary figures, Osamu Dazai.

My own search proved fruitless, so I asked for assistance from one of the staff. His answer was befuddling.

“You know the literature section? With the author tags? If you don’t see the name, we don’t have it.” Tsutaya, the biggest Japanese book store chain, apparently does not stock Dazai’s books in Bukit Jalil and yet if I tripped over my feet in the store I would probably hit a Murakami.

I pulled up Kinokuniya’s website on my phone and searched for the title and yes, the store had multiple editions and also yes, they were in stock. Sadly astral projection is not a thing yet.

As for Malay books, I was also perturbed there were no actual titles in the literature section I would call literature. Where were the works of Usman Awang, A. Samad Said and the other noted literati? Instead there were various nonfiction titles that were so far from literature I wonder if they fell off a truck.

The languages section was also a bit inadequate for me, personally. While there were plenty of books on learning Japanese and even Chinese books about learning Japanese, there were few other language learning books.

It seemed like the books they had for Chinese, for instance, were limited to basic beginner levels and only Mandarin.

There was, weirdly, a textbook for Aramaic so perhaps Tsutaya’s selection is curated in a way I cannot comprehend yet.

Work on the welcome

In the centre of the store there is a little nook that displays various fountain pens. While there are expensive, supposedly exclusive to the outlet, pens (my local fountain pen supply store might disagree) I was charmed by the rose gold Lamy I saw in a corner.

While I was looking at it and wondering if I should ask if they sold spare nibs, an overenthusiastic salesperson suggested that perhaps I could look at “pens I could use every day instead.” She obviously thought the RM213 pen was out of my price range.

It is unfortunately a facet of Malaysian service that salespeople will judge your disposable income by your clothing.

Must I resort to carrying (fake) designer handbags to the book store now? Perhaps not, else instead salespeople will insist I need not one but two fountain pens.

Despite the imperfect experience, I think Tsutaya is well worth a visit.

It’s like a piece of Japan has found its way to a book store and I find it a lot more interesting than, say, Isetan Japan Store.

Bring your childlike wonder to Tsutaya and perhaps you too could have a magical morning, condescending salespeople aside.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.