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New giant bookstore in east Japan hopes to offer 'treasure hunt' with 500,000 volumes

Branch manager Takemi Tamamura gives a tour of the Coach & Four bookstore's Tsukuba branch in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, on Oct. 17, 2022. (Mainichi/Mayumi Nobuta)

TSUKUBA, Ibaraki -- One of Japan's largest bookstores, boasting a collection of some 500,000 volumes, recently opened here, bucking the trend of bookshops vanishing from across the country as buying books now is as easy as just a click online for many consumers.

    When a Mainichi Shimbun reporter visited the Coach & Four bookstore's Tsukuba branch in Ibaraki Prefecture on Oct. 17, three days before its opening, employees were busy displaying books. Many of the items are placed to show their covers, not their spines, so that customers can easily see the titles. With a parking lot on the first floor and a 6,600-square-meter sales area on the second floor, the store adopts a unique presentation method that could only be achieved in a large suburban outlet with ample use of land.

    The bookstore is operated by Reliable Co. based in Kushiro, Hokkaido. Takashi Kondo, head of the operator's Kanto region branch office said, "We want people to make discoveries, like a treasure hunt."

    The name Coach & Four represents four categories: books, stationery, music/video and cafes. Spread out over half of the sales floor, the store's 500,000 books surpass the 300,000 available at the municipal Tsukuba Public Library. Other items include 60,000 CDs and DVDs and 100,000 stationery goods. The Doutor Coffee Shop in the store is also one of the largest branches in the country, and Kondo proudly said, "All four elements are among the largest in Japan." There is also a section selling food products from Hokkaido.

    Starting with the opening of its first branch in 1997 in the Hokkaido capital city Sapporo, Coach & Four opened five more stores in the Japan's northernmost prefecture by 2011, and in 2014 it opened its first outside-Hokkaido shop in the suburban Tokyo city of Inagi. The company chose Tsukuba for its second store in the Kanto region because there was a large available plot of land there and the population was growing.

    Coach & Four's Tsukuba branch which opened on Oct. 20 is seen in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, on Oct. 17, 2022. (Mainichi/Mayumi Nobuta)

    Coach & Four's strength is its tremendous number of products and large stock, taking advantage of suburban locations. For newly published books, the store orders even titles by non-famous authors, except for technical books, and places them in the new book section near the cash registers.

    The large number of products attracts a diverse range of customers, and the company has been able to keep the retailer-to-publisher return rate low -- the rate averages 30 to 40% in the industry in Japan. This has been highly appreciated by publishers, creating a positive cycle that enables the stores to easily stock hot-selling products such as the "Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba" manga series. "Sales are on the rise even amid a publishing slump," said Kondo.

    The Tsukuba branch manager, Takemi Tamamura, told the Mainichi Shimbun, "We live in an age where you can easily get the books you want with your smartphone, but we want to create a place where you can make a variety of discoveries from this large selection of items."

    (Japanese original by Mayumi Nobuta, Tsukuba Local Bureau)

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