“It was our destiny”: Japan’s ‘most beautiful bookstore’ lands in Malaysia

languages, while an in-house cafe offers signature desserts.

Other inspiring features of the store include the impressive Big Books collection of limited edition, luxury collectible coffee table books and the Art Gallery Wall, showcasing the work of different local and international artists. 

According to Hideyuki Uemoto, CEO of Tsutaya Books Malaysia, this is just the first stop of the business’ regional-driven expansion plan.

“Malaysia was selected because of the country’s projected growth and the population’s strong interest in lifestyle and culture, and our expansion plans at present are focused on the APAC region,” Uemoto told Inside Retail. “Apart from Malaysia, we would like to open outlets in the APAC region in the near future. This growth and expansion is the main task that I am spearheading.”

Malaysia has the third largest per capita GDP in the ASEAN region, with growth projected at 5.5 per cent to 6.5 per cent in 2022, according to the Ministry of Finance in Malaysia. 

Uemoto elaborated that the business has already received offers from potential partners in several countries within the region and the plan is to build relationships with them and bring the brand to those markets soon.

Coincidentally, the launch of the outlet in Bukit Jalil happened on the same year as the 40th anniversary of the Malaysian government’s “Look East Policy” and the 65th anniversary of Malaysian-Japanese bilateral relations. 

“Our initial opening plans were delayed due to the pandemic, but the timing has worked out well – in a sense, I hope for our brand to be a bridge between Malaysian and Japanese culture and communities; it was our destiny,” said Uemoto.

A holistic vision

The new Tsutaya store has embraced a digital-first approach with a mobile app for Malaysian consumers on both the iOs and Android platforms. Customers can earn and redeem points, be informed about the latest news and get by-invite- only notifications for private events.

“Our vision for the guest experience is a holistic one – one can browse our culinary arts section for cooking books to premium Japanese chef’s knives or even artisanal handmade products from Japan,” explained Uemoto.

Uemoto noted that Japanese culture, traditional and modern, is of growing interest to the Malaysian population. 

The outlet in Bukit Jalil aims to capitalise on this trend by being a destination for Japanese lifestyle trends and it is hoped that it becomes an immersive experience for its clientele.

One interesting facet of the store is that its entire collection of books are not segregated by language but curated by lifestyle interests. 

Uemoto explains that this decision was a deliberate one to take advantage of Malaysia’s melting pot of cultures.

“We carry book titles in English, Japanese, Bahasa Melayu, Simplified and Traditional Chinese, and we arrange our books according to lifestyle interests, and within those categories we will have books arranged by languages,” he noted.

This approach encourages guests of different cultural backgrounds who share the same interests to enjoy the bookstore experience together, embracing the multicultural beauty of Malaysian society. 

“I especially find it so wonderful to observe the social interaction this approach enables in the children’s section – there is one area where we display classic fairy tales in multiple languages, and to see toddlers and their parents of different racial backgrounds conversing with one another is truly such a joy,” he said.

“For the Bukit Jalil outlet, young families are a big part of the residential population – which is why we focused on creating an extensive children’s section.”

More than just a shop

Launched 11 years ago, Tsutaya Books is a premium bookstore and lifestyle concept store that was founded by Muneaki Masuda and is owned by Culture Convenience Club. There are 21 stores in Japan and four in China. According to the brand, Tsutaya Books has always been driven by a philosophy to create an environment where guests can “connect and cultivate culture’. Positioned as more than just a mere shop, it was designed to offer a lifestyle experience. 

Uemoto said that in Japan, every Tsutaya outlet has an experience that offers something unique to guests living in each area.

“For example, in Roppongi, our store features a cocktail bar as a component of the modern lounge, with seasonal drinks inspired by books and authors. The Lounge was designed for casual business meetings and as a hangout spot in the evenings,” he described.

The more mass market offering, Tsutaya Bookstore, sells books, music, DVDs and games in more than 1400 outlets, making it Japan’s largest bookstore chain, according to the business.

According to Uemoto, the difference between Tsutaya stores and regular bookstores is that the brand consciously designs their spaces from the customer’s point of view.

“For example, our two stores in Hokkaido have in-built fireplaces as the focal point in the café lounge – as it’s so cold there, and we want our guests to feel comfortable, warm and welcomed, like they do at home.”

These outlets are deliberately designed for patrons to discover new lifestyle pursuits, read a book over coffee and meet like-minded acquaintances through various community events and shared interests. 

“It’s becoming a ‘third place’ for people to escape home and work, to rediscover themselves,” he said.

Connection and community

Uemoto is a firm believer in physical in-store experiences, as it conveys a sense of discovery that is hard to replicate with online shopping.

“The element of surprise – browsing shelves and unearthing a book that you perhaps didn’t know existed but when you see it, it speaks to you,” he said.

In Malaysia, he noted that excursions to shopping malls is a family pastime, and it’s not uncommon to see multi-generational consumers from the same family visiting the store.

“The energy of the human experience is special – and it can only be cultivated in a physical space, as they bond over reading, discovering and enjoying each other’s company in our cafe,” he concluded.

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