Tuesday, July 6, 2010

This is for all my homies in Porter Square.

(Courtesy of Sonny Wong and 40ozmaltliquor.com)

When I first woke to the concept of anime and manga in Japan, it was after I had moved down to Georgia Tech in 1993. I had seen some copies of Ranma 1/2 sold monthly at the local comics shop at the Billerica Mall when I was a high-school senior infatuated with X-Men, but I thought little else of it. Once I got to understand the concepts (and dealt with the idea that comics didn't have to be in color), I warmed up to the culture back home during the summer breaks, only to see that comics store vanish into bankruptcy (along with the rest of the mall).

The next step, after learning to appreciate comics in Atlanta through anime clubs and nearby shops, was to take manga appreciation to the next level--actual Japanese mastery. That meant that I would have to find a way to purchase actual Japanese-text comics. While I didn't know the proper channels in Atlanta, I did find the authorities for Japanese-language tests and manga in Boston at a small bookstore in Porter Square called Sasuga Bookstore.

The store was just off of the Porter Square stop in Cambridge, a few steps away from the major Japanese center in the college town. People could get a bowl of ramen, a bunch of boxes of Pocky at the local Japanese-brand grocery store, and a few tankôbon of Fushigi Yûgi just like that. For culture fans, it was a manga mecca; for students, it was a Valhalla for literature. Most importantly, it became a site that catered to the desire to learn more about the language, as there were bulletin boards for tutoring in both Japanese and English.

However, something happened on the way to niche-market success. Somewhere after its celebration as a decade-old bookstore, the shop closed some time in 2004. The shop pulled its headquarters to Waltham and was open for sales on Saturdays, but soon all business was pressured into moving to a web-only set-up. While it was great to see the store hit dealers' rooms all over the East Coast convention scenes with lines jammed with customers, competition with other online stores and accelerated translations of manga into English likely slowed sales to a crawl.

That left the horrible realization on July 4th: Sasuga Japanese Bookstore wouldn't make it past July 5th. The online website closed for good July 6th.

I feel like I lost quite a bit of opportunity with the store, as all of my business was in Japan from 2000 to 2003. By the time I got back, the store was limping to its end in Cambridge. Once it left, Porter Square didn't seem the same, and stores have been closing slowly since then--Kotobukiya was moved out to Medford and renamed Ebisuya, while the kiosk restaurants have been struggling for business.

So now I realize that my Japanese-language purchases now must come from further outside New England, and trips to the dealers' room will no longer be a joy like it used to be. What I can offer is merely my gratitude for the company through a short anecdote.

I have been a big collector of the Naruto Japanese-language comic books, and I usually went to Sasuga at conventions to appease my thirst. However, I found myself buying a fukubukuro "grab-bag" of mystery manga. I opened it up to find Volumes 5 through 8 of Idejû! ("Ide High School's Judo Club Story").

Since then, I have managed to get the other nine volumes, all thanks to that accidental discovery.

Thank you for everything, Sasuga Bookstore. I pour my 40 of Chû-Hai out for you.


  1. That's really a shame. I bought a few books from them at each of the last 2 Anime Bostons. You still live around there? I live one stop down at Davis Square. Been to that Japanese center just once, to stop at Sapporo Ramen. Any other good places there you'd recommend?

  2. I still recommend Ittyo there for good comfort food. The Kotobukiya store is gone, and with it the sushi shop, as it has undergone a name change. Cafe Mami's still good for wafû hamburgers.