Temple Japan

The Prevalence of Books in Japan

 A large force in Japanese mass media that is worth mentioning is, surprisingly, printed material. In a country associated with convenience and technological advances, it may be hard to imagine that the digital reading devices popular in the US are nowhere to be found in Tokyo. Books, magazines and printed newspapers appear as abundantly as ever. Bookstores small and large can be found nearly anywhere, sometimes even in train stations. Even convenience stores carry books. With the average commute to work being 1-2 hours per way for many, its not surprising that cheap printed reading material has remained a dominant force in Tokyo.

A typical scene at any given convenience store, on any given evening

On any given train, you can easily determine what day of the week it is by which magazine riders are reading. Weekly Shonen Jump is released Monday, Shonen Magazine and Shonen Sunday release Wednesday, and Shonen Champion and Young Jump hit newsstands Thursday, to name a few of the more popular publications. Each phonebook-sized magazine packs roughly 250-500 pages, with monthly publications often reaching as many as 800 or more pages. Biweekly and seasonal magazines exist too, making it difficult to keep track of all the different material being regularly circulated. 

A wide variety of magazines can be found at convenience stores, at newsstands and in bookstore

Newspapers remain big in Japan too. Sports are so popular that they receive their own papers, with a large variety of sports newspapers for different areas within Japan.

A popular bookstore in Shinjuku, and possibly the largest book retailer I have ever seen, is the massive nine-floor Kinokuniya. Each level carries different categories of books, with one level for foreign material.

Another big service in Japan thats remains relatively small in the US is the secondhand book market. Book-Off, a massive retailer found in most areas of Tokyo, sells cheap preowned books, many of which cost just 100 yen (around $1.00). Visit a Book-off on any given day and right at the front counter will be stacks of unsorted books bought from customers. While I wouldn’t expect to receive much more than a few cents per book, recent publications can be sold for a little extra, as indicated on flyers I often see stuffed in my bag as I leave. This speaks volumes of readership in Japan, where consumers buy lots of books, read them quickly, and then get rid of them in order to buy more books. Many Book-Off’s also carry used video games, CDs and DVDs. Smaller, local secondhand bookstores are fairly common in Japan as well. 

A large Book-Off Super Bazaar that also sells used clothing, in addition to books

More books also means that the average person has a lot more paper waste, as evident by the enormous amount of recyclable paper found outside many neighborhood homes. Sorting trash in Japan is a huge deal, and reading material generally falls into one burnable category. Newspapers, magazines and old books stacked and tied up neatly on the curb is a typical sight in residential neighborhoods. Periodicals are often discarded en masse, with eight-or-so week’s worth of magazines commonly found tied up on the sidewalk.

An entire year’s worth of Weekly Shonen Jump out for the trash

If you find yourself purchasing books or printed material in Japan, be careful- shipping them home can be expensive!


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