The inside of Book Off

“This isn’t a library! Why don’t you just Book Off!”

The literacy rate in Japan amongst those over the age of 15 is, according to their most recent census, 99%. For a country with such a high ability to read, it’s no surprise that reading remains a popular pastime. And, of course, from short stories to novels to manga, you’ve a wide selection.

As I mentioned in my article about wasting time in the cities, bookshops remain a popular haunt and reading amongst the shelves is tolerated, if not encouraged. Most bookshops will be a bit stricter about you reading certain things – manga tend to be cellophane wrapped to prevent them from being opened before purchase – but most books are fair game to anyone with an interest.

The type of book you’re most likely to see is the Tankōbon – a catch-all term for a book that can stand alone as opposed to being a part of a series. Any bookshop worth its salt will have a very sizeable number of them. Of course, within this term, there are a number of different types, and everything from sappy romance to hard sci-fi, as well as big name Japanese authors like Ryunosuke Akutagawa and Haruki Murakami, but most will be small volumes of around A6 size, which are often thin enough to stuff into a pocket without risking too much wear-and-tear.

A bookshop, when it sells you a book will almost always put a paper cover over the book to protect it whilst you get it home. Of course, given the habits of the average Japanese person, the books can still be opened and read with the cover on – many Japanese have very long commutes by train for work and the like, and a very high number read on the train, and even whilst walking – miraculously, I’ve seen no pedestrian collisions yet. Even so, there’s a certain mystery to seeing somebody’s nose buried in a book whose title you don’t know, and whose cover you can’t even see.

There’s another bonus to the covers as well – advertising for the shop that sold the book. The covers all have the name of the shop printed on them, usually in large, friendly letters, as well as phone numbers and branch locations. It’s almost cheeky of them to use the habits of the people to their advantage like this, but you can’t deny that there’s a certain level of brilliance to it if this was indeed the original intention.
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