Autumn book month planned to boost Japan publishing industry

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Book Hotel Jimbocho in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, offers a wide range of reading materials for guests to enjoy.

A monthlong book event will be held nationwide this autumn to promote books and reading to the public.

Tentatively named Autumn Reading Promotion Month, the event will feature extensive involvement by publishers, bookstores and distributors. Organizers hope, among other benefits, that it will motivate children to continue to read after their summer vacation.

Celebrity ‘book ambassadors’

Various book-related events have been held every autumn under the Autumn for Reading slogan, based on the traditional belief that autumn is the best season for reading. One of the best-known is Book Week, which began in 1947 and is held for two weeks from Oct. 27 every year. Another is Book Day on Nov. 1, which promotes bookstores.

The upcoming monthlong event will be held for 28 days from Oct. 27 to Nov. 23 and will run in conjunction with established annual activities.

The event will feature book-loving celebrities as “book ambassadors.” In an effort to involve every sector of the book industry, it will also feature writers serving as bookstore managers for a day; book cover design competitions; and other events conceived and organized by individual bookstores.

“Japanese language education in today’s high schools focuses on having students organize and present their opinions. Developing their reading comprehension tends to be neglected,” said a 43-year-old high school teacher in Tokyo. He believes that the ability to write and speak is based on the ability to read, and encourages his students to read novels and essays during their summer vacation.

“I welcome the increase in opportunities to read books in the fall,” he said.

Sales down

The new initiative was prompted by a slump in the publishing industry and a decline in the number of community-based bookstores.

According to the Research Institute for Publications, combined sales of paper and electronic publications in 2021 were an estimated ¥1.7 trillion. This is less than two-thirds the sales for paper publications in the peak year of 1996.

Sales of paper publications for the first half of 2022, announced on July 25, totaled ¥596.1 billion, a decrease of 7.5% from the same period last year. This was largely because there was no big manga hit like “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba,” which had sold well for the past several years.

In contrast, sales of electronic publications totaled ¥237.3 billion, up 8.5% from the same period last year.

Meishodo, a book seller founded in 1912 in Tokyo’s Ueno area that operated chain stores mainly in Tokyo and had locations as far as Fukushima, closed its last brick-and-mortar store in May.

“The system surrounding books has become so severe, and the pandemic piled one misfortune on top of the other,” said Mieshodo’s senior managing director.

Community-based bookstores are also under threat from Amazon and other online bookstores.

Unique takes

The soothing, intellectual ambience of a room full of books has been rediscovered in recent years, resulting in many new kinds of bookstores.

Book Hotel Jimbocho opened in December last year in Tokyo’s Jimbocho district, popularly known as “book town” for its many book shops. The hotel has about 900 books, including novels and comics, in its front desk area and guest rooms.

The hotel touts itself as “a hotel to enjoy book town to the fullest,” but suffered from a lack of guests after it opened due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Recently, however, there have been days when all 32 rooms are booked.

There are 12 floors, each with a different theme, such as “Remember the days of your youth” on the second floor and “All-night mystery!” on the ninth. Nearly 30% of the hotel’s guests are repeat customers.

Bunkitsu, a bookstore in the Roppongi district of Minato Ward, charges an admission fee. On weekdays, for example, it costs ¥1,650 to go in.

Once inside, customers are encouraged to take their time choosing from among the 30,000 books on display, and to read their selections over a cup of coffee or green tea. The bookstore also holds special exhibitions and book-related events.