Survey: 26% of municipalities have no bookstores

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Bookstores are seen on the street in Tokyo.

Of the 1,741 municipalities in Japan, 456, or 26.2%, have no bookstore at all, according to a survey by the Japan Publishing Industry Foundation for Culture (JPIC).

When one includes municipalities that only have one bookstore, the number rises to 790, or more than 40% of all municipalities. With book sales continuing to fare poorly, bookstores have been disappearing from streets across the country, a serious situation that could rob people of places to interact with books.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The survey was conducted by gathering September data from the Tokyo-based Japan Publishing Organization for Information Infrastructure Development (JPO), which comprises publishers, publication wholesalers and bookstore industry associations.

Rural areas in particular stood out for their lack of bookstores, with 56.1% of municipalities having no bookstores in Okinawa Prefecture, 51.9% in Nagano Prefecture and 51.3% in Nara Prefecture. In Hokkaido, 70.9% of municipalities have one or no bookstores.

A number of bookstores have closed down in recent years due to sluggish sales of physical books and magazines and the rise of online bookstores, among other reasons. According to the JPO, there were 16,722 bookstores across the nation in 2011, including those specializing in textbooks and providing other services to schools, government agencies and companies, while the number declined nearly 30% to 11,952 in 2021. The number of small- and medium-size bookstores appears to have suffered a particularly steep decline.

“Most bookstores will disappear in the next 10 years if the current situation continues,” said Toshitaka Kondo, chairman of JPIC. “In other countries, central governments take measures to protect bookstores from the perspective of cultural protection. In order to make that common in Japan as well, we must get the public to support such measures.”

To address the situation, a parliamentary group working to revitalize brick-and-mortar bookstores and protect Japanese culture, which counts some 150 lawmakers from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party among its ranks, held a general meeting on Nov. 8 and compiled an interim report on the protection of bookstores.

The report proposes improvements to logistics such as reducing purchase returns and stock shortages, and launching a government-subsidized model project to distribute books with IC tags attached, which is expected to help prevent shoplifting. The report also calls for restricting effective discounts, such as free shipping services by online bookstores, and creating rules for public libraries about excessive purchases of the same book and the timing of when new books are lent out. The final report will be compiled in the spring of 2023.