Encourage children to encounter good books that feed their souls

A passage from a book can stay in your mind for a long time and support your life. It is vital to carefully protect places and environments in which people can pick up a book so that opportunities to encounter a good book are not lost.

The 14-day Book Week kicked off on Oct. 27, which is Characters and Print Culture Day. This year, “autumn reading promotion month,” a 28-day campaign widely participated in by publishers, bookstores and others, also started on the day. The campaign includes events about reading books and stamp rallies at bookstores.

Behind these efforts is a publishing slump and a decline in the number of bookstores in towns. The spread of the internet has led to more and more people turning away from magazines, and paperback sales continue to be sluggish.

The estimated combined sales of print and electronic publications in 2021 were about ¥1.67 trillion, less than two-thirds of the 1996 peak for the sales of print publications. The number of bookstores nationwide also fell below 12,000.

It is hoped that the monthly campaign for reading books will be an opportunity for many people to become familiar with books.

Bookstores have the function of disseminating information as well. Many bookstores have set up a section of books related to news such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. These days, hotels and coffee shops where people can read books as much as they like are also gaining popularity.

The novel coronavirus pandemic has made the online world part of our lives, but it is all the more important at a time like this to reaffirm the advantages of the “real” world in which people can actually hold a book in their hands.

The power of word of mouth also cannot be underestimated. According to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey, 60% of respondents have received a book recommendation from someone close to them. Some who recommended a book said that it caused them to talk to the other person more often.

Books that were introduced on the video-sharing app TikTok have also become popular among young people.

The power to connect people is one of the unique attractions of books.

As children get older, they tend to spend more time on their smartphones and less time reading books. It is hoped that schools will work on “morning reading” before the start of classes and improving their libraries to help students develop reading habits.

The central government allocates funds to local governments for the purchase of books at schools, but because the usage of these grants is unspecified, they are often used for other purposes. The average number of books purchased with the funds is also decreasing.

The city of Arida, Wakayama Prefecture, has added “purchasing books for children” to its list of uses for the furusato nozei donation system under which taxpayers donate money to municipalities where they do not reside and almost the same amount is deducted from their resident and income taxes. The city said it collected ¥300 million in donations under the system last fiscal year.

The experience of diving into the world of books and sharing joy, anger, sorrow and pleasure with the characters enriches the mind. Hopefully, those related to local governments will understand that creating an environment in which children can access books is an investment in the future.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 27, 2022)