Autumn Reading Promotion Month: Bookstores Offer Joy of Encountering Memorable Books

In an age when books can be casually purchased on the internet, bookstores offer the joy of encountering unexpectedly excellent works. It is necessary to put an end to the decline in the number of local community bookstores that help support print culture.

Oct. 27 marks the start of “autumn reading promotion month.” The publishing industry is in the midst of an ongoing slump regarding sales of printed books and magazines, amid the spread of smartphones, among other factors.

On the back of a recent rise in paper and transportation costs, the average price of new books in 2022 increased 2.2% from the previous year to ¥1,268. There are concerns that increased prices will cause people to hold off on purchasing print publications, further accelerating the shift away from print media.

A recent Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry survey asked people born in 2001 about how many printed books they read in a month — more than 60% of respondents replied “none.”

Books can transport us to unknown worlds, impart knowledge and wisdom and enrich our lives. Conversely, the information served up by our smartphones alone is insufficient to fully cultivate sentiments necessary for social life.

Research has shown that book-loving elementary and junior high school students achieve better grades. In an increasingly time-constrained society, it is essential to preserve an environment in which people can pick up books from an early age and become familiar with the printed word in a relaxed manner.

Local bookstores are one such place that allow people to casually drop by and select from a wide range of printed offerings. However, the number of bookstores in Japan has almost halved in the past 20 years to just over 11,000. The number of municipalities without a single bookstore is said to be as high as 26% of all municipalities nationwide.

In a survey carried out by The Yomiuri Shimbun, 61% of respondents said the current situation of having no bookstores in a town needs to be improved. The public and private sectors need to consider steps to protect these outlets.

Specialty bookstores are becoming increasingly popular, such as those stocked with unique books chosen by the owners themselves, and others that incorporate spaces for cafes and sales of miscellaneous goods.

With an eye on stemming the shuttering of book outlets, a major book distributor has opened an outlet at a central Tokyo station where customers can enter and pay for their purchases using a smartphone. As the shop has no workers, it can stay open for longer, the distributor said.

It is hoped that bookstores will devise ways to meet readers’ wide-ranging needs.

The reading environment for people with disabilities attracted attention when Sao Ichikawa’s “Hanchibakku” (Hunchback) won the Akutagawa literary award. Ichikawa suffers from congenital myopathy, an intractable disease.

The Reading Barrier-Free Law, which came into effect four years ago, encourages the central and local governments to expand and improve relevant services such as reading aloud, but it is difficult to say that current circumstances make it easy for people with disabilities to enjoy such benefits.

Some people would like to read books but are unable to do so. The central and local governments must expeditiously establish an environment in which everyone can benefit from print culture.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 27, 2023)