Japan Bookstores to Get Support from New Ministry Team; Officials to Meet With Private Sector to Devise Measures

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry building in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.

A team to promote local bookstores was established Tuesday at the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry amid the continuing decline in bookstores across Japan.

The ministry intends to provide extensive support, based on its view of bookstores as important bases that promote regional culture through the sale of books and magazines. The team is directly under the industry minister and will consider ways to support initiatives by bookstores, such as reading events and operating combined gallery-cafes.

The team will have an office in the Media and Content Industry Division, which deals with movies, music, literature and other content industries, the ministry said. Other departments, including one in charge of promoting cashless payments and another that supports small and midsize companies, will also participate, so as to promote wide-ranging discussions.

A hearing between ministry officials and people from bookstores and publishers is planned, in a bid to understand what is needed to improve the inefficient distribution of publications and promote the use of digital technology in store operations, among other challenges.

The panel will also examine examples of effective initiatives by bookstores, to use them as a reference for devising support measures. Past cases have included a bookstore that introduced good books on its website and through social media, and a bookstore chain with cafes and stationery stores that provide attractive reading spaces.

The spread of the internet and online bookstores has caused a slump in demand for paper publications, forcing conventional bookstores to face continuous difficulties. According to the Japan Publishing Organization for Information Infrastructure Development, the number of bookstores nationwide decreased from 15,602 in 2013 to 11,495 in 2022.

About a quarter of municipalities nationwide do not have a single bookstore in their area, according to a survey by the Japan Publishing Industry Foundation for Culture.

Preserve opportunities for discovery

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Oraido Shoten bookstore in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo, on Sunday

The government is deeply concerned that many people are losing the opportunity to encounter new books in a real space as the number of bookstores decreases. As more and more municipalities are completely without bookstores, regional cultural disparities are also emerging.

Economic globalization is continuing, and the industry ministry is aiming to promote the content industry, including movies and music.

“As the economy matures, we need to add new cultural value to our services and products in order for them to succeed overseas,” a ministry official said.

To that end, it is essential that many people come into contact with print media and books, which are the foundation of culture. Without such an environment, new and attractive ideas will not emerge.

In South Korea, small and midsize bookstores are booming because the government-affiliated Publication Industry Promotion Agency of Korea plays a central role in providing support. The agency is under the jurisdiction of the South Korean ministry of culture, sports, and tourism, which is similar to the Cultural Affairs Agency and the Sports Agency in Japan.

Oraido Shoten, a local bookstore in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo, encourages people to come in by holding talk events and reading sessions.

“When magazines were popular, customers used to regularly visit community bookstores,” said owner Kenji Oiri. “I think the number of customers has dropped to 70 to 80% of the level around the year 2000.”

Bookstores have staff who can select good works and experience organizing reading events. It is hoped that the project team will first compile good examples from various stores and study them in cooperation with the private sector to devise new measures.