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Nothing new to read: Municipalities lack stores stocking new books

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Jan. 11, 2015

About one-fifth of municipalities in Japan, or 332 municipalities, lack local bookstores that sell newly printed books, show statistics from a publisher.

The data was put together by Tokyo-based "Arumedia" publishing company, which publishes a database of bookstores in the country, based on the number of shops that get new books from suppliers. Comprising the 332 were towns and villages, and also four cities: Utashinai, Hokkaido; Tsukubamirai, Ibaraki Prefecture; Kushima, Miyazaki Prefecture and Tarumizu, Kagoshima Prefecture.

Apart from Tsukubamirai, the cities are all expected to see rapid population declines and potentially disappear due to the number of women of child-bearing age falling to around half of current levels by 2040, according to a survey. The Japan Policy Council last year calculated that 896 municipalities in the country are expected to see drastic declines in their populations. Out of the 332 municipalities without local bookstores selling new books, over 70 percent overlap with those marked as potentially disappearing. By prefecture, the greatest number of the 332 municipalities is in Hokkaido at 47, followed by Nagano Prefecture with 35 and Fukushima Prefecture with 22.

The total number of bookstores nationwide as of the end of November 2014 was 13,736, the lowest number since Arumedia began keeping such statistics in 2000. In 2000 there were 21,654, meaning a 37 percent drop from then until 2014. In recent years the number is falling by about 300 a year, or almost one bookstore a day.

In addition to fewer customers, the expansion of book-selling convenience stores and Internet sales are thought to be contributing to the fall in bookstores. A representative for Arumedia says, "Another big reason is that magazines, a big part of small bookstores sales, are no longer selling well."

Meanwhile, although the total number of bookstores is falling, the number of large-scale bookstores appears to be growing. As of May last year the average selling area floor space was 363 square meters per store, and it totaled 4.65 million square meters around the country, in numbers that continue to grow.

Author and vice-chairman of the Characters Culture Promotion Organization Takashi Atoda says, "If the number of bookstores falls, so will children's opportunities to touch paper books, and young people will continue to drift away from books. Bookstores are a form of support for the literary culture of an area, and their disappearance will weaken local culture."

In Urakawa, Hokkaido, 30-year-old Takuya Muto has worked to bring paper books back to the area. He manages the bookstore Rokujo Shobo, which opened in November last year and stocks around 800 new books. It marked the return of a local bookstore to the town after its last one closed in 2012. Muto is also a member of a group entrusted by the municipal government to help stimulate the local economy.

"I wanted to create a place where children can have fun choosing books," Muto says. The store is open every Tuesday and enjoys the patronage of parents and their children, selling some 80 books on busy days.

The store operates in rented space in a renovated old home, and Muto did not have to pay anything to move the store in there. He collected funds through word of mouth from around 80 people, mostly locals wanting to see the return of a local bookstore. For 5,000 yen, a supporter gets to request a book for Muto to stock and also gets to put up an advertisement in the shop.

The closest other bookstore that sells new books is in the neighboring town of Shinhidaka, and it takes about an hour to reach there by car. A 31-year-old woman who bought a cookbook at Rokujo Shobo said, "I get tired from choosing at big bookstores because there are so many books. This place is just the right size for me."