Factbook

A Dynamic Compendium of Interesting Japanese Literary and Publishing Facts
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    Honnomushi is Japanese for bookworm and there are hundreds of thousands of them in Japan[UPDATED: 9-17-2018]

    The Japanese for an avid and devoted reader, honnomushi (本の虫), is similar to the word used in English and many other languages, bookworm. The direct translation of honnomushi is book insect or bug. 

    Bookworm and honnomushi, as well as being the common informal term for bibliophiles, is used in both languages to describe any insect that is thought to bore through books.

    Actual book-borers, unlike avid book buying readers in Japan, are actually uncommon. The Oxford Dictionary defines them as: “the larva of a wood-boring beetle which feeds on the paper and glue in books”. 

    These pesky creatures that librarians have hated for centuries are sometimes referred to as booklouse (Liposcelis divinatorius). There are also some types of moths that are attracted to book bindings. 

    Japan has one of the world’s highest literary rates and the average Japanese person reads for four hours per week – making the country very fertile ground for nurturing metaphorical bookworms. 

    The term honnomushi is used regularly by Japanese bloggers in writing about the books they are reading. And there are many publications depicting book-loving bookworm characters, often girls, such as Bungaku Shojo (Literature Girl), a 16-volume light novel series by Mizuki Nomura about members of a high school literature club that has sold more than a million copies. 

    There are many different terms in Japanese that use the word bug or insect; not just honnomushi. Other interesting examples include: mushinoshirase (message from a bug) meaning foreboding, hunch, a gut feeling; and mushinoiki (breath of a bug) meaning lifeless or barely alive, to list just two. 

    Various theories exist about the origin of these phrases, but experts believe most of them may come from Koshin-Shinko, a type of Japanese folklore based on Taoist-beliefs including the belief that we are all born with three bugs or worms in our stomachs, which require careful management.
    Honnomushi is Japanese for bookworm and there are hundreds of thousands of them in Japan Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Tsundoku a unique Japanese expression for buying books and leaving them to pile up unread[UPDATED: 7-30-2018]

    Tsundoku, is a unique Japanese expression for buying books and magazines and leaving them to pile up unread; something that many book buyers around the world appear to have in common. But unlike Japanese, most languages don’t have a specific phrase or word to describe this.  

    The word is a combination of two characters ‘pile up’ and ‘read’. As it has no similar synonym in English it has been listed as one of ten interesting words for book lovers on Oxford Dictionary’s Blog. 

    According to Professor Andrew Gerstle at the University of London, the term was used as far back as 1879, in the early Meiji Period (1868-1912), or Meiji 12 as it is known in Japan.

    For reference this was the year that the Taisho Emperor (1879-1926) and the author Nagai Kafu (1879-1956) were born and the first Blackwell’s bookshop was opened in Oxford in the United Kingdom. 

    The Japanese word for novel shosetsu written using two characters meaning ‘small’ and ‘talk’ first came into use as a Japanese term for fiction in 1754; following the successful translation and adaptation of Chinese books such as Sui-Hu Chuan (The Water Margin), pronounced Suikoden in Japanese. 

    In the 1880s Shoyo Tsubouchi (1859-1935), a Japanese writer and translator and professor at Waseda University, first proposed that the term shosetsu be adopted as the standard Japanese translation for the English word novel and the French word roman in his paper titled: Shosetsu shinzui (The Essence of the Novel)

    During the 125 years between the word shosetsu entering the Japanese language and the word tsundoku being coined and finding wide use a considerable number of books were written and published in Japan, and in the Meiji Period many books were translated into Japanese from English and other languages for the first time, no doubt, creating some rather impressive reading piles.

    Tsundoku a unique Japanese expression for buying books and leaving them to pile up unread Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Japan’s first national library was set up following a legal decree in 702[UPDATED: 2-28-2018]

    According to historians, the first libraries in Japan were set up by by Shotoku Taishi (574-622) – The Prince of Holy Virtue – a regent and author also known as Prince Umayado (Prince of the Stables). 

    The Horyuji Temple, in Nara, founded in 607, is believed to have been the location of Japan’s first library, which was within the Prince’s ‘study’ at the temple. Subsequently, many temples across Japan started collections of manuscripts and important texts including copies of the Nihon Shoki (The Chronicles of Japan), one of Japan’s first written accounts of the nation’s history.

    Shotoku Taishi is an important historical figure in Japan and still admired today. His image was included on 10,000 yen notes issued until 1986, and he is credited with developing Japan’s first set of laws – a set of 17 rules – which stress the importance of harmony in the community. The rules have been described as an early type of constitution. 

    According to the Encyclopedia of Library History, Japan’s first national library, Zushoryo, was set up about one hundred years later in the 8th century following new legislation issued in 702, Formalising and standardising the trend started by Shotoku Taishi. 

    The library was modelled on a library in China and run by a government ministry. It was Japan’s official national archive and therefore didn’t need to buy books; five copies of every book written or copied in temples were supposed to be lodged there. 

    The library was also responsible for collecting and conserving both Buddhist and Confucian books and was required to compile official histories of Japan. According to historians, it had a staff of 4 papermakers, 10 brushmakers, 4 inkmakers and 20 copyists. It continued this work until the 11th century.
    Japan’s first national library was set up following a legal decree in 702 Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Japanese libraries still major book buyers[UPDATED: 2-12-2018]

    Despite falling budgets as in most countries, Japanese libraries are still major book buyers, but their purchasing now represents less than 2% of publisher sales. Nevertheless, libraries have been cleverly expanding their lending schemes using the Internet to highlight book availability and increase book borrowing rates.

    They have been criticized by authors and publishers for being too focused on bestselling and high profile titles and not collection management.

    Japanese public libraries are visited around 300 million times each year and 715 million books are lent out. The lending ratio is 5.8 books per visitor which compares to 5.7 books bought per annum by book buyers in Japan.

    The first public library in Japan was founded in 1872 and the Japan Library Association was established in 1892. Every Japanese city with a population of more than 50,000 has a public library.

    Currently, there are more than 3,000 public libraries across Japan, just over 20% the number of Japanese bookstores.
    Japanese libraries still major book buyers Posted by Koji Chikatani
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    Japan’s public libraries have the highest lending rates of public libraries within the G7[UPDATED: 1-24-2018]

    The number of public libraries in Japan is on the low side when compared to other G7 nations, the informal group of industrialized democracies (the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom) that meets annually to discuss issues such as economics, good governance, international security, and energy policy. However, Japan’s public libraries have the highest lending rates per service point of public libraries within the G7.

    Since the 1960s, Japan’s public libraries have focused on and generally had their performance measured on the number of books borrowed; something that has been prioritized above other Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). The libraries have focused on ‘demand’ something that had not been a priority up to that point.

    Critics including writers, authors and publishers argue that this has led to poor and unbalanced collection management and had a detrimental impact on book sales. The latest figures available at pixel time indicate that the lending ratio is 5.8 books lent per person compared to 5.7 books bought per book buyer per annum. This, they argue, is now being amplified by Japan’s aging population, who have more time to visit libraries, and the online rental schemes libraries have introduced to highlight book availability.
    Japan’s public libraries have the highest lending rates of public libraries within the G7 Posted by Koji Chikatani
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    Book rental and lending schemes have a very long history in Japan[UPDATED: 1-24-2018]

    Historically, book production and consumption in Japan was focused on the country’s aristocrats, Buddhist monks, Shinto priests and society’s upper classes not the mass market. However, in the early 1800s book lending shops started to appear.

    According to historians, their number grew from around 650 in Tokyo (or Edo as it was known then) in 1808 – expanding to meet demand – to 800 by 1832. These shops alongside increasingly high literary rates created demand that supported a very high ratio of approximately 1 lending shop per 1,500 people. The capital had a population of over 1 million at the time making it one of the world’s largest cities.

    Currently, the population per bookstore in Japan is high compared to other nations (estimated at 7,710 per store vs. 23,363 in the United States), but lower than lending shop ratios of the Edo Period. Records also show that there was in fact a book rental shop in Nagoya even earlier, as far back as 1767, which provided a continuous service for 130 years. It built up a collection of more than 20,000 titles during its operating life.
    Book rental and lending schemes have a very long history in Japan Posted by Richard Nathan
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    90% of Japanese people under the age of 30 still read books[UPDATED: 12-27-2017]

    According to consumer surveys, despite what many might believe, the vast majority of Japanese people still read books, including people under the age of 30. However, 10 percent of Japanese people under the age of 30 say that currently they never read books.

    The most popular genre amongst both men and women in Japan who buy books are mysteries and crime fiction, according to the research conducted by DIMS DRIVE, which monitors a panel of 9,566 individuals for its surveys.  

    43 percent of those surveyed, who read a book every three months, buy books from internet sites including Amazon, but 80 percent of these regular book buyers still buy books from bricks and mortar bookstores.  

    77 percent of whose who purchase books online unsurprisingly read online reviews before deciding which books to buy.

    The three most important factors in book selection by Japanese consumers are content (71 percent) author (55 percent) and price (39 percent).
    90% of Japanese people under the age of 30 still read books Posted by Richard Nathan
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    Over a billion books are distributed in Japan every year[UPDATED: 9-23-2017]

    Over a billion copies of books are distributed in Japan every year, according to the Shuppan Nenkan (Publishing Yearbook). However, only 60% (around 640 million copies) of them are actually bought. 

    The overall Japanese book market, the world’s fourth-largest, peaked over 20 years ago in 1996, and has been steadily declining since. Despite this long term overall market shrinkage, sales of e-books, which are dominated by comic books (mostly manga), are steadily increasing. In 2016, for example, the e-book market increased by just under 15 percent.  

    In some countries e-book sales have now peaked or are in decline after a long period of increase while the market for print books has stabilized or is showing the first signs of recovery in these countries. Publishers have had to adopt new strategies, and also books printed on paper have become fashionable and desirable again.  

    This is not the case in Japan, which is still experiencing double-digit e-book growth and declining print sales. The pace of growth still significant. However, it is slowing (it was 30% in 2014, for example), and is forecast to remain positive.
    Over a billion books are distributed in Japan every year Posted by Richard Nathan