Bunko or bunko-bon is the widely used Japanese term for a book that is a small-format paperback book designed to be affordable, portable and not take up too much shelf space. They have a long and interesting history going back to books designed to fit into the sleeves of a kimonos in Japan’s Edo Period. The direct translation of tanko is ‘standalone’ or ‘bound’ and bunko ‘storeroom for written works’ or ‘library’ and ‘bon’ is book.
The modern form bunko-bon emerged at the turn of the 20th century. Two publishing houses (Shincho Bunko in 1914 and Iwanami Shoten in 1927) are often cited as having pioneered the modern versions. According to International Book Publishing: An Encyclopedia, Iwanami Shoten developed the market for the current popular bunko format in Japan with its imprint the Bunko Classics Series. The imprint was modeled on the German publisher Reclam Verlag’s series Universal Library.
The Bunko-bon format, in addition to ebooks, is now exploited by Japanese publishers, in a similar manner to mass-market paperbacks in the United States, as cheap editions of books that have already been published as tanko-bon. They are typically printed on hardwearing paper, bound in a similar manner to English-language books, and usually, as is the case with most books in Japan, have a detachable outer cover (dust jacket) over a plain cover. The vast majority of bunko-bon are A6 (105×148mm or 4.1″×5.8″) in size and are sometimes illustrated. On the other hand, the size of tanko-bon (which can be either hardcover or softcover) are much more varied. The typical tanko-bon size, however, generally mirrors standard A5 or B5 paper sizes. Despite the similarities in terms of print production unlike English-language books, most Japanese books are printed to be read top-to-bottom (with vertical lines of text as opposed to horizontal text) and from right to left.
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