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Shared bookstores spreading throughout Japan, helping to revitalize local communities

Maki Nakamura, second from left, co-manager of the "Itoshima no Kao ga Mieru Honya-san" community bookstore, chats with a shelf owner and a customer in front of a wall full of bookshelves in Itoshima, Fukuoka Prefecture, on Nov. 22, 2021. (Mainichi/Yumiko Tani)

FUKUOKA -- "Shared bookstores," where each shelf section is operated by a different owner, are spreading throughout Japan, allowing book lovers to casually open their own stores and sell books they have recommended or have finished reading.

    Such stores deepen interactions between owners and contributes to the liveliness of local shopping streets. This reporter explored the appeal of these stores, which are attracting attention amid the declining number of regular bookshops in the country.

    A store named Itoshima no Kao ga Mieru Honya-san (Bookstore where you can see the face of Itoshima) which opened in Itoshima, Fukuoka Prefecture, in September 2021, is located in a shopping street near JR Chikuzen-Maebaru Station. The large wooden bookshelves that cover the entire wall of the store are immediately noticeable upon entering, and each of the 100 frames, separated into 30-centimeter squares, has an "owner" who rented the shelf as their own sales space.

    The owners range from university students to elderly people in their 70s, who each bring in their own recommended books and other items to place on the shelves.

    The bookstore was opened by Maki Nakamura, 57, former president of a logistics company and now a management consultant, and Ryota Odo, 39, a former employee of a major trading company who now runs a student dorm in a renovated old house and other businesses in Itoshima. Both hail from Tokyo.

    Shelf owner Ayaka Fujita, foreground right, and manager Haruki Ito, left, discuss books and other topics at Honya-Ra Do, located in a business establishment support facility in Yamaguchi on Jan. 29, 2022. (Mainichi/Yumiko Tani)

    When Nakamura decided to move to Itoshima, she wanted to have a place where she could interact with the local people. Around that time, she visited Book Mansion, a pioneering shared bookstore in the Kichijoji neighborhood of the Tokyo suburban city of Musashino, and was moved by the experience. When she found a vacant property in a shopping district in Itoshima, she consulted with Odo, who had already moved to the area. The duo then raised funds and sought prospective owners through crowdfunding and were able to open the store.

    To become an owner, one needs to pay a membership fee of 1,500 to 2,000 yen (roughly $12 to 16) per month in addition to an initial enrolment fee, and to look after the store about once a month. The commission per book sold is 50 yen (about 40 cents), and the price of the book can be set freely.

    "The owners come to the store on days when they are not on duty and organize events and socialize with people on their own initiative," Nakamura said. Currently, there is a waiting list to become an owner.

    Meanwhile, Haruki Ito, 53, a professor of economics at Kanto Gakuin University, who lives in western Japan prefecture of Yamaguchi, opened the shared bookstore "Honya-Ra Do" in October 2021 inside a business establishment support facility in a central shopping street in the city of Yamaguchi. He came up with the idea of creating a place where people could "drop in on a whim" in the area dotted with vacant stores.

    "Honya-Ra Do" has 30 shelves in an area of approximately 8 square meters, and the shelf owners who look after the store pay a monthly fee of 2,000 to 3,000 yen (about $16 to 24) for the shelves, in addition to a registration fee. The occupations of the owners vary from poet and university professor to cab driver, and their unique personalities can be seen in the books lined up on each shelf, such as those on Scandinavian culture, philosophy and cuisine.

    Book-R Kiyokawa, which opened in a renovated space inside a cafe and bar, is seen in Fukuoka's Chuo Ward on Dec. 28, 2021. (Mainichi/Yumiko Tani)

    Ayaka Fujita, 18, the youngest shelf owner, who is a third-year high school student aspiring to become a librarian, mainly sells novels. "The appeal is that I can talk with customers as a storekeeper and hear the stories of other shelf owners at the exchange events," she said.

    A similar bookstore has also appeared in a dining establishment in southwestern Japan. Book-R Kiyokawa opened in December 2021 inside Kiyokawa Salon, a cafe and bar in Fukuoka's Chuo Ward. It has 24 sections of bookshelves.

    Shinobu Hasegawa, 41, manager of Kiyokawa Salon, said, "It fits the concept of my store as a place where adults can come with their children and enjoy themselves and where they can interact with others."

    As of May 2020, the number of bookstores nationwide stood at approximately 11,000, almost halving over the past 20 years according to a survey by bookstore research firm Almedia and Bunka News Co.

    According to Ko Nakanishi, 43, who opened Book Mansion in Kichijoji in 2019, the number of shared bookstores has now grown to nearly 40 nationwide. Nakanishi, who was distressed seeing local bookstores close one after another, said, "I started a shared bookstore because I thought this could be a way of operating a business, but such bookstores have become places that connect people, and recently they are being called community bookstores."

    (Japanese original by Yumiko Tani, Kyushu News Department)

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