Japan’s reading culture

05:28 05/20/2024

Those who have used public transportation in Japan have surely at least once caught sight of people reading books, newspapers, and such during their commute.

It doesn’t just stop there: You can catch glimpses of people reading in public everywhere throughout the country: in parks, bookstores, and even when standing in line for restaurants.  It is well-known worldwide that the Japanese have a strong and deep-rooted reading culture. But have you ever wondered why this is the case? 

In this article, let’s explore the history of reading in Japan to find an answer to why Japanese people are such avid readers, as well as various other elements that come into play in shaping the country’s culture and its people’s mindset towards reading! 

1. The history and evolution of reading in Japan 

The Japanese’s love for reading comes hand in hand with the evolution of language over the course of the nation’s history. 

 The earliest traces of the Japanese reading culture can be found in the 5th century, with the introduction and implementation of Chinese logographs (Kanji) to the national Japanese language. Since then, reading went from being a communal and performative activity, often accompanied by other elements such as music, to becoming an indispensable part of everyday life along with the evolution of printing technology and the expansion of literacy. 

The following sections will dive into the role and influence of various actors in forming the admirable Japanese reading culture. 

2. The role of the government

One of the most important elements that contributed to the formation of the reading culture in Japan is the active role of the government. 

After World War II, Japan underwent various major transformations, one of which was education reform. Highlighting the importance of education in helping the country recover after the war, the Japanese government at that time introduced a series of laws, regulations, and educational programs to promote literacy and increase citizens’ access to education. 

This can be observed in the Fundamental Law of Education. Enacted in 1947, the law set out the cornerstones for education in Japan during the post-war period in (1) guaranteeing academic freedom for all Japanese citizens, (2) extending the length of compulsory education from elementary (6 years) to junior high school (9 years), as well as (3) coeducation. 

Throughout the course of time, the government also introduced many other significant legislations and programs to further address pre-existing problems and promote efficiency in the educational system. 

3. The role of the school 

In Japan, almost every school, no matter whether it’s elementary, junior high, or high school, has a library and a school librarian. Kindergartens may not have libraries in the typical sense that schools of other levels do but they oftentimes will have a collection of books and educational material for their students. This is to give the students easier access to books, as well as incentivize them to read more.  

Additionally, schools in Japan also carry out different activities to help form and promote students’ reading habits, such as kindergarten teachers reading books to students and specifying “reading time” in addition to normal classes for elementary students. 

4. The role of the family

Family also plays an indispensable role when it comes to shaping Japanese reading culture. Japanese culture values the importance of education and success in life, in the sense that the latter is synonymous with academic success. There is also much emphasis on the need to equip oneself with as much knowledge as possible to be able to “survive” in the harsh society.

And there is no better way to do so than to read. This explains why many Japanese households will introduce their children to reading from their early days. 

5. Variety, inclusivity, and the print culture in Japan 

Another crucial element that we cannot fail to mention is the wide variety of genres and formats of reading in Japan that cater to all different types of audiences. 

This element can be easily observed in the manga community in the country. The first is in terms of genre. Manga in Japan is divided into different genres for different age groups and different interests, with some even political.  The mangas themselves are also available in many different formats, from periodic (such as weekly/monthly/quarterly) magazines where many different series are published together to tankobon, which is a standalone book of one specific series. 

One actor also worth noting is the print culture here. One thing about Japan is that the people here love physical copies, with the same applies to reading as well. Books in Japan are also often available in smaller sizes and printed using lightweight materials, with some stories divided into different books so that they don’t take up much space and can be carried around to read on the go. 

In this article, GoEMON has introduced you to various actors contributing to the deep-rooted reading culture in Japan. Indeed, the Japanese’s love for books is truly admirable. What do you think about this cultural aspect? Feel free to share with us in the comments down below! 

Don’t forget to follow GoEMON Global for the latest updates on life in Japan!