Private libraries a Japan success story

RELAX: Mori no Tosyo Shitsu in Tokyo houses more than 10,000 books and serves food and alcohol as well.


    Oct 07, 2016

    Private libraries a Japan success story


    PRIVATE libraries are popping up in cities across Japan, run by individuals and non-governmental organisations.

    Many of these spaces have a cozy appeal and offer services that are not found in public libraries, like allowing visitors to freely eat and drink.

    "People are shying away from public libraries that do not refresh their books or services, and are seeking out comfortable private libraries in towns and cities," said Kazuo Nishino, managing director at the Japan Library Association.

    One such place is Mori no Tosyo Shitsu (The Forest Library), in a multi-tenant building near JR Shibuya Station in Tokyo. At night, many young couples and company employees pop by, most of them in their 30s to 50s.

    The library is helmed by Shunsuke Mori, a former company employee, who started the venture in 2014 after raising money online.

    "I wanted to create a library where people can relax on their way home from work," said the 32-year-old.

    More than 10,000 books can be found there, including essay collections, art photo books and architectural illustrations.

    The library closes between midnight and 2am, and food and alcohol is available.

    Borrowing books home is free with a deposit, while membership costs 10,800 yen. (S$143).

    The number of members is steadily increasing.

    A similar venture, Machi Library, opened last April in a commercial complex in Osaka.

    The library has its own cafe and closes at 11pm daily.

    Machi is run by an Osaka-based general incorporated foundation of the same name that supports the setting up of private libraries across Japan.

    The books are donated by users, and more than 10,000 have been gathered.

    Anyone can read inside or borrow books after paying a 500 yen registration fee.

    So far, more than 230,000 people have visited Machi.

    According to the foundation, such private libraries have spread across Japan since around 2011, and now number from 1,200 to 1,300 locations.

    Many are run by owners of office buildings, stores or temples in spaces they already had.

    "Many bookstores have closed in cities, and the services provided by public libraries tend to become rigid due to a lack of staff and funding.

    "These libraries are aimed at giving people more opportunities to enjoy books and also promote interaction among residents," the foundation spokesperson said.