What are book covers and why are they so popular in Japan?

What are Japanese book covers?

For over a 100 years, people in Japan have been using book covers made from various materials to cover the front and back of their books. These book covers can be reusable, made of materials such a cotton, PVC, or leather. They can also be one time use as well, such those made with paper.

If you are buying a book in a Japanese book store, they will often after you after your purchase if you would like to have your book covered. If you say yes, they will make a paper book cover to fit the exact size of your book with the book store logo on it. Some of the patterns look really nice! This is a free service as it acts as advertising for the book store.

Picture from 本ぐつり研究所 of book covers provided by different book stores in Japan

If you visit Japan, you may notice that a lot of people who are reading books in public are using one. This is how I learned about book covers while living in Japan. I started to notice that many people on trains where extremely focused on what appeared to me to be planners! After being in a Japan for a while, I started exploring book stores and found out that those people that I saw on trains where most likely reading books while utilizing book covers. Japanese novels tend to be around the same size, so buying a a reusable book cover makes sense as you can use it on all of your books.

文学YouTuberベル

文学YouTuberベル

I had book covers on my list of blog post ideas for a while now, but I wasn’t sure how to approach it until I found a video by 文学YouTuberベル. Bell(ベル) is a book youtuber who creates book reviews, introduces new books, and talks about book related topics in general. I have been watching her videos for a while now and have found them very interesting! One great video series that she has involves surveying her viewers about different topics such as how many books that the read at a time or if they reread books.

In this video, she is looking into how many people use book covers.

Survey results

The book cover survey was done in 01/2020 and polled 1,772 book lovers to see if they what they thought about book covers. I assumed that most of the answers would be yes, but I was very surprised to see that only 56% of those who answered used them!

While 56% is still the majority, I felt that book cover use was even more popular then that. It felt to me like everyone in Japan was using them.

I took a step back to think about where I usually saw people reading books, and realized it was on the train. When riding a train in Tokyo, privacy is hard to come by and I am sure people will take any kind of privacy they can get. There are many places to read books, and if someone is usually reading at home or at libraries, its possible that they wouldn’t need book covers.

Top reasons why Bell’s viewers used book covers

  1. To keep the book clean
  2. For privacy, especially if the title of the book might be considered shocking
  3. To inspire friends to ask them what they are reading
  4. They found a cute book cover and want to use it
  5. Using one makes people look more put together
  6. They find it fun to match books with book covers that they think fit the writing style or theme of the book

Do non-native Japanese book readers use book covers?

 

I was curious if other non-native Japanese books readers used book covers and reached out to Inhae who writes about reading on her blog, Inside that Japanese Book.

Yes I use them, but only the cloth ones that I have bought separately, not the paper ones you receive when you buy your book in Japanese bookshops (I usually decline when they offer them).

I have bought one or two book covers every time I traveled to Japan, so I have a small collection by now. I don’t know if people mostly use book covers to protect their book or to hide what they are reading, but I use them just because they are so beautiful. It is something that I am happy to carry with me, like a pretty accessory. I also like to choose from all my book covers when I go out. Even if I am still reading the same old book, choosing either the bright orange/cat cover, the turquoise forest theme or the white/purple floral pattern makes things feel fresh and new. I feel like I am matching my book with my mood.

Inhae

Thank you for sharing Inhae! There are many nice book covers out there and I am planning to buy more as well the next time I am in Japan. While the two that I have are very cute, I am interested in buying ones that looks more sleek or interesting.

Photo from The Blog of a Reiwan Lady

I also reached out to another blogger, Peregrinja who writes at The Blog of a Reiwan Lady. She grew up in Norway but is currently living in Japan and has recently been reading 店長がバカすぎて. She does not use book covers and here is a quote from her blog about wanting to share what book she is reading with others.

I want to reach out, tell that person that ‘hey, I’m reading that too!’, maybe we could talk about it. If I could’ve sat opposite them, whip out the same book, flash it around, then maybe our eyes would meet, recognition, maybe share a smile and a nod.

Peregrinja

Thanks for sharing Peregrinja! Books can be a great conversation starter and lead to possible unexpected friendships. Sadly, I am still too shy to let strangers know what I am reading.

My opinion

I am pro-book covers! I have two ones made of cotton and find that they are a great way to protect me books. Since I now live in the states and do not have the opportunity to go to used book stores that carry Japanese books often, I find myself really wanting to protect the ones that I have.

I do not want them to get damaged in my bag or at cafes, so if I am out of the house I will always use a book cover. I find that using a book cover also increases the time that I am able to read. Either in Japan or America, if people see that I am reading a book in Japanese they will often come up and ask me about it. While this has lead to some great conversations, I started to find myself feel unable to pull my book out of my bag. It seemed like a fruitless effort. It was then that I decided to get a book cover. It offers me a great deal of privacy and people are much less likely to approach me while I am reading in public.

When I am reading at home, which is happening a lot more recently due to the pandemic, I don’t use a book cover as I don’t see a need for it. My books are safe from both damage and wandering eyes when I am at home.

Do you use book covers?

For those who are interested in watching the video that inspired me to create this post, click here.

Author: Kuri

I love reading Japanese novels and have seen that many people want to read them but don't know where to start. I have decided to share my experiences to help people reach their literacy goals.

5 thoughts on “What are book covers and why are they so popular in Japan?”

    1. Thank you for the comment! I really like the idea of book covers as well. I think it is something that many book lovers would love to use. I think it might be difficult for some places to implement as book sizes vary more depending on the country.

      Liked by 1 person

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