Japanese Book Covers: A 100-Year-Old Japanese Custom | Guidable - Your Guide to a Sustainable, Wellbeing-centred Life in Japan
japanese book covers

Japanese Book Covers: A 100-Year-Old Japanese Custom

By Yae Sep 17, 2018

What are Japanese book covers? You might have seen many Japanese people spend time effectively on the train, reading books, most of them hidden by book covers. Do you wonder why book jackets are so popular in Japan?

Let’s find out the reasons in this article. But first, where do you get them from?

Where Can I Get Japanese Book Covers? 

japanese book storeImage credits: Canva.com

If you want to get a covered book, it’s super easy in Japan. All you need to do is stop by a bookstore near you and choose your favourite book. Then, go to the cashier, and the shop clerk will ask you whether you want it covered or not.

If you say yes, the shop clerk will wrap your book in a paper cover. No matter how many books you buy, you can have all your books covered. Surprisingly, this is a normal service in Japan, and all customers who buy books can get it for free. Usually, the paper covers feature the bookstore’s name or logo on the front.

Why Are Book Covers Free?

woman holding a book with a coverImage credits: Photo-ac.com

There are 2 main reasons bookstores in Japan offer book covers for free.

・Brand advertising. 

If people carry around books wrapped in book covers printed with the bookstore’s name or logo, there’s a chance that onlookers will notice the name and take a trip to the store. It’s extra advertising for the bookstore.

・To distinguish paid customers within the store.

If you’re a book lover, you know what it’s like: You’ve already paid for a pile of books…but then the latest novel catches your eye on the way out. If you’re carrying uncovered books in your arms, the cashiers may be confused about whether you’ve purchased them. Putting covers on books helps the shop clerk distinguish who’s bought the books already and who has not.

Did You Know? Japan Has Around 100 Years of Book Cover Culture

Since the Taisho Period (1912-1926), it’s been customary to wrap books in paper printed with a special design or the name of the bookshop. Making Japanese book covers a custom with a long history of over 100 years.

In an essay on bookshops and bookshop wrapping paper in Yomi Shohyo (monthly magazine, Taisho 15 – Showa 9, published by the Tokyo Asahi Shimbun) No. 51 (January 1931), Kingo Murayama wrote about collecting about 300 book covers from over 200 shops from Hokkaido to Hiroshima. According to this, in those days, second-hand bookshops used more elaborately designed paper than new bookshops.

Why Japanese Book Covers Are Popular

Now we know why book covers are so accessible in Japan, but why do so many people use them?

Book Covers Protect People’ Privacy

Book covers are popular with people who read their books in public, such as on the train or on their lunch break.

What book you want to read on the train isn’t anyone else’s business. But many people in Japan care how they appear to others or what others think. They might feel shy or embarrassed to tell others their favorite type of book, such as self-help books or books related to psychology, spiritual topics, medical, or educational texts to get certifications. Book covers ensure their book choices remain anonymous.

Japanese Book Covers Keep the Books Clean

pile of japanese books with a book coverImage credits: Photo Ac

I’m not saying that Japanese people care too much about germs, but some prefer to wrap their books to keep them clean and neat all the time. Books are made from paper, so if people keep carrying them outside frequently, they may get suntanned and lose their original color.

By putting on book covers, people can protect their privacy and keep the books as new as possible for a long time.

Eco-Friendly Book Cover Options

Reusable Fabric Book Covers

Maybe you want to keep your books clean and pristine but don’t want to get a new paper cover every time you buy a book? Don’t fear, you can buy or make a fabric book cover. In Japan, paperback novels are usually the same size, so you can usually reuse your book cover depending on your current read.

Adaptable Furoshiki Book Covers

Or if you like to read books of various sizes, (for example non-fiction or academic books) why not try making a book cover with a furoshiki cloth? That way you can custom fold your furoshiki for each new book you read without having to sew anything! For instructions try this YouTube video by SUTAI BU.

Japanese Book Covers – A Cherished Custom

Have you figured out why many Japanese people often wrap their books with covers?

Whether people use book covers to protect their privacy or keep their books clean, Japanese people treat their books with great care.


More reads:


Japanese Novels: Your Passport to the Heart of Japan

Featured image credits: Photo-ac.com