SECONDHAND NOVELTIES

Old books find new life with young

by Noriko Miyoshi

Defying conventional wisdom, more young Japanese are getting interested in secondhand books — not only to read but also taking pleasure in selling them at flea markets — thanks in part to an enterprising young woman who started selling used books on the Internet.

For years, secondhand bookstores were regarded as the musty preserve of older people, but that is all changed now.

Internet bookstore Kurage Shorin, located at www.kurageshorin.com , breathed new life into the used book industry by offering back issues of magazines after it opened in September 2000.

The offer included issues of Kurashino Techo (Handbook for Living) and a series of articles for women on preparing for married life published by the monthly magazine Shufuno Tomo (Homemaker’s Friend) before World War II.

The back issues were well received by women ranging in age from their 20s to 50s, with the Net store registering more than 1,000 hits a day.

“There were no old bookstores that carried the books I wanted,” said Kurage Shorin’s owner, Noriko Ichikawa, 28. “So I decided to look for them by myself and opened the store so that everyone could enjoy them.

“Women are free in ways to enjoy themselves. They choose secondhand books and magazines as birthday gifts, sending for example, a copy of Kurashino Techo published at the time of a friend’s birth, or using old books as a means of communication.”

Tokyo’s Yanesen district that straddles Bunkyo and Taito wards was the site of a secondhand book fair April 29 for the second consecutive year. Participants said the bulk of those who came to sell old books were people in their 20s and 30s, some 70 percent of them women.

A group of 100 book lovers used open spaces in front of book and sundry stores and galleries to sell used books.

The outdoor event was publicized on the site sbs.yanesen.org/hakol/ with organizers asking each participant to bring a cardboard box full of secondhand books for sale.

They set prices for the books, but prospective buyers tried to talk them down.

Kenji Oiri, a 35-year-old manager of a bookstore and one of the sponsors who made the space in front of his store available for the fair, took part in the event last year.

He said the open-air market gave him a completely different sense of doing business.

Of the haggling, he said, “I got all nervous and excited as if I myself were being appraised, because my feelings for books were reflected in the prices I set for them.”

A group of 75 book vendors took part in the fair last year, coming from the greater Tokyo area, Kyoto and Osaka. They sold some 2,200 volumes for a total of about 1 million yen.

“Sellers and buyers seemed to enjoy the give-and-take process through secondhand books,” Oiri said. One man, he said, whose wife had told him to come home with an empty box instead ended up with more books.