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A secondhand bookstore specializing in books related to the Okinawa and Amami island regions has celebrated its 40th anniversary, having played a role in supporting the culture of the southwestern Japan regions.

The Books Jinon store in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, is known for its extensive collection of the “Okinawabon” books — texts relating to aspects of the region.

Store manager Hitoshi Ameku, 61, is determined to run the bookstore for the rest of his life, saying that such secondhand bookstores can still play a part as the region’s history has yet to be fully researched.

Ameku began working at Books Jinon, which takes its name from a word meaning Ginowan in the local dialect, as a part-time staff member the year after the store opened in 1981.

Okinawabon was initially just one of the genres the bookstore dealt with. But as the segment of the book market expanded nationwide with the spread of the internet, the store began to rely on Okinawabon, with many expensive books, to sustain business.

Jinon is stocked with a variety of rare Okinawabon, such as books out of print, administrative documents and self-published items.

“I’ve never counted, but we own about 150,000 to 200,000 books,” half of which are Okinawabon, Ameku said.

He said he has worked hard to collect books with the sole intention of being able to provide every book that customers may seek.

The bookstore places great emphasis on its service of searching nationwide for books sought by customers.

Books not in stock are called “quest books,” and Jinon looks through many sources such as big online stores and physical bookstores to get hold of them.

Jinon once spent five years acquiring a book and was met with laughter by the customer who had forgotten about the request.

Through such efforts, the store has gained a reputation as a place where “there is no researcher or writer on the subject of Okinawa who has not used it.”

“Many researchers want to have literature on hand instead of going to view it at a library,” said Kurayoshi Takara, a leading researcher on the history of Ryukyu, an alternative name for Okinawa.

The Ryukyu kingdom, which lasted until the late 19th century, ruled the Amami region, currently in Kagoshima Prefecture, along with the Okinawa region.

Takara, former vice governor of Okinawa Prefecture, who is professor emeritus at the University of the Ryukyus, lauded Jinon’s “perseverance in specializing in Okinawabon” and said that he has introduced the bookstore to many Japanese and foreign researchers.

Okinawa has seen many people from other prefectures start secondhand bookstores, but only a few of them can handle specialized books.

“It is not unusual for some books to stay on the shelf for over 10 years,” Ameku said.

He offered words of encouragement for secondhand stores seeking to sell such books, saying, “I hope they can experience the joy of supporting customers such as researchers who are looking for literature to seek out just a single line of text.”

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