Smartphones and the Internet may have become an integral part of life, but the power of books — paper ones — is not all lost.
A nationwide book club network and a bookstore that prescribes literary drugs to salve the human condition are a few examples of how people in Japan are still turning to books to find new meaning in life.
At a book club hosted by the Read For Action association in Tokyo in early November, seven participants flipped through the Japanese translation of “The Shift,” a best seller about the future of employment by London Business School professor Lynda Gratton, jotting down phrases that caught their attention and discussing their thoughts with each other.
The club aims at helping participants, mainly in their 30s and 40s, to quickly grasp the contents of the book and to explore it in discussion, helping them identify problem-solving mechanisms or ways to improve their businesses or careers.
Gratton’s book discusses the future of working life in 2025. It argues for the need to achieve mastery in specialized areas as well as maintain high-value networks and relationships to avoid being isolated in workplaces of the future.
“First of all, think about what you want to ask the author,” the group’s facilitator said.
The discussion flourished as the participants shared their thoughts and opinions, with one saying, “I now believe that to live proactively, it is important to become a specialist and innovate.”
Since the reading club was launched in fall 2011, some 250 people have been certified by the Tokyo-based reading club network Read For Action as facilitators. They organize and run about 500 reading sessions a year across Japan in genres ranging from economics to children’s picture books.
Participants come from all walks of life. And in some cases, the discussions are life-changing. They help participants to realize their true passions and inspire them to change jobs. Moreover, facilitated reading sessions have been adopted by some companies as part of staff training and development programs.
Meanwhile, the Solid and Liquid Machida bookstore in Tokyo is offering a fun gimmick to promote reading. Dubbed “biblio therapy,” the bookstore prescribes paperbacks to salve reader’s symptoms, such as insomnia or ennui.
The books, handpicked by staff including manager Hiromitsu Kitada, are handed over in a white bag resembling those pharmacies use for prescription medicine. The store boasts cures for some 70 different symptoms.
For example, for those who worry about what others think of them, one recommended panacea is “Jibun no naka ni doku o mote” (“To Have Poison Inside Yourself”) by Taro Okamoto (1911-1996), an artist noted for his daring and avant-garde paintings and sculpture.
“Tremendously effective powerful drug. Works instantly. Courage to live will come bubbling out,” reads the humorous description on the “prescription” bag for the book.
“Sometimes we see high school students pick books such as ones by Yukio Mishima, being attracted by their effectiveness,” said Kitada. “There are a lot out there to encounter.”
He added: “Reading takes time, but it will certainly do you good down the road, just like vitamins.”
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.