National

Gifu bathhouse-turned-library showcasing 20,000 used comic books a hit among locals

Kyodo

A small comic book library set up over 20 years ago in a mountainous area of Gifu Prefecture has proven to be a popular embodiment of the spirit of recycling, as well as of people’s love for comics.

The building, formerly a public bathhouse run by the city of Gifu that depended on heat generated by a nearby waste incineration plant, houses around 20,000 used comic books kept on shelves that were once lockers.

The city-owned library in Kakebora, a 30-minute drive from the city center, was launched in April 1996. With the help of volunteers, it is open weekends, national holidays and during school breaks, and attracts about 2,500 visitors each year.

“There are rare finds you don’t see at bookstores or internet cafes, like old comic books you read a long time ago,” said local resident Hiroki Hattori, 54.

Hattori first visited the facility about a decade ago with his wife, Naoko. They were quickly impressed by the richness of its collection.

Seeing the comic books out of order at the time, the couple stepped forward to take on the task of sorting them and did so by author’s name over more than six months.

Since then, the two have been mainstays at the library, visiting every Saturday to sort new arrivals and fix damaged books, and are now key managers of the facility.

“We are just trying to support the place we love as we please,” said Naoko, 49, who has set up a Japanese website for the facility to allow people to check the collection online.

She puts comics that were made into TV dramas or movies in one place and updates the section as needed. She also places comic book series that are popular among young children on low bookshelves to make them accessible.

As more than 1,000 books are donated to the library every year, it also allows visitors to take home duplicates free of charge.

Shuji Hatano, who visits the library about twice a month, has donated not just his comic books but also stuffed dolls and posters to make the library look more appealing.

“I can sell my comic books to used book stores, but if I bring them here many other people can check out the works that I have grown fond of,” said the 44-year-old painting contractor from the neighboring city of Seki.