NARA, Japan: Amid the tremendous popularity of online bookstores and ebooks, an unmanned book store has opened in Nara’s traditional Naramachi district in Japan, and has steadily attracted a growing number of customers.
The store is filled with books carefully selected by eight owners chosen from the public, and offers a cozy atmosphere at which customers can leisurely peruse through various kinds of books, an experience that cannot be replicated online.
The bookstore, Fusenkazura, opened in August on the renovated premises of a traditional Japanese-style house built more than 100 years ago. Twelve shelves about three metres tall stand amid the roughly 30-square-metre interior.
Customers register as store members through a website and input a passcode to enter the store. Once inside, they can focus on selecting books without having to worry about the time or shop clerks.
Two-thirds of the books on the shelves are owned by eight people aged from their 20s to 50s, who were chosen from 37 applicants to become co-owners of the enterprise.
There are about 2000 books, including foreign literature, children’s books, movie reviews and even a practical guide to restoring cultural properties, each of which reflects the owners’ love of books. About 1000 of the publications are essays, photo books and other works published by individuals at their own expense.
Koichi Hirata, 57, from Gojo, Nara Prefecture, founded the unmanned bookstore. After working as a human resources consultant in Tokyo he returned to his hometown five years ago with the aim of finding a job locally.
A lover of books, Hirata had opened flea markets in Nara featuring books. One day, he came up with the idea of opening an unmanned bookstore with no labour costs.
Customers input the prices of books into a device at the cashier and can pay by credit card or other means. According to the store, more than 500 books have been sold since its opening, with about 700 people registering as members. Sixty per cent of sales go to the book owners, while the remainder goes to Hirata.
Rena Sasaki, 19, a sophomore in Nara who visited the bookstore, said: “It’s nice, as I can take my time picking something out. I think I’m developing a love for books.”
One of the store owners Natsumi Takagi, 31, from Chuo Ward, Osaka, contributed novels and children’s books that she used to read often.
“I hope the books here make the readers feel like having another good day tomorrow,” Takagi said.
“I want our customers to enjoy the texture and smell of books, which can’t be experienced online,” Hirata said. “You’ll discover something new every time you come.”
The store is open from 7am-11pm, with no days off.