Jul 15, 2018

How to make the most of the local library in Japan - as a non-Japanese resident

How to make the most of the local library in Japan - as a non-Japanese resident  photo

If you love to read, the following places are probably slices of heaven for you: a wide-open spot at the park on a clear day, the beach with the sound of gentle waves, a quiet café, your bedroom or any other favorite spot in your house, or the library.

If you happen to live in Japan, you should already consider yourself lucky because most libraries here are quite impressive, always offering an ambience conducive for reading and a wide array of materials for people of all ages. Except that you’re not. 

That is because majority of these materials are in Japanese and it is extremely difficult for you to appreciate them if your Japanese is limited. As a result, you would rather stay away from the library, or just use it as your free source of air conditioning during summers and heating during the winter, reading a book that you bought with your own money. 

While it is understandable to find your neighborhood library as useless, I hope you don’t dismiss it just yet because believe me, not doing anything for your library is actually a waste of your tax money. Yes, you read it right: as a taxpayer in your area, you can actually make a difference in your library and it will definitely benefit you as well. Allow me to elaborate. 

As Japan gears itself for the 2020 Olympic Games and continues to make itself globally informed, more and more Japanese people are beginning to immerse themselves in the current lingua franca which is English. They devote time and allot a certain portion of their budget to studying English. Of course they can also buy books and other learning materials online or at their favorite bookstores, but most likely some of them are secretly wishing that they could just borrow these materials and other English-language books at their library.

On the other hand, you could also just buy the latest best sellers or that bilingual book that you fancy to learn more about Japanese culture - except that it will take up space in your small residence once you’re done with it. Now you have a better alternative. What you can actually do instead is to course your next book purchase through your library, meaning request them to buy and have it added to their catalogue - and then you can borrow it afterwards. You'll just need to provide them with the title and the International Standard Book Number or ISBN of your desired book.

In this way, you get to help your local government serve its people by providing more English-language resources while at the same time, save you some money. Well, if you really think about it, what you will be requesting your library (if ever) is something you have already paid for - that is, if you are not amiss in paying your city and prefectural taxes. Also, since you will be borrowing the book/s, you are duty-bound to return them after a certain period, thereby lessening the clutter in your home. If you really think further, you are also doing your part in caring for the environment by lessening your paper consumption.

I hope that this article has gotten you interested in contributing to your town library and thereby, making it worth visiting more often. Now go apply for your library card; it’s usually free anyway.



A teacher by profession, yet always a student of life. Currently living in Kanto, but in love with Kyushu.