September 15, 2014(Mainichi Japan)
Editorial: Time to pick up a book
社説:読書の秋 若者よ、本を開こう

The autumn book-reading season is again upon us. Reading not only boosts our knowledge, hones our sensitivities and nurtures our ability to think, but it also helps to broaden our perspective and develop our imagination. It's been said people today are spending less time reading. Now is a good time to take a fresh look at the benefits of books and call upon the young to turn to reading.
The Japanese publishing industry has suffered recently from slumping sales. According to Shuppan Nenkan, an almanac published by Shuppan News Co., sales in the domestic publishing industry stood at some 1.77 trillion yen last year. Of that amount, books accounted for roughly 843 billion yen, and magazines 928.1 billion yen. Last year's sales stood at just two-thirds of the peak figure of 2.698 trillion yen recorded in 1996.

Declining sales are especially serious in the magazine industry. Most likely, this is largely due to the prevalence of smartphones and other devices. Sagging magazine sales lead to declining ad revenues for publishers, which adversely affects bookstores and eventually pushes their numbers down. Today's Internet-oriented society calls into question the roles magazines can play.

That said, Japanese people as a whole are not necessarily turning away from books. In fact, the number of books lent out at libraries across the country remains high. According to the Japan Library Association, there are at least 3,200 public libraries nationwide, which lent out a total of over 710 million books, CDs and DVDs to individuals in fiscal 2012. Compared to a decade earlier, the number of libraries in Japan has increased by at least 400. As a result, the number of books lent out has risen by more than 100 million.

According to a survey jointly conducted by the Mainichi Shimbun and the School Library Association (SLA), children today are not reading less. Rather, the average number of books read by children slightly increased over the past decade. At the same time, the ratio of children who don't read any books in the month of May -- a gauge for determining the level of book-reading -- has been on the decline. The next challenge, many say, is having children read higher quality books.

In the meantime, one particular trend requires serious attention. According to a survey by the National Federation of University Co-operative Associations, the number of university students who said they didn't read any books reached 40.5 percent last year, topping 40 percent for the first time since the survey was first conducted in 2004. The revealing survey sent shockwaves through society, as university students are expected to read piles of books.

At elementary and junior high schools, teachers' efforts to encourage reading have been producing results. Morning reading time in classes has played a part in this. However, high school and university students are apparently spending more time on games, the Internet, entrance exam preparations, part-time jobs and other activities, and less time on reading. It can be said that teachers' efforts at high schools and universities are insufficient in encouraging students to read. The trend among those in their late teens of not reading books apparently continues when they grow older.

It is no easy task to change the status quo, but SLA counselor Isao Kobayashi proposes expanding the drive to distribute book coupons at coming-of-age ceremonies, following in the footsteps of the so-called Bookstart movement that offers books to babies and infants. We embrace his idea.

Educational institutions, society and households are urged to exercise their ingenuity in providing younger generations with more opportunities to enjoy reading.

毎日新聞 2014年09月15日 02時30分