Reusing things in Japan is common. If you are not proficient in Japanese, it may be difficult to distinguish a second-hand store and a regular store. It may be a clothing store, but also books, magazines, video games, and movies. A retail chain that has been very successful with second-hand books is the chain Book-Off.

Part of why the second-hand is so popular in Japan may be the limited living space in Japanese houses. Once you finished a book or a film, or game, it’s no longer needed. Out with the old and in with the new, and around this behavior, there has grown up a lot of business. Book-off began operations in 1991, just after the bubble burst in Japan, which turned out to be pretty good for the company. The times got worse economically, people were looking for ways to save money. Book-off gave and gives people the possibility to buy books for half the price compared to a regular bookstore. A relevant piece of information in the success of Book-off is that in Japan there are government regulations that do not allow lowering book prices for new books. Meaning that the price is set by the publisher and then it must be sold for that price, everywhere, this is no leeway. However, this does not apply to pre-owned books, which is an opportunity book-off seized.

Book-off acquires books for about 10% of the original price and sells them for about 50%. It has also developed ways to get the books to look new, the edges of the book are planed with a special tool which gives it a fresh feel. Smart. So that’s their business plan, buy books cheap, make them look as new and sell them cheaper than new books. Quite a successful plan, now there are over 850 stores in Japan and has expanded from just books to movies, video games etc. It has also opened a part called the Hard-off (yes..hard off, no joke) that sells everything, cameras, speakers, instruments, furniture etc. All built on the same principles as above. The core is still the books though.

Most books in Book-off are in Japanese (there is often an “international” corner in the store with a limited offer), so here you might not be able to find holiday reading, but perhaps you’ll walk away with some fun memorabilia. If you are interested in manga and anime, this can be a gold mine. A large part of the store is dedicated to manga.


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