Iwata Bookstore is a modest little shop in Sunagawa City way up in the Northeastern part of Hokkaido. It also the site of an unlikely success story as it has recently been receiving orders from all over Japan by people wanting its one-of-a-kind offer of 10,000 yen (US$84) worth of books.

They’re not just any books though; these books are recommended by the shop’s owner Toru Iwata and hand-picked for every customer who orders.

Iwata is said to be gifted with a vast knowledge of written works, and legend has it that as a junior high student he had read nearly every novel in his school’s library. Anyone who wants 10,000 yen worth of his recommendations only needs to fill out a questionnaire explaining their jobs, favorite periodicals, and recently read books along with an evaluation of them.

The book store owner explains that someone who is a fan of the Edo period crime drama Onihei Hankacho and the essays of Usagi Nakamura would probably receive Isabella Bird’s 1880 travelogue, Unbeaten Tracks in Japan. However, he has been known to throw in some curve balls at times to help expand readers’ horizons.

Iwata got the idea when some high school alumni were commiserating the current state of book stores in Japan. They then began to pass him 10,000-yen bills and asked for him to send interesting books rather than the typical titles found on chain stores’ shelves. From there, thanks to some television exposure, Iwata’s bookstore has now expanded this recommendation service nationwide.

The response online has been very positive.

▼ “10,000 yen book selection sounds interesting. Very interesting.”
[tweet https://twitter.com/_le_ciel_/status/503586312541069312 align=center]

▼ “Me too! I want the 10,000-yen book selection”
[tweet https://twitter.com/Yu_Cham74/status/503586378676854784 align=center]

▼ “That 10,000-yen book selection looks really attractive!! I want to try it!!!”
[tweet https://twitter.com/megumilk4/status/503561798151180290 align=center]

▼ “Right away I contacted Iwata Bookstore and asked for the recommendations! I was surprised at how fast they responded. lol”
[tweet https://twitter.com/super_kyup1/status/503572453117812738 align=center]

As a result, Iwata has also received a lot of requests for manga titles, but he admits they fall outside of his area of expertise. Rather than politely decline the offer of additional trade, however, he hired part-time assistant Takahira Kuromitsu, whom some might call the luckiest man alive for getting paid to read and recommend manga. For those who are interested, Kuromitsu’s current top recommendations are Terra Formars and The Irregular at Magic High School.

In an age where bookstores in Japan are disappearing at a rate of over 500 per year, Iwata seems to have found himself a niche that will keep him going for years to come. As for whether he is really accurate at selecting the perfect books for people or not, that isn’t really the point. Much like checking your horoscope or taking one of those “Which Harry Potter character are you?” quizzes, part of the fun is seeing how other people might view your personality and tastes regardless of its authenticity. It’s something that appeals to our egos and a great way to come across titles you might never have heard of otherwise.

Iwata Shoten
2-1-23, Nishi 1-jo Kita, Sunagawa, Hokkaido
Open: 9:00am to 7:00pm Monday to Saturday
Website. Facebook, Twitter

Source: Naver Matome, Japan Author Promotional Center (Japanese)
Book cover images: Amazon – Onihei Hankacho, Hana mo Mi mo nai Jinsei Dakedo, Unbeaten Tracks in Japan
Video: YouTube – Kanekoyoshihiro