At most bookstores, knowing the author’s name isn’t enough to let you find what you’re looking for, but Seiwado is an exception.

The Japanese language’s equivalent to “alphabetical order” is gojuonjun. Literally meaning “50-sound order,” gojuonjun is a set sequence of the 50 syllables that form the foundation of Japanese vocabulary, starting with a, i, u, e, and o.

Knowing that, you can probably deduce that Japanese bookshops don’t organize their shelves by putting all the books in ABC order. But if you’re looking for a book in Japan by scanning the shelves for the author’s name in AIUEO order, you’re still not going to find it. Why? Because Japanese bookshops arrange their books not by author, but by publisher.

For example, let’s say SoraNews24’s Mr. Sato wrote a novel and that it was put out by Japanese publisher Kodansha. You’d couldn’t just go to the bookstore’s fiction shelves and start scanning for “Sato.” First you’d have to find where the Kodansha books are within the novel section, and then you’d have to start looking for Sato within the space where the Kodansha-published novel authors’ books are organized by the writers’ names.

This isn’t exactly convenient for shoppers. It adds an extra step to the search process, and you’re a lot less likely to remember the name of a book’s publisher than its author, assuming you ever paid attention to the publisher’s name in the first place. It also means that if there’s an author you like whose works have been published by more than one company, you’re going to have to go scurrying around the store to find them all.

And yet, that’s how just about every bookstore in Japan organizes its books. We say “almost,” though, because Seiwado Books dares to be different.

“This is our store’s paperback section,” tweets Seiwado’s official account. “The books are organized in AIUEO order by the author’s name…We’ve gotten surprisingly positive reactions from our customers.”

Seiwado is an independent neighborhood bookstore in Osaka’s Tsurumi Ward that’s been in business since 1970. In 2017, second-generation owner Noriko Konishi and her son Yasuhiro decided to make the change to arrange their general fiction paperbacks, which make up about 25 percent of the store’s stock, by author’s name, but it wasn’t until the store’s tweet a few weeks ago that their system started getting widespread attention.

Ostensibly, one of the merits of the by-publisher arrangement that most bookstores use is that Japanese publishers tend to have a uniform look for their novels, often using a standardized page size and cover design template to give their product lineup a clean and organized look when they’re placed together in a large block on the shelf. This also makes it easier for larger publishers to command attention from shoppers, which may or may not be a coincidence (Japanese libraries, which are under no pressure from publishers to boost sales of their products, organize everything by author name).

Konishi, though, says that the smaller scale of her store prevented any aesthetic advantages of by-publisher sorting, which she felt looked less pleasing to the eye. So the switch was made, and Seiwado’s customers have been largely happy about it.

Since the tweet was posted, there have been a handful of comments from people still in favor of by-publisher arrangement, many of whom say they like the opportunities it creates to stumble across new books other than the specific one you’re looking for. Far more commenters, though, see Seiwado’s system as a common-sense approach that they wish was more widespread.

“Thank you so much!”
“This absolutely makes it easier to find what you’re looking for.”
“I do the same thing [organize by author] on my bookshelves at home.”
“This is great for when you want to buy a bunch of books from the same author.”
“You can find other things the author has written, even if different companies published them.”
“This would eliminate so much of the irritation I get looking for books.”
“If other bookstores are seeing this, please do the same thing.”

Konishi points out that not all of Seiwado’s books are sorted by author. Light novels and historical fiction, for example, are still arranged by publisher. That makes some sense since those are categories for which certain companies have a reputation for specialization in narrower sub-genres, making it a bit more likely for a shopper to be a “fan” of a specific publisher and want to browse everything from them that’s currently in stock. For everyone who’s looking for a novel but couldn’t care less who’s publishing it, though, Seiwado is helping to make Osaka an even more livable city.

Related: Seiwado
Source: Twitter/@SeiwadoBooks (1, 2), Maidona News via Otakomu

Top image: Pakutaso
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