The Japanese are voracious readers. True, a huge chunk of that reading is of manga or fashion magazines (and most men’s magazines here are glorified catalogues), but even in this iPod iAge, you can still see an amazing amount of commuters deeply absorbed in their novels and newspapers, helping pass the time during their often mind-numbing journeys to work. Japanese paperbacks are small and plain-covered and quite cheaply-priced (between $4 and $7 American; at the plentiful second-hand shops, even less) and unlike what we’ve come to expect in the English-speaking world, they easily fit into your coat or pants pocket (the over-sized English paperback accessory is just too big or too wide to put anywhere but a backpack). Long Japanese novels are still broken up into two volumes here, as they were in Dickens’ day, and the garish covers we foreigners love (and admit it – given two different editions of exactly the same novel, exactly the same price, you’re going to choose the bigger one with the cooler cover) are irrelevant here – a paper dust-jacket with the bookstore’s logo is folded onto the book by the clerk as soon as you buy it. Lucky readers of Japanese! Would that I were one of them!
Well I’m not. The fact of life is that on this island I’m both a teacher of language and functionally illiterate (I know, I’m repeating myself).