Monday, March 30, 2009

Figuring out the system

Sometimes it’s not just the language barrier that causes me problems in Japan, it’s also the difference in thinking. Even though I can read the signs and the labels in front of me, it often takes me a while to figure out why they’ve been put there and how the system works.

As an example, I was browsing through a bookstore yesterday, searching for three different novels. I had the authors' names and the title of each novel. I noticed that the books were ordered alphabetically by the author's name. What was strange was that the books would go from A to Z* on one shelf and then go from A to Z on the next shelf, then A to Z again etc. They weren't different categories of books, they were all novels and it took me a while to work out why the A to Z ordering was repeated so many times, instead of just grouping them all together into one big order.

The reason was because the novels are grouped together by publisher. Each shelf had the publisher's name on it, but because I wasn't familiar with publishers' names, it hadn't registered. Plus, the sheer inconvenience of this arrangement meant that I hadn't considered it. In order to find a book, you have to be able to tell who published it. Authors tend to use different publishers for different books so I had to check several different shelves in order to find the books I was looking for.

Why is it done this way? Perhaps this is because book shops view publishers as important clients and they fail to realize that the readers are the more important end customers. Perhaps readers have significant preferences between publishers. I mentioned it to my friend and he suggests that Japan has many more publishers than other countries. Maybe all of the above.

By the way, for those that are interested, I was searching for the short stories that appear in this book: Read real Japanese. I wanted versions without furigana so I went looking for the actual books. I bought the first three stories, which are:

川上弘美 神様
乙一 むかし夕日の公園で
いしいしんじ 白の鳥と黒の鳥

*It's obviously not A to Z in Japan. It's あ to ん.
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