Bunko from the past into the 21st century research on Bunko, private libraries for children in Japan


Itochu Foundation (Itochu Kinen Zaidan) and Tokyo Children's Library (Tokyo Kodomo Toshokan) carried out a three-year research project on Bunko activities in Japan since April 2001. Bunko means a private library for children, usually founded and managed by an individual or a group of volunteers, mostly housewives, providing books and programs such as storytime for young children. This phenomenon of Bunko in Japan is unique worldwide. Tokyo Children's Library itself is a private library and originally started from a small number of Bunko which eventually merged into one body. Itochu Foundation has supported such Bunko activities for many years. The research was done by sending out questionnaires to Bunko around the country in 2001, which was followed up by visiting and interviewing 83 Bunko in 43 prefectures from 2003 to 2004.

In the '60s and '70s, the rise of Bunko activities happened along with the rapid economic growth in Japan. Some housewives started to establish small-scale Bunko, and they have been spreading all over Japan ever since then. Now there are more than 3,000 Bunko in the country. Most of them have been established and are managed by housewives. A bunko is usually placed in a corner of someone's home or a local public facility such as a community center (kominkan), but some of them are even seen beside a laundry's counter, in a supermarket or in temple precincts. In the background of the flourishing of Bunko is the arrival on the social scene of well-educated Japanese women, and the widespread use of electronic appliances in the middle-class households of Japan. The second baby boom also gave a boost to the movement.

The research results show, after a 30-year golden age of Bunko activities, the 21st century has seen a decreasing number of the children who visit Bunko with the ongoing declining birthrate of Japan. Also some women closed their Bunko because of old age. However, many of Bunko are still open to children and provide them with books. They keep seeking their own ways of helping children to have access to books while they are young. Bunko keepers' concerns are not only the Bunko itself, but also the whole of their own local community. Some have started to give lectures at local community centers to teach storytelling to young mothers, calling their attention to children's books, while others call upon the local government to establish more public libraries and to give better services for children.

The research project also explored the history of Bunko, from the middle of the 19th century to the present, through literature search, to identify the role of Bunko in connection with education, library services, publishing, promotion of reading, women's role, children's lifestyle, local governments, local firms, etc. The research results have been reported in a series of lectures given at the Tokyo Children's Library and will be published as a book in the near future.


(2004.12.31 update)