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The Rise of Book-Off an Institution in Japan

book off 1Japan is known for being a country that has "care" of consumer goods, intrinsic in society with reflections in some spiritual and religious concepts related to everyday objects, which other countries around the world are starting to apply.
An example of these "cures" is the recycling and thinking about it not only as a "good deed for the environment", but as a real "business strategy". Although this system exists in other countries like mine, it is not applied in such a "systematic" way.

By "Book-Off" (ブ ッ ク オ フ コ ー ポ レ ー シ ョ ン, Bukku Ofu Kōporēshon) we mean a franchise chain of stores, more or less small, or large and mega bazaars, where second-hand products are sold at affordable prices ( although there are sometimes differences between shops in different areas of Japan).

It started as a bookshop, as can be deduced from the name, over the years it has developed by expanding its stores, expanding the existing ones, and including the sale of various types of products such as: anime, manga, action figures, video games, CDs , DVDs, consoles, clothing items, dishes, even cell phones.
In a short time, alongside well-known brands in Japan such as "Uniqlo" and "Muji", it has become one of the best known Japanese brands in the world and a must if you are a lover of Japanese sub-cultures.


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Its operation is very simple. If you have a product to sell, take it to the shop where an assessment is made, first of all of the status of the product, and then whether it is something that may have some kind of demand and market or not. If it is a salable item, they make their offer on how much they buy it and if you agree, start the procedures. Remember that you need to be Japanese or resident for the sale because they require identification and an address.

Once you have bought the piece, the interesting part begins. The product, even the same type (for example two identical figures), will be offered for sale at a price with reference to the fact that it is used, unopened box, never opened box, they are even indicated on the sales label if there are defects and which ones or where they are. The same product can be sold at different prices due to the state of conservation.

There are 866 Book-Off stores in Japan to date, many of which are megastores, defined as "Super bazaars" and containing everything, but the brand also has some stores abroad. The history of the brand is interesting not only because it is continuously growing with success, but above all because it is a "virtuous example". It was born in a particular and unhappy recent period in Japanese history, namely the 90s of the last century, which coincided with the end of the great economic bubble and the beginning of a recessionary period.
The merit and merit of Book-Off has been to grow (and consequently "give work" and "create opportunities") during the so-called "lost decade" of economic stagnation, thanks to a winning strategy linked to the company philosophy which we will discuss later.


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To give you a brief overview of the most important stages in its rise, we bring to your attention some key moments in the expansion of the brand:

  • 1990-1999 the first directly operated Book-Off store opened in Sagamihara (相 模 原 市) in Kanagawa prefecture (神奈川 県). First Book-Off franchise stores and the birth of Hard Off stores specialized in used home electronics and the subsequent expansion of the offer with the sale of used goods for children;

  • 2000-2011 The Book Off chain expands and includes used sports and outdoor items, used jewelry and watches and clothing, starting the sale of used action figures and other hobby items. Towards the end of this period it begins to propose its offer for the sale of used cell phones. First store openings outside of Japan, such as the one in France, which initially dealt only with Japanese cultural products, but later will be added to the sale of local books, CDs and DVDs. The date of 2011 is important because the first online Book-Off was opened, the e-commerce site linked to the brand;

How could a brand have grown so rapidly that it started simply by buying what you no longer used and reselling it at affordable prices? The answer lies in what is called the company philosophy, but which in Japan would be called the soul that resides in the company.
The main guidelines, of which we will give you a small excerpt, not only apply to all the stores of the brand, both in Japan and abroad, but are the same for both the small shop and the mega store;

  • Contribute to the economic and social development of society through our commercial activities by creating job opportunities in the area;
  • Pursue the intellectual and material well-being of all employees through training and personal and professional fulfillment;


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Entering into the concrete dynamics of the company, we can summarize the success in 3 main factors that have allowed the brand to grow so rapidly:

  • Ensure the transparency and efficiency of management;
    A quick decision-making process;
  • Strengthen accountability.

For those who have never been to Japan or to a Book Off, there are some factors that distinguish the management of the stores and the impact they have on the customer who buys:

  • Clean, repair and restore all items before placing them on the shelves;
  • Recycle items that are too damaged;
  • Prices;

I would like to focus on this last item because the sale and purchase prices are not those that are pre-established by the head office, but rather those decided by the individual store manager based on the sales area and local needs (for example if Savings in Tokyo are around a few yen between the original and second-hand products, the further away from the capital, the greater the savings, while maintaining the same quality).

Previously we talked about the expansion of the brand beyond the borders of Japan. There are not many, indeed I would say very few, the countries where you can be lucky enough to meet a Book Off.
In the United States, for example, we can find the largest concentration of rapidly growing stores (2 stores in New York, 7 in California and 2 in Hawaii). In the beginning, these were mainly used for the sale of imported Japanese goods to Japanese customers who emigrated and resided abroad, but later the market opened up to the sale of local goods to local people.
As for Europe, the only store present is in France with 3 stores in Paris that have had the same evolution as the American stores we mentioned earlier.
On the other hand, the presence of stores in Malaysia is interesting where we have 8 of them that go under the name of "Jalan Jalan Japan". Launched in 2016 as an exit strategy for unsold products in Japan, it has had a differentiation, albeit slightly, of the sales strategy based on the slogans "Preloved in Japan", "Crazy Low Price" and "Large stock" which has been very successful.


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Some little curiosity and warning that will certainly come in handy. If you intend to buy from book off even if the highest quality and efficiency of the products is guaranteed, as regards the electronic field (Hard Off) there are some precautions to consider for the purchase.

In most cases there are no problems with the purchase but there are cases in which you need to pay more attention. For example, if you want to buy video games or DVDs / Blurays, you need to check that there are no area restrictions, because some products can only be read by Japanese or code free devices. The problem that is encountered most with the purchase of equipment in Japan concerns the connection to the power sockets, even if it is an easy problem, just buy an adapter. However, be very careful when purchasing because in Japan electrical devices use a 110v voltage different from the European one at 220v so most of these devices are not suitable for us, even if in some big stores you have the opportunity to find some that work. even at 220v.

Small note of color. In 2020, most of Japan's Book-Off stores found themselves with a stock problem regarding books (they were out of stock). To meet the demands and replenish the stock they asked the population to help them, creating a campaign that offered various benefits to those who sold their bunkobons (small-format paper books). For every three volumes sold there was the opportunity to participate in a special lottery with rather interesting prizes, including a gift voucher of 10,000 Yen (about € 80) or a fun jacket bearing the catchphrase "Book Off nanoni hon nee jan!" (this Book Off has no books!).

What can I say to close, those who have been to Japan know this kind of shops well and I am sure that many of you have used them for some cheap purchases that otherwise they would not have been able to afford. For those who have never been to Japan and live in one of the countries where Book off is present, then take advantage of it because I'm sure you will find interesting things at prices.

Samantha Sisto

Special Thanks: Andrea Andros.

Source: Wikipedia, Book Off, Japan-experience, industrycity, lingonbook, akibagamers
Photo credits: Book Off, Archivio personale, altro.



Society, Book-Off, Samantha Sisto

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