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  • Japanese: 貸本屋 (kashihon'ya)

Kashihon'ya, or booklenders, played a prominent role in the publishing and distribution industry of Edo period Japan. While many consumers purchased books outright from publishers/bookshops or from traveling salesmen, borrowing of books from booklenders, and from one another, was extremely popular.

They are believed to have emerged around the late 17th century, if not earlier, with one source indicating the emergence of the term in 1713. By 1808, booklenders in Edo numbered at least 656, outnumbering public bathhouses in the city; this number jumped to at least 800 by the 1840s. Similar numbers were seen in Osaka.[1] Most booklenders/booksellers maintained storefronts, but conducted much of their business through visits directly to the homes of regular customers, or by peddling books on the street. One scholar has estimated the customer base of each kashihon'ya at, on average, 150-200 households. The book peddler, with a rectangular pile of books on his back, is actually a very common sight in ukiyo-e genre paintings. Traveling booklenders - or perhaps staff in the employ of a booklender from one of the major urban centers - are also known to have made visits to more rural communities and individuals.

The seal of the kashihon'ya would often be placed in the front of the book - either on the inside cover, or on the first page. Along with the seals of later owners of the books (e.g. 20th century Western collectors), these booklenders' seals provide interesting and useful information about the provenance or history of a particular copy of a book.

Prices varied dramatically from city to city and from one booklender to another, but are cited by historian Eiko Ikegami as being roughly 1/6th the cost of buying the book outright. She estimates the cost of purchasing a thin kibyôshi volume at less than 16 mon, the cost of a bowl of soba, but more than the cost of a visit to the public bathhouse.


  • Ikegami, Eiko. Bonds of Civility: Aesthetic Networks and the Political Origins of Japanese Culture. Cambridge University Press, 2005. pp302-306.
  • Smith, Henry. "The History of the Book in Edo and Paris." in James McClain, et al (eds.) Edo & Paris: Urban Life and the State in the Early Modern Era. Cornell University Press, 1994. p347.
  1. Moriya, Katsuhisa. Ronald Toby (trans.) "Urban Networks and Information Networks." in Chie Nakane and Shinzaburô Ôishi (eds.) Tokugawa Japan: The Social and Economic Antecedents of Modern Japan. University of Tokyo Press, 1990. p117.