Read, exercise and enjoy a gig in a library

Women exercising next to bookshelves filled with health-related books at the Yamato City Library in Kanagawa Prefecture.
Women exercising next to bookshelves filled with health-related books at the Yamato City Library in Kanagawa Prefecture. PHOTO: THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN

TOKYO• Japanese libraries are turning a new page in a bid to keep up with the times.

Reinvented libraries have expanded their offerings - from holding exercise classes to setting up lounges for younger users to chat or play games.

Some libraries are run by private entities that boast cafes or restaurants, enabling visitors to read a book over a cup of coffee.

"Move to the left while saying 'right'," an instructor said to 15 women during a workout session on the fourth floor of the Yamato City Library in Kanagawa Prefecture, which opened in November.

In a space called Kenko (Healthy) Terrace, events and classes centred on dietary education or beauty are offered daily, with Thursday's exercise session being particularly popular.

"It is quite encouraging for me to be in this class," said participant Hiroko Sano. "I can also make friends here, which is wonderful."

The Yamato municipal government, aiming to create a "healthy city", dedicated the library's fourth floor to health when the city relocated and rebuilt the facility.

The floor offers about 10,000 books and other items related to health. Measuring devices such as those for vascular age and brain age are available, along with a health consultation nurse.

"We hope to make the library a place where people can be healthier just by being here," said the facility's acting deputy director Yuriko Yamaguchi.

Tokyo's Musashino municipal government aims to create a library where junior high and high school students can hang out.

In 2011, the city rebuilt a library and called it Musashino Place. The second basement is reserved for certain age groups, offering young adult novels and magazines.

The floor also has a lounge open only to teenagers or younger users so they can talk to their friends or play games. There is a climbing wall and four studios for music and dance practices.

Nobuya Inoue, a third-year student at nearby Shotoku Gakuen Senior High School, visits the facility two or three times a week.

"I like it because I can just come to hang out," he said. "I can chill with my friends while playing games. It's not how I pictured libraries."

More and more libraries have cafes for the same reason.

The Tagajo municipal government in Miyagi Prefecture, for example, opened its new library in March last year, outsourcing its operation to the Tsutaya chain of book, music and video stores.

The complex housing the relocated library also has a Starbucks cafe and a policy of allowing visitors to take drinks into the library.

There have also been concerts among the bookshelves, offering visitors a chance to enjoy reading while listening to music.

The new library extended its closing time to 9.30pm from 5pm and expanded its collection of books to 230,000 from 180,000.

About 950,000 people visited the complex that houses the library from March to October last year, or about 14 times more than in the same period a year earlier, before its relocation.

The Gifu municipal government asked internationally renowned architect Toyo Ito (who also designed VivoCity in Singapore) to work on a complex that houses the city's Chuo Library as its core facility.

The reading area has massive umbrella-like structures that hang from the ceiling. The bookshelves are low and radiate out around the umbrella-like structures. Conversations are allowed in some sections.

The Japan Library Association's executive director Kazuo Nishino said that, in the past, libraries were able to just wait for visitors to turn up.

"In a time when the population is falling, however, many libraries have taken advantage of the opportunity to rebuild their ageing structures, implement various measures to attract more visitors and become innovative," he added.

That could well prove to be a happy ending for the story of the revamped libraries.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 08, 2017, with the headline 'Read, exercise and enjoy a gig in a library'. Print Edition | Subscribe