Japanese Kindle

Having now moved back and forth several times between my home in the US and Kyoto or Taipei, on the other side of the world in East Asia, it has become clear to me that dealing with books is the biggest pain in the ass. This is exacerbated by the fact that I am both a congenital book hoarder and (although not at this exact moment) a graduate student. After the most recent move home, after graduating from my Masters program in March of last year, I decided that purchasing a Kindle would be the best way to reduce the amount of weight that my future self will be sending across the sea when the need arises.

And I do love the Kindle, and Amazon’s service in general. (I should mention here that my father owns some Amazon stock, which has benefited me, but that the investment is based on enthusiasm for the company’s service, rather than shilling in order to promote the company.) I happen to have the 3G keyboard model, and the e-ink screen is a wonderful replacement for paper books, even if not quite as good. I do also use the Kindle app on my phone when the Kindle device is not with me, and it is surprisingly comfortable to read books the large screen of my Galaxy Nexus. And the service has been fantastic; when I accidentally broke my Kindle’s screen, Amazon customer support sent me a new one no questions asked. This clearly because Amazon’s priority is very different from that of a consumer electronic company whose profit comes from the hardware itself, who would be happier persuading you to pay for a new unit, or at least repair costs, for breaking a non-defective unit; rather than even asking if I had broken it, they seemed more concerned in getting me a new Kindle ASAP, so that I could resume paying them for content.

Unfortunately, however, the Kindle Store does not include Japanese books. However, it was reported a couple of weeks ago that Amazon would be launching the Kindle in Japan later this year, with Japanese language e-books from Japanese publishers. Apparently they will be launching with the current generation of e-ink devices, rather than the Kindle Fire Android tablet, but since I personally prefer both the readability and long battery life of the e-ink devices I don’t think this is a problem. Anyway, Amazon already sells the “International” Kindle in Japan, so the key here is that Japanese e-books will be available in the store, which will then be usable on existing hardware, including the Kindle app on iOS, Android, and OSX or Windows computers.

The big question for me, however, is how the different national stores will interact. Will it be possible to purchase Japanese books from my Amazon.com account, using my American credit card? If not, will it be possible to use, say, a Japanese debit card linked to my Shinsei bank account? Or will I have to resort to the more convoluted maneuvers required for some international online media stores, by purchasing Japanese Kindle books through my Amazon.co.jp account, and then switching the currently logged-in account on my Kindle to that when I want to read a Japanese title? I do know that Amazon has already localized the Kindle for Italian, Spanish, with Brazilian Portuguese also launching later this year, so I am wondering if anybody reading this knows how it currently handles juggling purchases from more than one country store?

Now, despite the fact that the rumored Kindle Japan store will (presumably) not be launched for a few months, there is still one major source of Japanese e-books usable for it today. Many readers are probably already familiar with Aozora Bunko, a repository for public domain Japanese literature, roughly similar to the primarily English language Project Gutenberg. Since the Kindle software—that is, the OS on the Kindle device, not just the app for other platforms—has included support for East Asian text for some time, it can display Aozora Bunko text files with no problem. Well, there is ONE problem. You see, while perfectly readable, the current text file viewer only displays text in the same left-to-right horizontal lines that you are reading this blog in. While it certainly no challenge to read Japanese in this format, it just doesn’t feel right for literature, which is still universally printed in horizontal lines, and read from right-to-left.

Luckily there is a solution: an online utility called Aozora Kindoru, which generates PDFs formatted in literature style vertical columns for the Kindle screen (they will also work great on any other device with PDF support and a similarly sized screen), and even properly formats any furigana present in the original file. I was first alerted to this utility via a Twitter user, and here are two English blogs with instructions, although I imagine that anybody who would be reading any of the old stuff on Aozora Bunko can figure out the Japanese directions with no problem. [Link 1] [Link 2]

As a final note, it appears that the Nook, from Barnes and Noble, is also planning to introduce international versions, including Japanese. While looking for jobs, I ran across a posting for an “International Content Manager” for Nook, the duties of which involve:

The Manager, International Content Acquisition will have previous experience working with publishers around the world and should be familiar with each territory’s publishing industry.  Candidates should be familiar with the latest developments in digital publishing.  Ideal candidates must have business level command, speaking and writing, of English and at least one other language.

and the job requirements for include:
Professional, spoken and written fluency in English as well as one of these languages is required:  German, Italian, French, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Russian.

This actually surprises me a bit, as one of the reasons I decided to go with Kindle rather than Nook in the first place (aside from my history with the company) was that I expected from that beginning that Amazon, a country with a strong presence in Japan, would eventually introduce a Japanese language store, while I was doubtful that Barnes and Noble, a company with no history that I am aware of operating in foreign language markets, would do likewise. I am happy to be proven wrong. Incidentally, I have yet to see this move by B&N reported anywhere, but I think the job posting is pretty clear evidence, although if they are currently recruiting for these positions it would seem likely that they are not as close as Amazon to opening their Japanese store.

14 thoughts on “Japanese Kindle

  1. Just to throw some ideas out there, Barnes & Noble could compete with Amazon if it can offer a better deal to publishers, do a tie-up deal where it becomes the default e-reader for a bookstore like Kinokuniya (kind of like it’s doing with its own retail stores in the US), or carve out a niche in some genres like erotica or light novels.

    One thing I’d like to see a Japanese e-reader do is make the screen hard to read over the shoulder straight out of the box. People tend to put these anti-snooping screens on their feature phones so it could be attractive

  2. Rakuten has bought Kobo, which is big in a few markets outside the US -

    I’m hearing that they plan to have every new Japanese book from major companies sold as e-editions by the end of the year and are aiming at large back lists.

    Some solid competition should mean more money for publishers and more features (including international availability, we hope) for consumers. Probably only room for two (+Apple) in the market, however, so B&N is likely going to have a hard time of it.

  3. I, too, absolutely love my Kindle e-reader. I welcome this news, but my only concern is if available titles are restricted to purchase from a ‘local’ store such as with Apple’s iTunes or even Amazon on some product lines. If not all books, available as e-books on Amazon.com, are available on Amazon.co.jp due to publication rights issues and such, then the Japanese site will be severely hampered as titles become of limited availability. Currently, we can shop freely for Kindle titles on the American site. I’d hate to see that change. Hulu Japan is great but much more limited title-wise than the U.S. counterpart. iTunes Japan is improving but still lags far behind iTunes America.

  4. Frodis: I have the same problem from the other side: will people not in Japan be able to buy Japanese books for the Kindle? I’m a poor Japanese Studies undergrad at the exact opposite of the globe, and shipping paper books from Japan costs literally more than the books themselves. Being able to buy them electronically in the Kindle would be a godsend; more than enough to make up for my misgivings with the poor typography of the device.

    My kindler friend said that here in Brazil we can buy US books from amazon.com but (irrationally enough) not magazines. Will ebooks from amazon.co.jp work like US books, or magazines? Man, I wish media companies would stop imposing anachronistic, artificial “country” barriers on the Internet. Just take my money and let me buy things!

  5. With regards to built in dictionaries, I wonder if you will you be able to download a Japanese dictionary to your Kindle when Japanese books become available. For me, this is one enormous factor in choosing e-ink devices over regular books. Especially when I’m reading Japanese. Inclusion of a Japanese to English dictionary would be nice, but I’d be happy with just a monolingual dictionary too. Does anyone have the Sony device that’s already out? What happens with dictionaries there?

  6. Sony’s PRS-T1 (G1) has japansese-japanese dictionary, that is the only one ebook reader with this feature on the market now. Event others readers from Sony do not have this feature. Amazon has included a local dictionary in all the localized Kindles so I hope a similar feature will be included in the Japanese one but I found no evidence of this so far.

  7. The iOS Kindle App has a Kokugo Dictionary and English-Japanese dictionary already built in.

  8. I am using the iOS kindle app, in Japan. I haven’t bought any books yet in Japan, but getting plenty of free ones via PixelofInk . Com , that links to Amazon America. I went that way in the end, after waiting for a Kindle in Japan. I have a friend that has a kindle on order here. But the iOS seems great for now.

    As for the translator issue, English to Japanese, and especially vice versa always seems a bit tricky, as the literal translations and nuances can make it real weird at times !

  9. Hi Roy,

    I was wondering how the launch of Kindle went in Japan. Do they have numerous books? Is it possible/easy to buy Japanese books from outside Japan? Does the japanese Kindle has a japanese dictionnary included?

    I am a student of the japanese language and as I grow to learn more and more kanjis and words, I am looking for books and thought that a japanese Kindle could allow me to carry multiple books, zoom on some kanji, maybe even have a japanese dictionnary with me at all time.

  10. The Kindle hasn’t been released in Japan yet, so we don’t know exactly how it will work. You can order the international version there, but that’s basically just the American one, still with no Japanese language ebook store.

  11. Hello. Were you able to resolve this since Kindle has gone live? My wife who is Japanese lives in Ireland and wants to use her Nexus 7 to get access to Kindle Japan. She is not having any success. The Kindle application defaults to English books and will not return Japanese titles in Japanese. Should she register an account via Amazon.co.jp, delete the kindle app, and reload everything from scratch?

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