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  • Bankruptcy of a monopoly: Good riddance to Yohan foreign book distributor

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on August 1st, 2008

    Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan

    Hi Blog.  This hasn’t been all that noticed in the English-language vernacular media, but it’s big news in the publishing industry.  And for authors who sell books in Japan.

    Yohan (Nihon Yousho Hanbai), the monopolist distributors of foreign-language books, just went bankrupt. Its websites are even offline (Japanese, English)  

    Well, good.  To quote Nelson Muntz: “Haa haa”.  

    Yohan is essentially the Darth Vader of Japanese book distributors.  I know from personal experience (trying to sell my books published by Akashi Shoten Inc., which refused to pay Yohan’s extortionate subscription rates or meet its restrictive conditions) that if you want to sell even Japan-published books written in English, you either go through Yohan, or your books don’t sell.  They don’t get shelf space.  

    We already see book stores (check out Maruzen or Kinokuniya) selling imported English-language books (i.e. best sellers, novels, and classic literature) at exchange rates not seen in Japan for more than two decades (think between 150-200 yen to the dollar).  But the banditry doesn’t stop there.  Whenever I went to bookstores and asked them nicely to stock my books (be they JAPANESE ONLY or HANDBOOK FOR NEWCOMERS), almost everyone agreed to, thanks.  Of course, I’d go back a couple of weeks later to see if they stocked it and how it’s selling, and in many cases I’d find no copies in the “books on Japan” section.  Then I’d check with the cashier and on more than one occasion be told they had stocked it.  But Yohan didn’t want any books that “weren’t theirs” on those shelves, so Yohan had actually SENT MY BOOKS BACK TO THE PUBLISHER.  When the store agreed to restock them, they said the only place they were *allowed* was in the “foreign language learning section” (i.e. Eikaiwa), a market with more publishers and distributors.  But that’s definitely not my genre, so many a browsing sale was indubitably lost.  Yes, Yohan had that much control.

    So to repeat:  Here we have a cartel masquerading as a company, with exclusive rights to sell cash cows like Harry Potter in English, way overcharging us for books, controlling stores’ contents and shelf space, and keeping out rivals.  And they STILL couldn’t stay in business!

    Good riddance to bad rubbish.  Here’s hoping we can get my and other people’s non-Yohan books (particularly minority-press views on Japan) on the shelves now.   Germane articles about the Yohan bankruptcy follow.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


    Japanese Import Book Seller Yohan Goes Bust

    Tokyo, July 31, 2008 (Jiji Press) – Major Japanese import book retailer Yohan Inc. on Thursday filed for bankruptcy with Tokyo District Court with debts of some 6.5 billion yen, Teikoku Databank Ltd. said.

    Yohan Book Service Inc., which is receiving business turnaround support from Yohan Inc., also went bust, filing for protection from creditors with the same court under the Civil Rehabilitation Law, according to the credit research agency.

    Yohan Book Service, which operates Aoyama Book Center, left debts of about 5.4 billion yen.

    Established in 1953, Tokyo-based Yohan Inc. imports such books as U.S. magazine Newsweek and runs bookstores.

    The company has run into financial difficulties since its interest-bearing debts mounted following its aggressive investments.

    In the year that ended in November 2007, the firm incurred a net loss of 1,065 million yen.


    Online competition drives foreign book seller bankrupt

    A leading importer and seller of foreign books in Japan has filed for bankruptcy amid the prevalence of online sales of foreign books.

    Nihon Yosho Hanbai, known familiarly as Yohan, filed for bankruptcy at the Tokyo District Court on Thursday. The company has incurred 6.5 billion yen in debts.

    Also on Thursday, Yohan Book Service filed for court protection from creditors under the Civil Rehabilitation Law. The affiliate company, which runs Aoyama Book Center and Ryushui Shobo, has incurred 5.4 billion yen in debts.

    Established in 1953, Yohan sold a wide variety of books, from the general to the technical. The company had business relationships with about 150 publishers in about 20 countries — most of them English-speaking nations.

    In September 1992, the company boasted annual sales of 9.638 billion yen. However, as online sales of books became more prevalent, Yohan’s annual sales dropped to 5.563 billion yen as of August 2005. By November 2007, sales had plummeted to 3.125 billion yen.

    Bookoff Corp., a leading used book dealer, has shown interest in supporting the affiliate company Yohan Book Service.


    Yohan In Bankruptcy  Posted at 10:24AM Thursday 31 Jul 2008

    Yohan, the long standing distributor of foreign books and magazines in Japan, went into bankruptcy today and all their employees were dismissed at once, the office was closed down immediately and the website appears to be closed.It is understood that it has gone down the bankruptcy route, rather than a supervised corporate reorganization. Yohan did not have any significant property and assets and reports suggest that there will be no payment of debts.

    The affiliated bookshop chains, Aoyama Book Center and Ryusui Shobo are applying to the Corporate Reorganization Law to try and keep going. The bookstores are still operating and it is believed that the name of the company that will take on the business will be announced shortly.

    It really is getting tough out there…everywhere.


    Cody’s Owner, Yohan, Files for Bankruptcy  

    Publishers’ Weekly, July 31, 2008

    With today’s news that Japanese book distributor, bookseller and publisher Yohan Inc. filed for bankruptcy with Tokyo District Court, it becomes clearer why the company closed Berkeley, Calif., icon Cody’s Books earlier this summer. Ironically, at the time of the purchase in September 2006, Cody’s owner Andy Ross stated that Yohan’s financial resources would strengthen existing the store’s operations. Yohan also owns Stone Bridge Press in the U.S.

    As reported in JiJi Press, 55-year-old Yohan was 6.5 billion yen in debt. Yohan Book Service Inc., which operates the bookshop chain Aoyama Book Center, has also filed for protection from creditors and has debts of 5.4 billion yen.

    According to Book2Book, all Yohan employees were laid off and the office was closed. The bookstores are still operating.

    Submitted by: Peter Goodman (
    7/31/2008 10:57:03 AM PT
    Location: Berkeley, CA
    Occupation: President, Stone Bridge Press

    This is a much more complicated story, but one thing I need to make clear: Stone Bridge Press is NOT owned by Yohan. Our owner company did NOT go bankrupt. Stone Bridge is NOT a part of any bankruptcy filing. That said, the Yohan people are long-time friends, and we feel terrible about all the very good and experienced book people who have lost their jobs. Peter Goodman, Publisher Stone Bridge Press


    洋販:自己破産を申請 洋書販売の最大手、ネットで打撃

    毎日新聞 2008年7月31日 20時10分






    「洋販」自己破産 ブックオフが青山ブックセンター支援

    朝日新聞 2008年7月31日22時34分







    9 Responses to “Bankruptcy of a monopoly: Good riddance to Yohan foreign book distributor”

    1. Rudy Says:

      I’m sure you did have a poor experience with Yohan but your criticisms show you putting your own personal interests above those of the foreign community as a whole which the company has served so well over many decades. It has also offered access to the Japanese for countless overseas authors. The failure of Yohan is a blow for anyone who looks for English language books in bookshops – remember that overseas visitors can’t buy online in Japan as residents can – and considerably reduces the publishing opportunities for authors. The fact you imagine that selling English language Harry Potter books in Japan has been a “cash cow” indicates that you don’t have a strong understanding of the economics of the industry.

    2. Ken Says:

      Rudy, Yohan ripped you off royally while providing those ‘services’.

      I have some insider stories, but some time needs to go by for them to come out.

    3. Osaka Greenie Says:

      As a long term resident, I’ve got to say that I stopped buying books at a Japanese bookseller years ago. It is cheaper for me to purchase books from an overseas online bookseller ( and have them shipped here than it is to buy them from a store. 10 years ago, I was putting several thousand yen a week in Yohan’s pocket, now: nothing. I can see how their sales dropped fast.

      Since books are duty free, I could never understand why Junkudo or Kinkokuniya was charging 2-3 times the cover price for books. Now it makes sense, the middle man was jacking up the price. If the price of books falls, you might see me in the bookstore again.

    4. jim Says:

      i was always disappointed with the poor selection of books that yohan carried, and they seemed exremely overpriced so it was only a matter of time for them to go bankrupt,because they failed to change with the changing times of the internet more people have more choices so of course they bypass the junk that yohan had to offer..

    5. Level3 Says:

      I’d always wondered why English language books in Japan, even the paperbacks, were often marked up well over 100%, even factoring in exchange rates. This was the reason?
      Well, I just took advantage of tachi-yomi (heck some bookshops even have CHAIRS to sit and read) whenever I just had to check out a new book.

      As for Rudy why the hell would anyone just visiting from overseas wwant to buy an English language book that has been marked up to 3 times its normal price? Especially when they know they can just get it once they go home for the regular price, or even a discount, with free shipping, and avoid making their luggage heavier? Unless you think the entire English-book shopping experience should be geared entirely toward English-speaking tourists? How much book sales do they account for annually anyway? It could easily exceed dozens of books.

      The existence of Yohan seemed to the blow for everyone looking for English language books: high prices, and usually a pretty pathetic selection of bestsellers and cookbooks whereever you went, rather than things worth reading.

      Does this also mean Yohan was the ultimate authority that “allowed” the disgraceful “Gaijin Crime File” mook to get shelf space?

      Thanks to and other internet retailers for helping to kill this monopoly.

    6. debito Says:


      * * * * * * * * * T E R R I E ‘S T A K E * * * * * * *
      A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd.

      General Edition Sunday, August 03, 2008 Issue No. 480

      +++ WHAT’S NEW

      On Thursday, July 31st, Japan’s largest independent distributor of foreign books and magazines, Yohan Inc., went bankrupt. Rather than a simple protection from shareholders or reorganization, the company has shutdown completely, firing all of its staff, closing the office, and taking down its website the same day. Jiji reports that Yohan, established in 1953, has left behind JPY6.5bn in debt.

      Related companies Aoyama Book Center and Ryusui Shobo, under the control of Yohan Book Service Inc., are apparently planning to stay in business and have applied for corporation reorganization under the Japanese Civil Rehabilitation laws. Apparently they have combined debts of JPY5.4bn. Rumor has it that there is a corporate sponsor in the works to take over these two companies, who will be announced in the near future.

      Yohan has been teetering on the verge of financial disaster for some years and our take is that the firm, which at one time controlled the distribution of many of the leading English-language publications in Japan, has been mismanaged or at very best managed by misguided investors, by at least three separate entities over the last 10 years.

      Firstly, the original owners could not keep up with the times and failed to properly computerize their organization as margins fell and the 90’s recession bit. Because their computerization was so primitive, data entry, shipping, inventory management, costing, returns, and pretty much everything else got done manually — requiring more than 120 people for an operation that should have required just two thirds of of that number. These high labor costs coupled with falling book and magazine margins and rising transport costs were a sure recipe for eventual business failure.

      We would posit that pride by senior management was another factor — causing any rescue attempt to be late.

      Secondly, the MBO that led to InterCultural Group Inc (ICG) buying the business out in 2003, was based on the premise that Yohan simply needed to become a platform for a bigger and more efficient set of businesses. This had the senior management embark on a disastrous expansion program, belatedly fixing internal systems and going out and buying up other lines of business that the company didn’t really have experience in, and which were all themselves in trouble. Once of these was Aoyama Book Center in 2004.

      Thirdly, by the time Mizuho’s Polaris Principal Finance fund bought 60% of the company out in Q2, 2007, the costs of ICG’s various acquisitions were starting to mount, and one wonders why Polaris decided to jump in at all. According to the Nikkei, they injected JPY1bn into Yohan, which then went on to report a loss of JPY1.065bn in November last year. Talk about a zero-sum game. This has been a hard and possibly lasting lesson for Polaris that there is very little money to be made in distributing paper books and magazines these days. It’s a tough business.

      So why should you care if one old fashioned and terminally sick distributor goes bust? The bankruptcy has not been picked up by any of the English-language press, is it a case of the failure being too close to home… or that smaller bankruptcies have become boring?

      To be honest, there may be nothing to care about. Although the Yohan bust will hurt a lot of smaller independent publishers who are owed money (our sister company included), the company apparently controlled about 60% of the foreign publications distributed into Japan, the fact is that the Japan Association of International Publications (JAIP) has 69 surviving members, and a number of these companies could pick up the baton. Maruzen and Tohan would be two likely candidates. However, in the interim between Thursday’s bankruptcy and the negotiation of distribution rights between the successor and Yohan’s overseas and local publishers, we imagine that quite a few foreign magazines will be in short supply in Tokyo over the next 3-6 months. Stock up on your summer holiday trip!

      Of course for Japan Inc. magazine you can order direct from us:

      As a closing comment, it is fair to say that the economy is certainly taking a downturn in Japan and bankruptcies such as Yohan are gathering steam. According to Teikoku Databank, June bankruptcies rose 8.1% to 1,065 cases, the fifth monthly year-on-year rise this year. Now, while the government has a lot to answer for in its sudden crackdown on the construction sector, but in fact, only around 30% of the bankruptcies are due to construction firm failures — meaning that the current downturn is much broader and deeper in impact.

      The volume of debt due to bankruptcies is also rising substantially, being up 40.3% from last year, to hit JPY471.9bn (US$4.41bn). That is a lot of money owed to others being sucked out of the economy and spells potential trouble for banks funding both the bankrupted companies and their (barely) surviving vendors. Indeed, editorial from the Nikkei over the last week speculates that Japanese banks may be hit by another wave of bad debt reminiscent of the late 1990’s.

    7. PnetQ Says:

      As a Japanese, I’ve got some comments.

      1) Years before, I’d had a sure impression that the English books were priced at high in Japan. Then, followed by, appeared. Like most of you, I purchase almost every English title via either of the two amazons now. However, lately, for the last 2 to 3 years perhaps, I have noticed some English titles in bookshops, most typically bestselling paperbacks, are priced very reasonably. Those books must have been distributed by Yohan.

      Most reports in the media point out Yohan was greatly threatened by the competition with Internet booksellers, that is amazon. That’s right. Did you look at lately? Their pricing of English books may not be cheap enough to your standards, but I think their prices are “reasonable” at least. If you include shipping costs, you can get the same title almost at the same cost from as from Although the discount rates may be modest at best at in comparison to, they don’t charge shipping cost to the domestic addresses if your purchase is upwards of jpy1500. (It’s funny that there are many paperbacks priced at slightly lower than jpy1500, though.)

      With operating in Japan with these prices, Yohan could have no way been wanton in their pricing policy. Some reports say the burden of too much storage also led to bankruptcy of the company. In order to provide books at the prices with competitive edge, Yohan must have had to purchase plenty of copies from publishers.

      *** My humble advice to Levl3. ***
      Why don’t you try in addition to (I’m not their agent. Trust me.) True,’s inventory is no comparison to’s, but it has been improved greatly. In addition, it seems they get English titles both from US and UK. As a result, you can expect considerable number of cricket books, for example, available from won’t be bothered with cricket, will they? … Well, it’s only for the purpose of explanation. I don’t expect any of you have interest in the sport. Anyway, it’s worth trying. If the title happens to be in their warehouse, you can have it delivered immediately to you at the (almost) same cost. (Kinokuniya’s net shop is also good. You should try it too.)

      2) Yohan was a distributor. Not a retailer. Theoretically speaking, this doesn’t necessarily put the company in a positon competing with that giant, amazon. The reality was, however, they weren’t providing English books to amazon and put themselves on the losing side in the ongoing battle of the internet booksellers vs. the bookstores in town. When you look at the things this way, this bankruptcy is no surprise at all. The judge had been long since announced. Most of the comments which have sprouted in the internet are unanimous in saying “It’s a shock. Sad to see such a familiar name disappearing. I purchase most of my books by the internet, though.” See?

      The question to be answered is who to fill the vacancy created by the bankruptcy of Yohan. Or if there should ever be anyone, for that matter. True, there are many other English books importing companies, but I doubt they are enthusiastic to assume the role of Yohan. Most of these importers have been dealing with special books such as academic titles for universities or graphic books for designers. In other words, expensive books. In the sense that cheap books for the mass market is the mainstay of the company, Yohan was exceptional. In order to be another Yohan, the company will have to construct new system within, and invest considerablly, all under the threat of amazon. No wise businessman would be enticed to do so.

      More fundamental question is whether bookstores in town are really mean to sell English books. I understand the plight Debito was in, but there is one thing he failed to mention. The responsibility of the bookstore. Yohan may have been bullying and unfair. Nevertheless, bookstores have every right to decide what books are put on their shelves. That is what they do. Arranging their book shelves. if Yohan was, as Debito observed, deciding which titles to be put in those particular shelves of the store, it is because the bookstore had asked Yohan to do so for them. I don’t know. I was not there. But I think it can be no other way.

      I guess that is the case with almost all bookstores across Japan. They lack willingness and capability to decide on English titles on their own, and have been relying on the “expertise” of Yohan. If no one provides them with the kind of service Yohan had offered them, most likely they will simply stop dealing with English books, filing the shelves with Japanese books. In Tokyo area, Maruzen, Kinokuniya, Yaesu Book Center and one or two more will survive. English books in all the other bookstore will be reduced to no more than dictionaries, guidebooks and a very few titles featured in latest motion pictures. I’m a bit exaggerating. It is only my prediction. What is anoying is, though, that even if this disturbing prediction is correct, it won’t add to anyone’s lament. As I have written above, and you guys are saying to the same effect, there are only few people relying on bookstores in town for their English books.

      Here is my last word. Am I happy with this conclusion? Definitely not! Quite contrary to what may be inferred from the things I have written above, I need bookstores which deal with English books. I want to touch and leaf through the books before I decide to buy. Non-native English user, I am less experienced in English and English books. The benefit of touching and seeing the books is much bigger to me that to those whose first language is English. All the things I have written above is, therefore, to clarify to myself, and share with you, what odds we have to overcome to retain English titles on the shelves in our bookstores in future.

    8. MZ Says:

      I would like to humbly add to PnetQ’s comment above:

      The following is a link to a stock search in Kinokuniya for “Dark Knight”, the paperback tie-in to the new Batman movie. The cover price is USD7.99.

      In Kinokuniya’S Shinjuku South store, as of july/aug, it’s sold at 998yen incl. tax. This is the actual store price, not the internet store.

      Not bad, right?
      (The 150-200yen to the dollar thing that’s often mentioned has been dropped years ago. As PnetQ says, imported books here are quite reasonable now. And BTW, I went to NY last year and a bookstore there sold the French edition of Little Prince, originally 6euros, at 18dollars…)

    9. debito Says:

      The Japan Times: Friday, Sept. 19, 2008
      Foreign magazines stuck in limbo

      Distributor Yohan’s bankruptcy leaves stores scrambling to meet customer demand
      By MINORU MATSUTANI Staff writer

      The National Azabu supermarket in the posh Minami-Azabu district in Minato Ward, Tokyo, offers an impressive variety of imported foods and other goods. But its selection of foreign magazines and books has been sharply curtailed since July 31, when Yohan Inc., which had a virtual monopoly on the sector, went bankrupt.

      “We receive complaints from four or five customers every day,” said Hiroshi Hirota, in charge of book and magazine procurement at National Azabu.

      The supermarket, which relied on Tokyo-based Yohan for its entire lineup of foreign magazines, is feeling more pain than its customers.

      In August, it saw a 60 percent plunge in foreign magazine sales and a 10 percent drop in foreign books from the same month last year, Hirota said.

      Bringing in Time, Fortune, Newsweek, BusinessWeek and The Economist is no problem, but “for everything else, we are not getting them properly,” he said, adding the supermarket offered about 700 different foreign magazines until the end of July.

      In early September, Hirota received delayed shipments of 40 other titles. The People magazine issue, for example, was dated Aug. 15, he said.

      National Azabu isn’t alone. The shortage is being felt by all the bookstores that stock foreign magazines and books nationwide, said Makoto Moroyama, a reporter for Shinbunka newspaper, which specializes in the publishing industry.

      “Yohan’s bankruptcy was too sudden and it is taking a long time for other book distributors to establish a supply system,” he said. “Simply put, they do not have the knowhow for handling large volumes of foreign magazines and books.”

      No statistics are available on the size of the market for foreign magazines and books, or on how big a hold Yohan had.

      Moroyama said Yohan probably controlled about 95 percent of the market for foreign magazines, while a Tokyo-based market researcher said the figure was at least 80 percent.

      Yohan, founded in 1953, commanded about half of the market for foreign books, Moroyama said.

      The situation in Japan was rare in that one company effectively dominated the entire market, he said. Many publications, like Time and Newsweek, are rivals, so they usually prefer to use different distributors, he said.

      Only a handful of the 1,000 or so foreign magazines Yohan was dealing in are now being distributed, Moroyama said.

      But three companies — Japan Publication Trading Co., Nippon Shuppan Hanbai Inc. and Kinokuniya Co. — are taking over some of the titles.

      Tokyo-based Japan Publication Trading, which imports and exports books, CDs and DVDs, said it has signed contracts with 400 magazines, all from the United States.

      But in reality, the only magazines the company is properly supplying are Time and Fortune, Moroyama said.

      Miyuki Tsutsui, the company’s purchasing chief for foreign magazines, said it gets the 400 titles “whenever they are shipped” and declined to say when they would be distributed properly. She stressed that the company is sorry for making customers wait.

      Atsushi Ogi, who manages the company’s foreign book division, said the volume bought from overseas publishers and sold to Japanese bookstores has “increased astonishingly.”

      Meanwhile, Nippon Shuppan Hanbai, Japan’s largest publication distributor, has been supplying Newsweek, BusinessWeek and The Economist to bookstores via wholly owned subsidiary DIP Inc. since Yohan went bust.

      Nippon Shuppan Hanbai and Japan Publication Trading are competing to win contracts with the British, French and German magazines Yohan used to handle, Shinbunka’s Moroyama said.

      Kinokuniya Co., Japan’s largest bookstore chain, said it is having a difficult time procuring U.S. and some British magazines to which Yohan had exclusive rights, but all other magazines are fine because it has been importing them itself.

      It has never bought foreign books from Yohan, so there are no problems on that end, spokesman Hideo Sakamoto said.

      Also, Tokyo-based Kinokuniya signed a contract with about 50 Italian magazines that Yohan used to import and has started selling them to other bookstores, he said. Besides those titles, Kinokuniya sells what it imports only at its outlets.

      These three companies should learn from Yohan’s mistakes, according to the market researcher, who asked to remain anonymous.

      The researcher said Yohan went under because people are increasingly shunning bookstores and buying foreign publications via the Internet and other routes, and that Yohan was flooded with massive inventories of books returned by the stores.

      It didn’t help that one of its investors, Polaris Principal Finance Co., was having a dispute with Yohan executives, which slowed its business, he said.

      In addition, Yohan handed its logistic management duties to a cheaper firm in April that failed to handle inventory-sorting. This forced it to send employees to book warehouses to do work manually, costing the company sales opportunities, the researcher said.

      As Yohan’s cash flow worsened, it was unable to pay foreign publishers for magazines and books and finally declared voluntary bankruptcy at the Tokyo District Court with ¥6.5 billion in debt on July 31.

      Group company Yohan Book Service, which operates Aoyama Book Center and other bookstores, filed a request with the court to apply the Civil Rehabilitation Law, and secondhand book dealer Bookoff Corp. has said it is willing to take over Yohan Book Service’s operations.

      A Bookoff official said no decision has been made. Yohan Book Service and its legal adviser Oh-Ebashi LPC and Partners declined to comment on the current situation.

      The Japan Times: Friday, Sept. 19, 2008

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