Why Are Japanese Books Backwards

Why Are Japanese Books Backwards?

If you have ever come across a Japanese book, you may have noticed something peculiar – they read from right to left, the opposite direction of books in many other parts of the world. This unique characteristic has puzzled and intrigued readers for years. In this article, we will explore the historical and cultural reasons behind this reverse reading style and shed light on the fascinating world of Japanese literature.

The Origins:

The origins of the right-to-left reading style in Japan can be traced back to the introduction of paper and writing systems from China during the Heian period (794-1185). The Chinese writing system, which was written in columns and read from top to bottom, influenced Japanese literature greatly. However, when the Japanese started developing their own writing system, known as kana, they adopted a horizontal writing style.

During the Meiji period (1868-1912), the Japanese government made efforts to modernize the country and catch up with the Western world. As part of this modernization process, they decided to switch to a left-to-right reading style, similar to that used in English and other European languages. However, despite this change, the right-to-left reading style remained prevalent in certain genres, such as manga and light novels.

Cultural Significance:

The right-to-left reading style has become deeply ingrained in Japanese culture and holds significant cultural and aesthetic value. It is seen as a distinct characteristic that sets Japanese literature apart from other literary traditions. The right-to-left format is believed to enhance the visual experience, as it allows readers to appreciate the intricate artwork and illustrations that often accompany Japanese books.


1. Why are Japanese books printed vertically?

Japanese books are printed vertically to maintain the traditional writing style that originated from China. The vertical orientation allows for the smooth flow of text and maintains the aesthetic appeal of the characters.

2. Are all Japanese books read from right to left?

Not all Japanese books are read from right to left. While traditional novels and literature are typically read in the right-to-left format, modern books, especially those influenced by Western styles, may be written in the left-to-right format.

3. Do Japanese people find it difficult to adapt to left-to-right reading?

The majority of Japanese people are accustomed to reading both horizontally and vertically, as they encounter both styles in their daily lives. However, some individuals may find it slightly challenging to adapt to left-to-right reading, especially if they primarily consume right-to-left materials.

4. Does the right-to-left reading style affect translations?

Translating Japanese texts into left-to-right languages can be an arduous task. Translators must carefully consider the placement and formatting of the text to ensure it aligns with the original artwork and maintains the intended reading experience.


The right-to-left reading style of Japanese books has its roots in ancient Chinese writing systems and has remained an integral part of Japanese literature. While the world has witnessed many changes over the centuries, this unique reading style has managed to preserve its cultural significance and contribute to the distinctiveness of Japanese books. So, the next time you pick up a Japanese book, embrace the opportunity to experience a different reading journey that transcends cultural boundaries.

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