How are fiction books such as novels sorted on the shelves at Japanese bookshops? Kana order seems to play a small part but not the whole part.

(I'm not asking about nonfiction books since those are ordered by category and are much easier to find)

  • 4
    I'm not saying your view to close as off-topic is invalid, and the question will serve a purpose even if it just helps us define what is and is not on-topic, but I do have to disagree with your view that "culture" and "language" are mutually exclusive. Commented Jun 14, 2011 at 2:33
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    I have to agree with Mark: I do not think that this question is about the Japanese language. It is a question about a common practice in bookstores in Japan, and the linguistic aspect seems only tangential to me. (I assume that the Japanese bookstore in Australia follows the usual practice in Japan.) Commented Jun 14, 2011 at 2:41
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    @Tsuyoshi Ito: Please feel free to provide an answer (in a comment) that illustrates how to find such a book without referring to Japanese language (-; Yes the Japanese bookstore in Australia was set up for Japanese exchange students and followed the usual Japanese practice in Japan. Commented Jun 14, 2011 at 2:46
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    I'll take the middle ground and say that, with some very light rewriting, this could be made into an interesting question on Japanese alphabetical ordering. This is borderline, but still deserves its place here...
    – Dave
    Commented Jun 14, 2011 at 3:00
  • 4
    Looking at it the other way, where else could you ask this interesting and helpful question? Currently: nowhere. This question is borderline, but I think we'd do well to include it within the scope of the site.
    – deceze
    Commented Jun 14, 2011 at 3:13

2 Answers 2


From what I've observed, it varies from shop to shop:

  • by publisher → by author name → by book title
  • by author name → by book title
  • by library → by series number (In case of 文庫 [ぶんこ] (library), 新書 [しんしょ] (library of pocket-sized paperbacks)
  • by relevance/context (in untraditional bookstores like ヴィレッジ・ヴァンガード, 松丸本舗 [まつまるほんぽ])

Also, 文庫 and 新書 are placed in separate bookshelves on their own.

As for libraries, most of them follow the NDC classification system. NDC stands for Nippon Decimal Classification.

If you go to a library, you'll see that books are labelled with NDC classification number (分類番号 [ぶんるいばんごう]), a letter or two denoting the Kana to be used for further ordering1 (図書記号 [としょきごう] / 著者記号 [ちょしゃきごう]) and an optional series number (巻冊記号 [かんさつきごう]). These numbers are called 請求記号 [せいきゅうきごう] as a set and is used for ordering books and tracking down a book to a specific location in the library2 3:

| 810.4 | - 分類番号              +
+-------+                        |
|  イ   | - 図書記号/著者記号       +-> 請求記号
+-------+                        |
|   2   | - 巻冊記号              +

Here's how it looks like (notice the small white labels at the bottom of the spine):

Fukuoka City Public Library

(Photo by LWY)

For fiction books, they fall under the main class of 9, and further classified like:

9 - Literature
 900 - Literature
 910 - Japanese Literature
   911 - Poetry
   912 - Plays
   913 - Novels
 920 - Chinese Literature

Again, 文庫 and 新書 will be in separate bookshelves in libraries too, and can be ordered by library → by series number instead of NDC.

[1] Usually the first letter of the primary author's surname, or the book title when there are a lot of authors.
[2] Some libraries may have an internal tracking number of their own, in addition to / in place of NDC, especially the small, private or academic ones.
[3] This sounds all neat and ordered, but 請求記号 isn't portable across different libraries, because they have different ideas about how to format it and what to use for 図書記号.


I haven't been to a Japanese library yet, but judging from the book shops I have been to so far, fiction and such have been sorted by publishing house (such as Kadokawa or DC Comics).

  • That's the impression I had been developing, though it was only a hunch based on similar covers and binding styles due to my limited Japanese. I also haven't been to a library. Commented Jun 14, 2011 at 7:39

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