This year’s Tokyo International Book Fair set a new record at 1,000 exhibitors welcoming over 80,000 visitors to the Tokyo Big Sight convention center for the 17th convention held July 8 to 11. The growth was due to the first EDIX (Educational IT Solutions Expo), which joined the fair for its first three days. Saudi Arabia served as the 2010 Theme Country.

English signage led directly to the West Hall of Tokyo Big Sight. The well-organized floor plan stated what became instantly obvious: the exhibition is huge, and navigation of the hall required days; however, without a working grasp of the Japanese language Western visitors could forego seminars and demonstrations geared specifically to the Japanese market.

As the world leader in literacy, the fair is the annual opportunity for publishers to invite the West to see what interests the Japanese. This year, books and posters of the 19th century historical figure Ryoma Sakamoto were omnipresent due to the NHK weekly television series. Another trend appeared to be the “eco” or green movement as illustrated by a large booth representing the Rural Culture Association. Foreign pavilions included Asian partners (China, Korea, Taiwan), and, from the Europe, Spain, Italy, Bulgaria and Estonia.

Judging by the size of the crowd and the size of its booth, Google Japan attracted the majority of visitors to the Digital Publishing Fair section. At present, the local market for e-books is in its infancy. Currently, cell phones provide popular reading material, which precludes investing in another instrument. “As a rule the Japanese public is slow to accept change, which is why the e-book industry is in the early stages in this country,” said Kan XH Buan, CEO, Founder International Inc, the largest distributor of electronic news in Asia. “Give it three years and once the technology is embraced sales will take off like a rocket since Japan is mad about new gadgets.”

The race is now on for wireless carriers to tap into this readership: Softbank Corp is already distributing magazine content to iPad users, while NTT DoCoMo is moving in this direction. Sony Corp together with The Asahi Shimbun newspaper and two other partners plans to distribute e-books by year-end. Printing companies and bookstores also announced their imminent entry into the field. One big question that remains to be sorted is how to pay for online services in a society that prefers cash and carry.