The first time that I stumbled upon the so-called Mariko Aoki Phenomenon (青木まりこ現象, Aoki Mariko genshō)I laughed it off as a poor attempt at bathroom humor. But the second time that I read about this Japanese bookstore issue I thought that it was worth exploring. Following a Wikipedia link, I discovered that it was even weirder, and funnier, than I originally imagined.
So what’s it all about ? Apparently, there has been a lively debate going on in Japan for decades over the notion that browsing in a bookstore causes the shopper to experience the urge to have a bowel movement. In 1985, a Japanese woman named Mariko Aoki wrote a letter to a popular bibliophile periodical called the Book Magazine that began exploring the phenomenon with its readers. Eventually the concept was discussed in other publications and then on the radio and television. Fast forward to 2020 and now there’s a 7,500-word Wikipedia page that examines this crazy notion from every imaginable aspect.
Social scientists in Japan have studied what they are now calling “book bowel” tendency. Research results suggest that the phenomenon is found throughout Japan. Apparently, the Mariko Aoki Phenomenon is two to four times more prevalent in women than men. Studies have determined that between 10 and 20% of the population suffers from book bowel syndrome, with one survey finding that it can impact over 25% of adult bookstore browsers.
Now, I know that this might seem to be an uncomfortable topic, but as a bookseller and a life-long bookstore habitué I think that we need to get to the bottom of this issue. Is this only a Japanese phenomenon or is it an international issue ? Do book browsers in other nations experience the phenomenon ? Do library visitors suffer from “book bowel” ?