Japan Data

Japanese Elementary Students Reading Fewer Books


A 2019 survey found that on average Japanese elementary students read only a third as many books as in 1989.

A 2019 survey by Gakken Educational Research Institute found a significant drop in the volume of reading by elementary school children compared with 1989. The survey targeted 1,200 elementary school students (100 girls and 100 boys per grade), along with their parents.

On average overall, students read 3.1 books a month. Broken down by grade, first grade students read the most with 3.8 books on average, while fifth grade students read the least with 2.3 books. The amount of reading by children tended to decrease with higher grades. Among fourth to sixth grade students, 30% answered that they don’t even read one book a month.

Looking back 30 years to the 1989 survey, elementary school students on average overall read 9.1 books, meaning the volume of books being read has dropped by two-thirds. In contrast to the 2019 survey, the 1989 survey also showed that reading was more prevalent among children in the third grade and above, with them reading 10 books or more on average each month.

The amount of television elementary school children watch has dropped too by at least 50–60%, so this cannot be assumed to be the main reason why children are not reading. While after-school play time increased slightly in 2019, this is also not a reason for children reading less either.

In contrast, under the category for smartphones and similar devices they could use freely, 926 children, accounting for 77% overall, answered that they used these types of devices. The two reasons they gave most for use were to play games (76.9%) for on average 45 minutes a day and to watch videos (78.2%) for an average 44 minutes daily.

It might be thought that being digital natives, elementary school students would be reading and studying on their smartphones, but only 18.1% answered that they read e-books and for a mere 6 minutes on average a day.

Compiled by Nippon.com based on the Gakken Educational Research Institute’s 2019 White Paper for Elementary School Children.

(Translated from Japanese. Banner photo © Pixta.)

children reading