Traditional & Culture

Japan’s Curious “Mook” Culture – When Books Are Sold With Presents

What are Japan’s mooks? And why are they so often sold with tote bags and zipper pouches?What is a mook (ムック)? Well, they’re somewhere between a magazine and a book, and so m(agazine) + (b)ook = mook. They often have their own shelves in Japanese book stores, and even convenience stores, and their content tends to be somewhere between a normal magazine and a book, as well. Whether they’re about fashion, hobbies, or something a little more niche, they often look like a magazine with content that’s a little more in-depth. Usually.

What Makes a Mook a Mook?

At first glance, a mook doesn’t usually look much different from a magazine, so what sets them apart? Well, for one, they don’t usually get released on a regular schedule, and in addition, they actually have ISBN numbers. While Japanese magazines get marked with “magazine codes” (雑誌コード) that work similarly, only mooks get an actual International Standard Book Number! So if it’s really important to see if you’ve picked up a mook or a magazine, just check the back, and see if it has an ISBN or a magazine code.

The other big difference is that mooks have become a unique way for companies to promote their brands in Japan. These special mooks aren’t just full of promotional materialーthey come with an additional “present” attached, which can be anything from a small novelty to a real product. You’ll see mooks packaged with jewelry and accessories, stationery, cosmetics, and most common: bags and backpacks. Sometimes the mook still has interesting content, but often you’ll see slim mooks with just a few pages showing off the accompanying bag or accessory, and how it pairs with different outfits. These might be sold at bookstores, but the point of this particular purchase isn’t to acquire reading material.

Take a look at a few popular mooks to get a better idea.

Image Source: HMV

From B Ming by Beams, this mook’s cover is just a model wearing the attached backpack, and the subtitle is simply “Novelty Backpack Book.”

Image Source: Takarajima

A mook attached to a cute Moomin wallet.

Image Source: BAPE

Popular streetwear brand BAPE frequently releases new mooks with simple new accessories.

Image Source: Takarajima

Fashion brand A-jolie often puts out promotional mooks that sell out quickly. In fact, the small bag that comes with this one is actually a slightly altered remake of a previous mook novelty, which was snapped up too quickly.

Obviously, part of the appeal here is the price. Regular pieces purchased from A-jolie are often close to 20,000 yen (a little under 200 USD), but this mook and its little A-jolie bag are closer to 2,000 yen (~20 USD). For those interested in fashion, but a little strapped for cash, these mooks offer a way to own a little something from a favorite brand.

Of course, since the accessories here are basically marketed as “free presents,” it’s easy to feel a little suspicious. Are these the real thing? Are they weird knock-offs?

Well, they’re not counterfeit, that’s for sure. But if you’re looking for the same high-quality you might find from some of the high-end fashion brands that have been known to release mooks, you’re not going to get it. When it’s a novelty item with a price tag closer to $20 than $200, the wallet won’t be real leather and the tote bag won’t be made from thick, resilient canvas. But if you really love the brand and think the item is cute, maybe that’s okay. And you can’t beat the convenienceーthese mooks are available at just about any bookstore. (Unless you’re looking for one from an especially popular brand, in which case it might already be sold out!)

The novelty products aren’t actually limited to mooks, though. Real fashion magazines and similar publications come with novelties attached sometimes, too, like makeup, nail polish, small pouches, or notebooks.

In the same area, I even noticed what appeared to be promotional mooks with health-related merchandise, like a comfortable neck brace and a back support cushion. (Wait, are we really still in a bookstore, here?)

This little novelty pouch is made to look like an eraser, but they recommend using it as a “gadget pouch.”

You might even find the perfect overnight bag in mook form!?If you’re looking for a unique souvenir from Japan and want to share a little of the wacky joy that comes from Japan’s novelty mooks, just take a stroll through the bookstore, and head towards the magazine racks. You’ll find an impressive selection of options for your friends and family, and you might even be tempted to treat yourself!

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