Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Buying ebooks in Japan, part 1

So, some time ago I started moving away from physical books on account of having filled all the physical space with books. I began buying e-books instead. These are surprisingly good, considering my first suspicious, and I've found it a great help. Now, one of the reasons I have so many books is that I own a lot of books that are quite specialised, and so hard to get in libraries and so on (so hard, in fact, that I sort of stopped using libraries). Of the, um... 1000+ books that I do or recently did own, 200 are in non-English languages, while a large number are genre fiction or just old stuff that doesn't tend to end up in libraries (a lot of this is second-hand, or left over from my childhood, or both).

Well, after a very hesitant and reluctant start, ebooks are starting to become a thing in Japan. I suspect one reason it's slow is that a lot of books are very cheap here already - there are massive bookshops selling second-hand stuff for 75p, and so on - so they feel fairly disposable? Regardless, I thought this was a good time to try taking the plunge, because if I can conveniently get Japanese books as data, that would be really handy in the future.

First off, Rakuten. This is a big player in Japan, a kind of Amazon affair. It also now owns Kobo, the brand of ebook reader I own. In the process of buying it, they managed to make it impossible to log into the UK Kobo website from Japan, leaving me entirely unable to do anything with my account, because I'm forcibly redirected to the Rakuten site which doesn't give access to my Kobo account. Joy! But let's try buying something from them.

I track down a cheap ebook.

Despite Rakuten's ebooks being sold through Kobo, apparently they haven't actually made the systems compatible, so I can't log in with my Kobo account to buy it. I need to create a new account.

I need to register with Japanese address and phone number. This is a bit extreme, I feel. Far too much detail, not necessary, especially when you're only buying ebooks!

After some time, I have successfully registered with Rakuten, but I can't buy anything. Because, even though they let me create an account, they refuse to let me buy any of their Rakuten-Kobo ebooks because I used the same email address to register with Rakuten that I already had with Kobo and these two are apparently in conflict. This is rampant imbecility of a kind rarely parallelled.

I fire off an infuriated email, sigh and go to do the washing up.

A pleasant customer service person writes back:

According to our record, you could not buy an e-book from us because the account you created here was same as the one from your country.

In order to create Rakuten Kobo account you will need to register with other account but my email address. LINK.

I do this, and to my surprise, it works! I buy one book, for about £2, as a test, which is all I'm doing really. Then I open the Kobo desktop application, attach my Kobo to the computer, and wait for it to update. It does. The book still isn't there.

Kind customer service person (henceforth KCSP) writes back to confirm that I own the book, and explains sychronisation (the updating thing) in case I'm doing it wrong. I'm not.

I write back and ask whether the problem is not, in fact, that my Kobo is registered to my original Yahoo email address, used to set up my original Kobo account, whilst the book was bought on my Rakuten-Kobo account linked to my Gmail address. I am feeling increasingly sorry for KCSP by now, but I like to think that my teachers would be proud of me on account of how I'm doing all of this in Japanese.

KCSP replies with various points. Firstly, apparently I should really be talking to Kobo UK since that's where I bought my Kobo. However, they will keep helping me for now. I am grateful for this, because Kobo UK essentially shrugged like a French waiter when I first had problems arriving here, and that definitely didn't reply to my emails within an hour.

Secondly, they are a bit confused by my accounts. I, also.

Thirdly, they want various details.

After a good night's sleep to digest this on a clear head (seriously, you try reading customer service emails about a highly technical matter* in another language after studying for 8 hours) I reply. It's not exactly a direct reply, but I basically write out the entire history of my interactions with Kobo, laying out purchases, accounts, email addresses and what went wrong at each stage, so they can be clear. All I want is to be able to buy books in both Japanese and English, and read them on my device what I purchased from the company what sells these books. The only reason I'm using Rakuten is because I can't get to the Kobo website - although admittedly I'm not sure that sells books in Japanese. Maybe? I don't know, because I'm not allowed to look at it.

Watch this space...

* I'm really not clear on exactly what's going on, but basically they have apparently made a horrible bodge of setting up systems when Rakuten bought Kobo. The Rakuten system is aware of my Kobo account just enough to stop me registering a Rakuten account with the same email address as my Kobo account, but not enough to let me either a) log in with my Kobo account, or b) unify the contents of these accounts in any way. This is a Very Specific Level of unification.


  1. all these reminded me of the university's financial system. they expect you to have a full pack of knowledge in order to reach the right person who can solve, probably the simplest problem in the word...
    1000+ books! that's why I befriend you:)

    1. Ah, I knew there was a reason ^_^ I thought it was because I was the only person who would climb up to your eyrie and interrupt your loneliness?

      Apparently DRM and region restrictions are a big part of the problem...

    2. ahaha, you are the only human who dares to do so:D
      yes, funny I saw Rakuten ads popped up on my screen just after writing that message...

  2. btw, does Rakuten mean anything in Japanese?

    1. Why, yes! It is 楽天, which means 'optimism' and suchlike.

    2. not so optimistic about purchasing any books from them though

    3. No, indeed. As you will see...