Mariko Aoki phenomenon

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Customers standing and reading manga in a Japanese bookstore

The Mariko Aoki phenomenon (青木まりこ現象, Aoki Mariko genshō) is a Japanese expression referring to an urge to defecate that is suddenly felt after entering bookstores. The phenomenon's name derives from the name of the woman who mentioned the phenomenon in a magazine article in 1985. According to Japanese social psychologist Shozo Shibuya, the specific causes that trigger a defecation urge in bookstores are not yet clearly understood (as of 2014).[1] There are also some[who?] who are skeptical about whether such a peculiar phenomenon really exists at all, and it is sometimes discussed as one type of urban myth.

The series of processes through which being in a bookstore leads to an awareness of a defecation urge is something that cannot be explained from a medical perspective as a single pathological concept, at least at present. According to a number of discussions on the topic, even if it can be sufficiently found that this phenomenon actually exists, it is a concept that would be difficult to be deemed a specific pathological entity (such as a "Mariko Aoki disease", for example).


The term receives its name from Mariko Aoki, an otherwise little-known Japanese woman who contributed an essay in 1985 to the magazine Hon no Zasshi [ja] (which means "Book Magazine").[2]: 55  In that essay, she related how she came to the realization that for some years, walking around a bookstore inevitably made her want to go to the restroom. The editors of the magazine received reports of other readers who had similar experiences, and named it the "Mariko Aoki phenomenon".[3]: 2–15 [4]


Possible theories behind the phenomena include the smell of paper or ink having a laxative effect,[4] the association with reading on the toilet at home,[4] and the posture of browsing making bowel movement easier. The evidence for these explanations however remains weak.[5] The psychological hypothesis that the effect arises from feelings of nervous tension in the face of all the information represented on the bookshelves is supported by certain literary figures[citation needed], who do not attempt to explain how the anxiety-inducing information in a bookstore is mentally differentiated from information in a library or microform archive.

History in Japan[edit]

Before "Mariko Aoki"[edit]

One known mention in Japan dating back many decades regarding a relationship between bookstores and the defecation urge is in Jun'nosuke Yoshiyuki's Amidst the Hustle and Bustle (1957),[6] and similar mentions can be found in works by Jo Toyama (in 1972's The Emperor and the Lieutenant) or Shoichi Nejime (in 1981's Words, Too, Can Sweat—Literally), but it is uncertain from exactly what point in time the phenomenon first began to be a topic of discussion.[7] It appears to have already been raised in the media from as early as the 1980s. For example, the magazine Common Man Weekly (August 31, 1984 issue) records television newscaster Tetsuo Suda talking about a similar experience. Also, the radio program Young Paradise (on Nippon Broadcasting System from 1983 to 1990) had a corner for sharing bowel movement related episodes, and one time the defecation urge felt in bookstores was discussed by being referred to as the "Yoshiko Yamada syndrome".

Vol. 39 of Book Magazine (December 1984; Book Magazine Company) contains a man from Ikoma city in Nara prefecture discussing a similar experience.[8] Although this man's account of his experience did not garner any particular attention at the time of Vol. 39's publication, the magazine's publisher Koji Meguro later conjectured that the phenomenon probably already existed "below the radar" even before "Mariko Aoki".[9]

Special feature article of Book Magazine and naming of the phenomenon[edit]

The name "Mariko Aoki phenomenon" had its beginnings in a real-life experience account sent in to the readers' letters column of the Japanese magazine Book Magazine (published by Book Magazine Company) in 1985.[10] Printed in the magazine's 40th volume (in February 1985), the letter was by a woman from Suginami city in Tokyo who was 29 years old at the time, and stated that "I'm not sure why, but since about two or three years ago, whenever I go to a bookstore I am struck by an urge to move my bowels."[10] The magazine's publisher Koji Meguro has recalled that at the time "Chief editor Makoto Shiina included the letter because he thought it was amusing."[11] Although the letter itself was short in length and was not augmented by any particular editorial comments or the like, immediately upon the magazine's publication a large number of readers troubled by the same phenomenon sent opinions in to the editorial department.[12] Due to the scale of the reaction, the next issue (Vol. 41 in April 1985) included a special feature article bearing the sensational title The Phenomenon Currently Shaking the Bookstore Industry!, containing discussions on the issue from various perspectives.[13] In the course of such discussion, the phenomenon (the sudden occurrence of a defecation urge when in bookstores) came to be named the "Mariko Aoki phenomenon", after the author of the original letter.[14] In relation to this, it has been noted that it was popular in late 1980s Japan to have words ending with "... phenomenon", an example being the use of the expression "Akira Asada phenomenon", which took the name of a central figure in the "new academism" that was a much-discussed topic at the time.[15] Although the feature article ran very long at 14 pages, it did not ultimately offer any clarity regarding an explanation for the phenomenon.[16] The name of the phenomenon was also displayed on the cover of that issue, which has been said to have led to the name's becoming known throughout Japan.[17]

Reaction to the naming[edit]

When the special feature article was published in 1985, the Mariko Aoki phenomenon received considerable coverage, with even one of Japan's leading magazines Weekly Bunshun (published by Bungeishunju Ltd.) being quick to feature the topic in its May 2, 1985 issue.[18] Book Magazine publisher Koji Meguro believed that one of the reasons that the reaction was so considerable was that it was an ordinary, young woman who had divulged this concern regarding the delicate topic of her own defecation urge.[19] Mariko Aoki herself has been interviewed multiple times by the Book Magazine editorial department since 1985, and has remarked that she is not particularly bothered by her name being used. The phenomenon has continued to be referred to sporadically in various media since 1985 and has given birth to a large amount of conjecture and speculation.[20]

In the 1990s (television programs that sought to verify the phenomenon)[edit]

While there has at times been a tendency to view the connection between bookstores and the defecation urge as a preposterous urban legend,[21] specialists have also appeared who have added detailed insight into the topic, such that in the latter half of the 1990s it came to be accepted as an actually existing phenomenon. This can be considered to be due to the impact of television programs that were broadcast during that time.[22]

The topic was favorably introduced in 1995 on the television program Lifestyle Refresh Morning (in the episode broadcast on July 26, 1995 on NHKG).[22][23]

On the 1998 television program The Real Side of Un'nan (in the episode broadcast on October 28, 1998 on TBS Television), personalities claiming to have experienced the phenomenon—including Kiyotaka Nanbara, Maako Kido, Seiko Ito and Keisuke Horibe—carried out extensive tests that also featured experts.[24][25][26][27] There was a big response to this broadcast, and the program featured special segments related to this topic on multiple occasions thereafter (such as in the episode broadcast on January 20, 1999).[28]

In the 2000s (the Internet era)[edit]

From the year 2000 onward as the Internet grew, the Mariko Aoki phenomenon came to be even more widely known.[29][30] In 2002, an Internet search using the keywords "bookstore, defecation urge" produced links to dozens of websites discussing the phenomenon.[31] Another factor that increased its visibility was when, in 2003, the weekly magazine Aera (November 17, 2003 edition; The Asahi Shimbun Co.) compiled a comprehensive report on the phenomenon.[32] According to one person from the bookstore industry, around that time university students could often be seen visiting bookstores to interview staff in order to research the phenomenon.[33]

In 2012 on the television program The Quiz God (TBS; episode broadcast on June 29, 2012), the contestants were asked the question, "What is the name generally given to the phenomenon named after the woman who submitted a letter to a magazine in 1985 about the phenomenon of experiencing a defecation urge when one is in a bookstore for a long period of time?" Of the 20 contestants, 10 correctly answered, "The Mariko Aoki phenomenon".[34] Quiz scholar and designer Hiroshi Nishino has observed that even when phrases—such as the "Mariko Aoki phenomenon" or the "Dylan effect" (a Japanese phrase referring to how a song or part of it can get stuck in one's head on an endless loop)—have not received academic consensus, "when they have an appealing sound to them they are increasingly being asked as quiz questions."[35]

According to Book Magazine's publisher Shigeru Hamamoto, the magazine was still occasionally receiving inquiries from television programs or other magazines even in 2012.[36] Hamamoto stated that the phenomenon was not just a one-time topic and is probably one that will continue to be talked about into the future.[36]

While the phrase "Mariko Aoki phenomenon" is not one generally used in fields such as medicine or biology,[37] due to its history of being a topic of interest such as in the examples set out above it is even sometimes introduced as being standard nomenclature.[38][39][40] It has also been introduced in the same category as terminology from psychology and sociology such as "Peter Pan syndrome" and "empty-nest syndrome".[41]

Epidemiology in Japan[edit]

Persons with a history of experiencing the Mariko Aoki phenomenon were described as having a "book bowel" tendency (Japanese: 書便派 sho'ben-ha) in Vol. 41 of Book Magazine.[42] No epidemiological research regarding people with a book bowel tendency had been reported as of 2012, and nor do any statistics exist regarding a detailed morbidity rate or the like.

According to one very small-scale study, while the fact that people with a book bowel tendency existed throughout all of Japan indicated a lack of any regional difference,[43] a female bias was observed with a male to female ratio of between 1:4[43] to 1:2.[44] It has also been posited that the tendency is uncommon in so-called "sporty males".[45]

One report has estimated the prevalence as being between 1 in 10 to 1 in 20 people.[46] It has also been approximated that at least a few million people in Japan have experienced the phenomenon.[47] According to a Japanese online survey that was targeted at working women between the ages of 22 and 33, the number of responses answering "Yes" to the question "Have you ever felt a defecation urge when in a bookstore?" was 40 out of 150 (26.7%).[48]

While there is no clear peak age of onset, instances of adult onset appear to be common, with the 20s and 30s age groups being prominent.[44] On the other hand, instances of children who experience the phenomenon have also been reported.[49][50]

It can be said to be a phenomenon that anyone could potentially experience,[51] as there appears to be no difference in the rate of incidence depending on family history.[52] Mariko Aoki's mother, however, had said that she feels there might be some kind of genetic factor involved in the phenomenon, given that her own younger brother (i.e., Mariko Aoki's uncle) experienced similar symptoms to those of Mariko.[53] The phenomenon is also known to show a tendency to pass on from person to person.[51]

There has been found to many affected individuals among people such as authors and those involved in publishing.[44][54] On the other hand, a tendency can be seen for the phenomenon to not occur readily among people such as bookstore employees or the families of bookstore managers.[55] But there is not a complete absence of cases among people related to bookstores.[56] Plastic surgeon Kiyoshi Matsuo has noted that "it can occur to anyone".[57]

Clinical picture[edit]


It can be understood from the cases that have been reported that the phenomenon can present with a wide range of symptoms other than the typical pattern. The classic clinical picture can be defined based on Mariko Aoki's original letter as follows:

  1. after being in a bookstore for a long period of time (contributing factor),
  2. suddenly (timing of onset),
  3. an urge to defecate arises (symptom).

All variations of the phenomenon are expressed in the form of the symptom of "an inexplicable defecation urge related to bookstores". It is not the case that there is any one particular disease or disorder called the "Mariko Aoki phenomenon". The psychiatrists Masao Nagazawa (1985)[58] and Kazuo Sakai (2003)[59] have concluded that "it is unclear what the specific causes might be, but, at the least, experiencing a "defecation urge in a bookstore" is not a disease". However, Mariko Aoki's letter (constituting primary literature in this respect) contains the language "I ended up with the same disease (soon after my friend complained of her own symptoms)",[60] and it is also a fact that in humorous contexts the phenomenon is likened to a disease. It is also the case that the editorial department of Book Magazine has used expressions such as "this ailment of sorts" (1958)[51] and "a peculiar disease that is rampant throughout the world" (1994)".[61]

In his book What is Illness? (1970, Chikuma Shobo), Yoshio Kawakita asserted that "illness is actually not a scientific concept but is a pragmatic concept based on an understanding between the patient side and the physician side", and this assertion was borrowed by clinical psychologist Toshio Kasahara (2010), who stated that since most of the people who experience the Mariko Aoki phenomenon do not seek medical attention at hospitals or medical clinics, he does not consider it an illness.[62]

Psychiatrist Takashi Sumioka (1997), meanwhile, has noted the possibility that hidden behind the symptom of "wanting to go to the bathroom" may be a condition such as irritable bowel syndrome or anxiety disorder.[44]

Contributing factors[edit]

Mariko Aoki relates that "being in a bookstore for a long period of time" or "smelling the scent of new books for a long period of time" will set off the series of symptoms.[60] According to Aoki, the symptoms can develop in such situations regardless of the type of book, whether "when cradling a high-brow literary tome" or "when standing to browse-read a manga comic".[60] Aoki also notes that the phenomenon can be reproduced more readily "when a bit constipated" or "on the morning after having a nightcap".[60]

As for locations where the phenomenon is experienced, reports include that "symptoms are particular strong when in a large bookstore",[42] "it readily occurs at English language booksellers",[63] "it can occur not just in bookstores that sell new books but also in secondhand bookstores or libraries",[42] "it occurs only in libraries",[43] and when the member of a magazine editorial team "is in the company's archives room".[64] There are also cases where, once people exit a bookstore due to having perceived a defecation urge, before they know it the symptoms have subsided.[43] Cases have also been identified where the phenomenon does not occur in bookstores, secondhand bookstores, or libraries, but in places such as CD stores, video rental stores, and video game stores.[45][64][65][66][67][68] According to an online survey targeting working females aged 22 to 34 who were asked in what situations they tend to be confronted with a "sudden defecation urge", while responses were received of the likes of "when standing on the train on the way to work" and "when feeling nervous before a meeting", the response "when in a bookstore" stood out particularly.[69]

The circumstances of the moment in which the defecation urge appears have been described as including "when reading the spine covers of books",[43][56] "when looking through the bookshelves in bookstores",[43] "when standing in bookstores while browse-reading",[43] "when viewing the spine titles of the array of books laid out on bookshelves",[70][71] "as soon as having entered a bookstore and being surrounded by bookshelves",[54] "when selecting a book from the library",[43] and "directly after doing a once-through of the new release books".[72]

One opinion is that "it often happens when reading serious books such as literary works".[73] The novelist Jiro Asada has said that the strength of the symptoms are proportionally related to the size of the bookstore and the degree of difficulty of the books he is looking for.[73]

Another person who used to be struck by a defecation urge whenever going to a bookstore reported that the symptoms suddenly resolved themselves immediately upon starting a part-time job at a bookstore.[74]

In subsequent media interviews, Mariko Aoki has added the following details about the phenomenon:[75]

  • When walking around in circles through the bookshelves in bookstores, she will suddenly want to go to the bathroom.
  • The phenomenon occurs when she has been in a bookstore for an hour or more.
  • The phenomenon occurs completely irrespective of the type of books.
  • It has never happened to her in a library or secondhand bookstore.
  • She has also worked in a printery where there were many opportunities for exposure to the smell of paper and ink, but there was never any onset of the symptoms.

Onset and symptoms[edit]

Persons who have experienced this phenomenon all share the same complaint: "a sudden awareness of an unbearable defecation urge". The Book Magazine reporting team listed features of this defecation urge that included urgency in the lower abdominal area, shivers across the entire body, facial pallor, cold sweat (greasy sweat), and a bow-legged gait.[76] Borborygmus is cited as an objective symptom, described as "the belly making a gurgling noise"[77] and "gurgle-gurgle gurrrrgle".[78] The thinker Tatsuru Uchida has called these clinical presentations a "latrine-seeking" problem.[79] People walking around looking for a bathroom have also been described as "wearing a vacant stare".[80]

There are also known to be cases of not simply a defecation urge but also symptoms such as abdominal pain[81] or diarrhea.[82] There are also said to be cases where what presents is not an urge to defecate but an urge to urinate,[80][83] or need to urinate frequently.[84] Results from a survey of 30 people reported that, of 18 people who responded that they "have an experience of [being in a bookstore and] going to the bathroom and using the toilet", 7 people responded that they "experienced a defecation urge only" and another 7 that they "experienced a urination urge only", while 4 people responded that they experienced "both a defecation and a urination urge".[80]

The defecation urge that is experienced has been explained to have characteristics such as "a kind of heaving sensation in the rectal passage",[74] "a dull convulsive pain in the gut",[85] "a filling-up sensation in the lower abdominal area",[86] and "a focusing of all nervous energy on the anal area",[78] and the intensity of the sensation has been variously described with expressions such as "enough to make one scared about going to a bookstore again",[74] "hellish",[74] and "Armageddon-class".[87] Even in cases where the subject manages to remain continent, it is described as "a frustrating situation of half wanting to go to the bathroom and half feeling like one can put it off".[88]

No prodromal symptoms are known, with the phenomenon said to "occur regardless of how good one's physical condition is".[89] The state of mind immediately prior to and following onset has been complained of as a deflating feeling "of sheer patheticness".[90] There are also people who fall into a state of anticipatory anxiety about "whether it might happen again next time".[90] Some people have talked of a peculiar experience of "a heightened feeling in the mind of deep, literary emotion".[91]

When symptoms become severe, the phenomenon can even come to impact on quality of life, including people saying, "I can't take my time looking for books because I end up wanting to go to the bathroom",[92] "I get other people to buy the books I need",[85] "As soon as I've bought the book I need, I get outside the bookstore",[93] "I can't go to a bookstore wearing white pants (because of the risk of incontinence)",[94] and "Even just dreaming of entering a bookstore always makes me want to go to the bathroom".[95] Although an extreme example, one company executive reported "I make sure never to get anywhere near a bookstore."[82] Regarding the threat of incontinence, the thinker Tatsuru Uchida has expressed it as "in the worst case scenario, entailing a traumatic scene from which it would be difficult to restore one's honor as an adult member of society".[79]

Pathological condition and observations[edit]

Although there has been much examination by numerous experts and thinkers as to the mechanisms of the phenomenon,[96] a consensus of opinion has yet to be reached.[97] The author Junichiro Uemae has commented that at first glance there appears to be no common thread, in a manner akin to the hypothetical concept of "the flap of a butterfly's wings in Brazil setting off a tornado in Texas".[98]

To date there has been little attempt to scientifically validate the phenomenon, such that the state of observation currently does not extend much beyond experts and thinkers asserting their own theories among each other, theories which are based on subjective judgment.[99]

Standard explanatory models[edit]

People with a history of experiencing the Mariko Aoki phenomenon have a tendency to glean from these experiences certain notions of what they feel could be causes and then use those notions to seek to avoid being beset by the symptoms. These kinds of "notions" are referred to in diagnostics as patient explanatory models, and can assist in elucidating the pathological condition.

Many of the opinions look for a cause in chemical or physical stimulants existing in the bookstore environment. Mariko Aoki herself has offered as explanatory models "that the smell of new books upregulates metabolism" or "that the defecatory nerve center is stimulated by tracking your eyes across the spines of books".[100] An editor of Book Magazine believes that experiencing a defecation urge at certain bookstores is often due to the abdomen becoming being cooled as a result of the bookstores economizing on heating.[101] In contrast to this, a column on the website of secondhand bookstore chain Book Off stated that "it is because the air conditioning is too cold".[102] Other explanatory models than these include "paper allergy",[103] "the scent of the ink unique to the color pages of centerfolds stimulates the bowel",[104] "the orderliness of books arranged on the shelves stimulates the brain",[105] "reading printed characters stimulates the cranial nerves, which issue a command to the lower body",[106] "the tactile sensation of holding a book evokes the defecatory act",[107] "the relaxed upright posture when standing to read books instore causes feces to move downwards",[104] and "because it is the person's custom to always fill up their empty stomach before going to a bookstore".[108]

On the other hand, there is also a view that intrinsic factors such as individuals' mental status are the cause. For example, one university student who reported experiencing bodily distress in large bookstores and whose symptoms resolved upon entering a narrow bathroom cubicle interpreted the symptoms as being due to a type of agorapbhobia.[109] A 27-year-old worker living in Kyoto City who struggled with bookstore defecation urges heard that his steam locomotive obsessed friend, by contrast, had experience being struck by sudden defecation urges whenever locomotives approached, and thus considers that the "thrilling" mood felt when one is close to something one likes could be related to this phenomenon.[110] An Onojo City-based 26-year-old female piano teacher with a book bowel tendency has reflected that it may be due to the ethereal mental state when standing to read books in bookstores, one that is a mix of both relaxation and nervous excitement.[110]

Olfactory stimulation hypothesis[edit]

Chemical substances[edit]

A hypothesis had existed for a long time that some chemical substances contained in the paper or ink of books emit a smell that induces the defecation urge by way of acute sensory stimulation. According to the Japanese essayist Mariko Ishibashi, this was "the leading theory" as of 1995.[111] It also has a strong foothold in the online community as a dominant theory.[112] At the same time, it is also a theory that has been subject to much rebuttal.

The television program The Real Side of Un'nan (TBS TV) conducted experiments from 1998 to 1999 to see whether the smell of ink could induce a defecation urge, but no results were obtained that supported the theory.[113]

In 2006, the philosopher Kenji Tsuchiya once attempted an experiment in which he gathered together some freshly delivered newspapers and newly purchased books, and then covered his face in the newspapers and books for 10 minutes each while doing deep breathing. Ultimately, no defecation urge eventuated, and instead he fell asleep with his face covered by the reading materials.[114] Based on this experience, Tsuchiya contests that it can hardly be the case that paper, ink, adhesives, or some other substance from which books are composed could be the cause of the defecation urge.[114]

Shinichiro Namiki, a researcher of paranormal phenomena, held that this theory is difficult to sustain since (i) symptoms are not observed in workers at places such as printeries or bookstores and (ii) symptoms can occur at places unrelated to the smell of books, such as rental video stores.[115]

Conspiracy hypothesis[edit]

There is also a hypothesis on the Internet that seeks to pin the cause on a conspiracy by the paper manufacturing industry.[116][117] According to this theory, the industry mixes large quantities of certain chemical substances into books and other paper products handled in day-to-day life, and these chemicals have the effect of stimulating the defecation urge, which increases the demand for toilet paper.[117]

Conditioned response hypotheses[edit]

Defecation habits[edit]

Issue 41 of Book Magazine contains an interpretative model based on the notion of a conditioned response.

The manga author Sadao Shoji has stated that he often experiences a defecation urge when looking at street maps or atlases, and that this occurs not only when in bookstores but also when at home.[109] He has remarked that since the times that he usually looks at maps are before he has to go out somewhere, and since he has a habit of using the toilet before leaving the house, his mind became conditioned to react in that way.[118]

There is also an interpretation that it is simply "because people always read on the toilet when at home".[119][120] The psychiatrist Kazuo Mishima interprets people with a book-bowel tendency as probably being people who by reading books on the toilet acquire a Pavlovian conditioning of "book reading → bowel moving".[120] There are some people who say that they are unable to successfully move their bowels unless they read something,[121] while some people so completely link defecation with reading that they "are able to finish off their reading readily when they have diarrhea but struggle to make progress in reading when they are constipated".[122] However, since it is not the case that all persons with a book-bowel tendency have the habit of reading while on the toilet, this theory has been criticized as not offering a wholly integrative explanation.[123]


In response to a request for an interview by the editorial team of Book Magazine in 1985, the psychiatrist Masao Nakazawa attempted to explain the set of symptoms by using the term "hyperresponsiveness".[124] In hyperresponsive reactions to stress, the sympathetic nerves take precedence, ordinarily leading to a constipative tendency.[124] However, it is considered possible, in special circumstances—for example, when shown a glass of cold milk—for the gut to experiencing a loosening by way of a type of conditioned response mechanism.[124] Nakazawa suggested that a similar mechanism could be involved in the Mariko Aoki phenomenon, but he refrained from providing a clear answer to the question, saying that "it needs to be looked into more first".[124]

The Japanese orthopedic surgeon and author Naruhito Fujita has said in relation to the Mariko Aoki phenomenon that the functions of the nervous system on the intestines are not as simple as something that can be explained in dualistic terms with the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.[125]

False belief[edit]

Mariko Aoki has said that she was initially skeptical about a "defecation urge experienced in bookstores", but after hearing about it from her friend she herself soon presented with the symptoms.[100] In this way, it has been known from the outset that the phenomenon has a tendency to be transmitted from person to person.[126] In fact, despite the five members of the Book Magazine editorial team who reported on the phenomenon all being non book-boweled initially, three of them had developed a book bowel tendency by the time that their investigations into the topic had concluded.[126]

Certain types of psychiatric disorders such as delusion can be transmitted between people who are intimately close such as mothers and daughters or romantic couples by way of a kind of "false belief". In his book "Why Do People Feel the Need to Go When They're In a Bookstore?" (2012, Arimine Shoten), the gastroenterological surgeon Masayoshi Ido touches on the Mariko Aoki phenomenon by stating that the "past experience and future expectation of having experienced a defecation urge", the "supporting of this by knowledge that many others have had the same experience", and a "false belief that you will experience the same urge as other people" can have a psychosomatic impact by way of a conditioned response (a placebo effect).[127] Ido acknowledges that this alone is unable to explain all aspects of the phenomenon as a whole, but considers that it at least accounts for part of the connection between bookstores and the defecation urge.[128]

On the other hand, there is also a report that casts a negative light on this theory. An online reporter conducted an experiment in which, in order to verify the effectiveness of bookstores in alleviating constipation, four constipated females were sent to a "trendy book cafe" to eat and drink.[129] In order to prevent against the effects of false belief, the subjects were not told about the actual nature of the experiment (a blinded experiment).[129] The result of the experiment was that, except for one subject with severe constipation, three of the test subjects soon achieved bowel movements.[129]

Altered mental state hypotheses[edit]

Feelings of nervous tension or frantic frustration[edit]

It has been reported that the Mariko Aoki phenomenon is often seen in writers or people related to the publishing industry.[130][131]

In an essay from 1981, the poet and novelist Shoichi Nejime confessed that he "is a person who experiences a defecation urge when he enters bookstores". Using the metaphor that these people "are the type of people who place themselves in the narrow gap between the borders of genre" (for example, a person who, despite being a poet, takes the attitude of seeking to avoid a literary odor in his work), Nejime holds that it is this type of people who possess "the sweat of the dynamism of the unconscious" (the power to move the minds of their readers).[132]

The essayist Mariko Ishibashi stated in a 1995 essay that the defecation urge is induced by the nervous tension generated when a "flood of information" pours into one's field of vision.[111]

Author Takashi Higaki has stated that one of his highly pleasing daily duties is to buy up a large number of books at the bookstore as part of his work, but that he "doesn't like hanging around in a bookstore for a long time because it triggers a defecation urge".[133]

In 1997 when The Yomiuri Shimbun interviewed two novelists, the first—Mariko Koike—proffered the theory that "the feeling of nervous tension provoked by being in a sacred place in which knowledge is collected sets off peristaltic movement", while the second—Jiro Asada—indicated a belief that "the mental pressure in response to printed words is the cause".[131]

On a 1998 episode of the television program The Real Side of Un'nan (broadcast October 28, 1998 on TBS Television), the novelist and lyricist Seiko Ito offered the hypothesis that the feeling of frantic frustration that "I have to decide which one to buy" gives rise to a defecation urge.[134]

The thinker Tatsuru Uchida has stated that he is assailed by a defecation urge the moment that he reaches the state of an "academic high" when, after the plotting out of the content of an academic article has been protracted over a long period, an idea suddenly comes into his head.[135]

The astrologist Rene van Dahl Watanabe stated that intellectual appetite and curiosity are characteristics of bookstores, theorizing that the feeling of a type of nervous tension in response to these characteristics provoke the series of symptoms.[136]

Touching on the phenomenon in which hamsters and other small animals defecate when they feel fear or nervous tension,[137] the orthopedic surgeon and author Naruhito Fujita has explained the similar points between that and the phenomenon of a defecation urge being triggered by the "exciting and thrilling feeling" of being in a bookstore.[138]

Psychosomatic disorder[edit]

When a patient is seen by a medical institution with complaints of "intolerable abdominal pain or discomfort due to constipation" and organic diseases are able to be ruled out through a detailed examination, the patient will receive treatment for psychosomatic disorder from a psychiatrist or a shinryo naika physician (psychosomatic internal medicine).[139]

From his examinations of patients complaining of "a defecation urge in bookstores", psychiatrist Takashi Sumioka has analyzed the causal factors that could affect psychosomatry as including "being surrounded by printed matter and feeling a pressure to find the book you're looking for", and says that he responds to such complaints by treating them as falling within the category of irritable bowel syndrome.[140] Sumioka says that the reason why he tends to see more younger people and women among such patients is because these demographics are more readily susceptible to feelings of shame.[Ibid] This is because shame heightens psychological tension and this serves to aggravate the symptoms.[Ibid]

Somatic marker hypothesis[edit]

Working from Sumioka's abovementioned reference to irritable bowel syndrome, critic Ryoichi Takahashi interprets the Mariko Aoki phenomenon by raising theories such as "gut-brain correlation" and a "somatic marker hypothesis." The essence of gut-brain correlation from the view of neurogastroenterology is that signals originating from the digestive tract exert a strong effect on the brain, and this is known to be one of the causes of irritable bowel syndrome.[『なぜ本屋さんでトイレに行きたくなるのか』、p58] The somatic marker hypothesis, proposed by American neurologist Atonio Damasio, holds that somatized affect influences decision-making. Modern society has seen the increased advancement of information technology, but too much information can end up being harmful.[『なぜ本屋さんでトイレに行きたくなるのか』、p75] Takahashi states that, according to the somatic marker theory, even a sudden defecation urge can be interpreted as a purposive response, and that the Mariko Aoki phenomenon is a state in which the body is unconsciously seeking to escape from an excess of information.[『なぜ本屋さんでトイレに行きたくなるのか』、p76]

Anxiety disorder[edit]

Another well-known theory is that which states that a person entering a bookstore may feel psychological stress from worrying about what to do if they need to go to the toilet but there isn't one in the store, and that this has the unfortunate effect of focusing the person's conscious thoughts on bowel movements.[『アエラ』2003年11月17日号、p74] In psychiatry, this type of mental stress is called "anticipatory anxiety," and it is a characteristic symptom of panic disorder and other anxiety disorders. Japanese psychiatrist Takashi Sumioka states that when a patient complains of anxiety regarding the defecation urge, he sometimes diagnoses this as anxiety neurosis, which is a type of anxiety disorder.[『読売新聞』1997年10月9日付朝刊、p29] Yu Yuki, the pen name of prolific Japanese pop psychology author and psychiatrist Yuichiro Yasuda, considers it a possibility that the limited number of toilets in bookstores is responded to with obsessive elements.[『レック』3号、p21] Obsession is a subtype of anxiety disorder.

Clinical psychologist Toshio Kasahara, meanwhile, conjectures that if a person suffering from this phenomenon is still going all the way to a bookstore despite experiencing anticipatory anxiety, their desire to go into a bookstore must be greater than that strong anxiety. According to Kasahara, it is easier to think that not the anxiety but rather something that seeks to overcome the anxiety is a contributory psychogenic cause of the phenomenon.[『本心と抵抗 自発性の精神病理』、p22]

Relaxation effect[edit]

There is also the converse opinion: that bookstores have a relaxation effect that stimulates bowel movements. In the stressful life of modern-day society, many people experience interrupted bowel habits and the constipation that this causes. In the weekly magazine Aera (November 17, 2003 edition; The Asahi Shimbun Co.), Japanese psychiatrist Kazuo Sakai--after first prefacing that he does not know the real answer--suggests that the activity of searching for the books one likes in the special environment of a bookstore might relax the body and give rise to a defecation urge.[『アエラ』2003年11月17日号、p74]

However, the notion of "bowel movement stimulation due to a relaxation effect" being behind the phenomenon is repudiated in the work of clinical psychologist Toshio Kasahara, who argues that although people attempting to enter relaxation states through the likes of autogenic training or meditation sometimes end up getting more nervous or even falling asleep, they do not experience a defecation urge.[『本心と抵抗 自発性の精神病理』、p24]

On the other hand, psychiatrist Yu Yuki holds that the experiential fact that reading books makes people sleepy is proof of the relaxation effect of bookstores. He considers it a likely explanation that smells and movement and other such external stimuli as well as psychological factors bring about a relaxation effect, and that the resulting parasympathetic dominance in the autonomic nervous system induces effects such as intestinal peristalsis or contraction of the bladder.[『レック』3号、p21]

Japanese social psychologist Shozo Shibuya, describing bookstores as places where our mutual disinterest in each other is naturally on display, theorizes that the phenomenon may be due to focusing one's attention on books without interference from other people and the resulting mental state of relaxation making one want to go to the toilet.[『マンガでわかる心理学入門』、p9]

Posture and gaze related hypotheses[edit]

Posture when browse-reading while standing[edit]

The posture or gaze of a person while they browse-read a book while standing is often focused on as a contributory cause of the defecation urge. This is based on an interpretive model in which a defecation urge arises due to focusing one's gaze on a single point while adopting an upright or a slightly head-down posture.[『季刊 本とコンピュータ第二期』2004年冬号、p59] It has also been suggested that upright reading while also carrying or shouldering baggage could put force on the abdominal muscles and stimulate a defecation urge.[ウェブページ:“本屋で便意を催す理由”]

Based on his many years of observing customers, Mitsutaka Oka, former managing director at Japanese bookstore chain Junkudo, suggests that the phenomenon may be caused by a moderate level of nervous tension and the repeated action of slowly walking and then coming to a halt.[『潮』2002年3月号、p292]

Rectal curvature when standing (left) and leaning over (right). The low-height book displays requiring the second posture are particularly common in Japanese bookstores.

Curvature of the bowel[edit]

An Osaka, Japan, clinical radiologist who issues an e-magazine about gut issues draws attention not to the posture of standing upright to read a book but the bodily movement of bending over to pick up books from flat piles on lower display cases.[ウェブページ:“本屋さんへ行くとなぜかトイレに行きたくなる新説”] The rectum, located at the terminus of the digestive tract, is curved toward the rear when standing upright. The radiologist proposes that when the rectum stoops forward, the curvature is lost and any stool held there moves down to toward the anus.[ウェブページ:“本屋さんへ行くとなぜかトイレに行きたくなる新説”]

Oppressiveness of bookshelves[edit]

Bookstores with narrow aisles may be particularly problematic.

In discussions on the Japanese television program The Real Side of Un'nan from 1998 to 1999, the theory was advocated that, in addition to standing in an upright position for a long period of time, the "oppressive nature of bookshelves" may be a cause of stimulating the defecation urge.[『アンアン』1999年2月19日号、p60] It was propounded that browse-reading books while standing upright in crowded bookstores which also have narrow aisles results in restricted movement of the body and induces a defecation urge. Actual experiments were conducted on the television program, but no clear conclusions were reached.

Gaze and autonomic nerves[edit]

Japanese plastic surgeon Kiyoshi Matsuo is cited as one of the thinkers who has focused on the relationship between the gaze of a person reading while standing in a bookstore and the autonomic nervous system. His theory was described in the December 17, 1998 edition of the magazine Bungei Shunju (published by Bungeishunju-sha).

As a specialist in eyelids, Matsuo has performed many operations on patients with palpebral ptosis (drooping eyelid), and after noting that many of the patients suffering from ptosis also have symptoms like headaches and shoulder stiffness, has proposed the concept of "eyelid headaches." Matsuo proposes that because the muscles that contract when we open our eyes (particularly Müller's muscle) are modulated by the sympathetic nervous system, the sympathetic nervous system of a person with ptosis can easily become hypertonic due to the constant effort being exerted to keep the eyelid raised, and that this impact becomes observable in the form of complaints such as headaches.[『週刊朝日』2003年4月18日号、p37]

Conversely, it can be considered that if the eye-opening muscles are in a continually relaxed state, the activity of the sympathetic nervous system is reduced and parasympathetic dominance is attained. Matsuo raises the example of meditation, in which loosening the eyelids can result in a relaxation effect.[『文藝春秋』1998年12月17日号、p95] It is known that peristalsis of the digestive tract involves inhibitory action by the sympathetic nervous system and stimulatory action by the parasympathetic nervous system. Matsuo believes that because a person reading a book while standing in a bookstore will tend to have a downcast gaze, the operation of a mechanism similar to the foregoing may serve as one cause of motility being stimulated.[『週刊朝日』2003年4月18日号、p37] According to Matsuo, by maintaining such a posture for 30 minutes or longer, it is possible to recreate this symptom not only in bookstores but also in libraries, video rental stores, and supermarkets.[『文藝春秋』1998年12月17日号、p95]

This theory has been considered comparatively strong.[『アエラ』2003年11月17日号、p74] However, it has also been opined that data exists that "relaxing the eyelids did not result in a defecation urge" and that it is not realistic that this theory alone can explain the phenomenon completely.[『本心と抵抗 自発性の精神病理』、p25]

Gazing-intensive search work[edit]

When following the letters on the spine of a book with our eyes, our gaze moves in a vertical direction. One famous interpretative model holds that this movement stimulates the defecation urge.[ウェブページ:“本屋で便意を催す理由”][ウェブページ:“本屋に行くとお腹が痛くなる理由”] According to those who have experienced the phenomenon, it is to do with the importance of the "angle of one's gaze when looking for something."[ウェブページ:“今夜も生でさだまさし”] There is also the view that walking around a bookstore looking at printed text causes dizziness, which brings about a change in physical condition.[ウェブページ:“本屋に行くとお腹が痛くなる理由”]

In his book Why Do We Need To Go Whenever We're In A Bookstore? (Naze hon'ya ni iru to moyo'osu no ka) (2012; Arimine Shoten), the Japanese gastroenterological surgeon Masayoshi Ido states that, though there is no medical evidence, from experience the work of "moving one's eyes to find the target of our search from among rows of neatly arranged items" can induce the defecation urge.[『なぜ本屋にいるともよおすのか』、p137]

Theory based on "denial of happiness"[edit]

Genesis of the theory[edit]

Japanese clinical psychologist Toshio Kasahara is known for energetically seeking to have people understand the phenomenon through his original concept of "denial of happiness." "Denial of happiness" is a concept based on the hypothesis that "when we are conscious of something that will benefit us, an unconscious 'resistance' to it appears in the form of a bodily symptom." Although it is generally difficult to observe this concept in a visible form, he asserts that a similar concept to this is the so-called "slump" seen in sportspersons or artists.[『本心と抵抗 自発性の精神病理』、p116]

First, Kasahara closely read the first article by Mariko Aoki then analyzed that the following two situations are those in which a "sudden defecation urge" emerges as a symptom:

  1. being in a bookstore for an extended period of time
  2. picking up a book (especially a book in which one is interested) and reading it

According to Kasahara, the tendency for debate on the phenomenon to traditionally be limited to the perspective in 1. above has the effect of precluding the debate from developing beyond the prevailing paradigm of it "bookstores having some sort of effect (such as stress stimulus) on people," and he proposes that a reappreciation of the perspective in 2. above, which has hitherto been given short shrift.[『本心と抵抗 自発性の精神病理』、p26] Specifically, the notion of "a book in which one is interested in" should be the focus of discussion, according to Kasahara. He notes that in Aoki's first magazine contribution on the subject she wrote that she would experience the symptoms whether "cradling a high-brow literary tome" or "standing to browse-read a manga comic," and Aoki has responded in subsequent interviews that her symptoms were not limited to occasions involving "any specific book."[『本の雑誌』41号、p12] Kasahara maintains that this has been readily misinterpreted as meaning that the phenomenon can occur when reading "any kind of book whatsoever," which means that the discussion tends not to focus on whether or not the book being read is one in which the person is particularly interested.[『本心と抵抗 自発性の精神病理』、p27]

Citing cases such as where "a defecation urge appears the moment one steps into a bookstore" or where the urge "disappears the moment one leaves the bookstore," Kasahara focuses on how the onset of the defecation urge is sudden.[『本心と抵抗 自発性の精神病理』、p30] Because symptoms appear the moment that the person unconsciously discerns that a book is "the one," Kasahara holds that the element of "being there for an extended period of time" in 1. above is not the essence of the phenomenon, and that he thinks the act of simply (and unconsciously) "seeking that in which one is interested" has important significance.[『本心と抵抗 自発性の精神病理』、p29] Kasahara claims to have gathered a wide range of case data, based on which he asserts that the phenomena similar to the Mariko Aoki phenomenon can be found to occur in places other than bookstores, such as CD stores or video rental stores.[『本心と抵抗 自発性の精神病理』、p28] Kasahara also states that whereas it is difficult to distinguish between whether one "likes or dislikes" entire books at the conscious level, he has confirmed through his own thought independent experiments that it is difficult for the symptoms to occur at times when he is looking at books in which he "has no interest"--in the true sense that they do not rise to the level of conscious thought.[『本心と抵抗 自発性の精神病理』、p29]

Cause postulated by Kasahara[edit]

After conducting a detailed survey of known cases, clinical psychologist Toshio Kasahara several symptoms other than a defecation urge that were sometimes experienced in connection with bookstores, including subjective symptoms such as headaches, breathing difficulties, feelings of physical weakness, and burning sensations, as well as objective symptoms such as breaking out in a rash or having a runny nose.[『本心と抵抗 自発性の精神病理』、p30] Kasahara collectively described these symptoms as "responses" to a certain type of psychological burden, and called these responses to being in a bookstore the "broad-definition Mariko Aoki phenomenon."[『本心と抵抗 自発性の精神病理』、p33]

These "responses" are not desirable, so in seeking a cause for the psychological burden one might assume a "bad psychological burden," such as a stress stimulus.[『本心と抵抗 自発性の精神病理』、p34] He contends, however, that the notion that stress (by itself) exerts a negative impact has not been reasonably proven in the current science; furthermore, the existence of subjects whose symptoms have not improved despite receiving psychological treatment to ameliorate stress is proof of the unconvincingness of the idea of locating the cause entirely in stress.[『本心と抵抗 自発性の精神病理』、p34]

From these views, Kasahara arrived at "denial of happiness" as the paradoxical cause of the phenomenon, based on the hypothesis that the various "responses" appear "in the form of making that which we desire unpleasant, or in the form of preventing that which we desire."[『本心と抵抗 自発性の精神病理』、p34] Kasahara explains this "denial of happiness" in detail in his book "The Structure of Happiness Denial" (『幸福否定の構造』 2004, Bunshunsha).

Metaphysical theories[edit]

Awareness of internal self[edit]

Japanese literary figure Tatsuo Tsukimura has examined the phenomenon in terms of the shared characteristics of reading and defecation.[『季刊 本とコンピュータ第二期』2004年冬号、p59] He holds that when a person reads a book she is separating herself from external stimuli and meditating through her mind to the universe of "knowledge," and defecation is an existential activity through which the interior and exterior of a human are connected. Tsukimura concludes that since both activities share the characteristic of triggering awareness of the internal self, it is sufficiently reasonable that a defecation urge might arise when in a bookstore.[『季刊 本とコンピュータ第二期』2004年冬号、p59]

Prevention of mental flight[edit]

Japanese thinker Tatsuru Uchida points out a similarity between "breathing in Zen meditation" and a "defecation urge in bookstores."[『読売新聞』2006年11月26日付朝刊、p11] He explains that whereas inexperienced Zen practitioners can fall too deep into a world of ideas far removed from reality while meditating, the necessary bodily function of breathing serves as a connection drawing them back to the real world. In the same way, Uchida conjectures, people who linger in a bookstore become so mesmerized by the books that their thoughts take flight (a "flight of ideas" state) and the defecation urge appears as a kind of signal to prevent such flight.[『読売新聞』2006年11月26日付朝刊、p11]


Japanese philosopher Hideo Kawamoto touched on the phenomenon in a dialog with Japanese psychiatrist Kazushige Shingu. First, Shingu remarked that when we undergo a special experience the Lacanian objet petit a (unobtainable cause of desire) undergoes an upheaval and the Kleinian bad object (in this case "feces") is projected as what Karl Jaspers described as the feeling that something is behind you. In response to this, Kawamoto interpreted the bookstore defecation urge phenomenon as the body engaging in a "pure operation" (a function in which the body attempts to regain its purity) due to the "light" emitted by bookstores (the "gaze" of objet petit a) causing an accumulation of other entities (the "feces" of objet petit a) within an autopoietic closed system.[『システムの思想』、p208]

Psychic energy of books[edit]

Japanese philosopher Kenji Tsuchiya proposed a theory in which the cause of the phenomenon is the psychic energy that resides in books, because books are not mere physical objects but are imbued with the passionate energy of their writers and publishers.[『週刊文春』2006年8月31日号、p90] Meanwhile, Japanese literary critic Atsushi Koyano called Tsuchiya's theory a "bad joke that isn't amusing."[小谷野敦 (2006年8月24日). “書店の便意" ( 猫を償うに猫をもってせよ. 2013年1月23日閲覧。]

See also[edit]


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