The Sony Reader Finally Reaches Japan

I was in Bic Camera yesterday, and much to my surprise it seems that Sony has finally released its Reader in Japan. What can I say but, "It's about time."

It's unusual for Sony to release a product in North America much before it's released in Japan; particularly unusual is this four-year gap. (The first Sony Reader in the U.S., the PRS-500, was released in September 2006.) But the story is even more odd because Sony had released a similar E Ink reader, the LIBRIé, in Japan years earlier. I first saw this at Bic Camera, too, but it vanished after a few months.

Was it so poorly accepted in Japan, this mecca of electronic devices and novels published on cell phones, that Sony gave up on the idea here for half a decade, even as the concept roared to success in North America?

I've been through several Sony Readers (a PRS-505, a PRS-700 and now a PRS-350) and one of my complaints has always been the lack of Japanese support. These new models in Japan do have proper Japanese support (including reading vertical columns from right to left—the traditional Japanese format) and have a bilingual menu system (Japanese/English). The price, at about ¥18,000 for the PRS-350, is slightly higher than in the U.S.; this isn't suprising as most things are more expensive in Japan, even when made here.

I wonder if it will be possible to upgrade my U.S. reader to the Japanese software? I'm suspecting at the least that it won't be supported; it may be the case as well that the hardware is slightly different, having more memory for dealing with the much larger set of font data required for Japanese.

Regardless, it's still missing the other thing that would make it truly worthwhile for me to use it to read Japanese books: a good dictionary. It does in fact come with one dictionary, but it's English-Japanese, which is not terribly useful for me. I'm surprised that it doesn't even come with a Japanese dictionary, though not so suprised it doesn't come with a Japanese-English dictionary.

Still, they may add other dictionaries one day, or at least add the option to buy them. (Electronic dictionaries are a big business in Japan, mostly in the form of dedicated devices.) If so, it would probably be worthwhile for me even to buy a new Reader for this functionality.