Renting Isn’t Dead : DVD Rental Culture in Japan

Do you remember when you would go with your family down to the local DVD rental store and pick out a movie to watch over the weekend? Feels nostalgic, doesn’t it? When’s the last time you’ve rented a physical copy of a DVD? 5 years ago? 2 years ago?

With the rise of Netflix and other streaming services through the internet, it’s safe to say that DVD rental is dying, if not already dead in the U.S. Remember a store called Blockbuster?

Well what if I told you there was a way to relive that time in your childhood and a magical place you could go to to rent out DVDs? No, this place isn’t some museum.

Welcome to Japan!

dvd rentalJapan is a country known for its modern technology. While it does have the latest developments in robotics, some things that are outdated here in the United States of America are still common in the land of the Rising Sun, including renting DVDs! That’s right. In Japan, it’s still very common to go out and rent physical copies of DVDs!

I studied abroad in Japan for one year. While I was there, I was shocked when I realized everyone was used to simply going to a store and renting DVDs in 2015. For me, it seemed as if I had stepped into a time machine, relieving my childhood. I hadn’t rented DVDs in years!

My host family would rent DVDs all the time, in fact they took me to a DVD rental shop several times. I’m not the only one who felt like they were seeing a “living fossil” and like they were “slipping back into [their] childhood.”

dvd rental
Picture of me the first time my host family took me to Tsutaya.

Tsutaya is one of the biggest DVD rental chains in Japan. The two top video chains “account for 70% of all video rental stores in Japan.” Tsutaya has 1,461 stores in Japan (as of the end of December 2013). It also has 7 stores in Taiwan making it a grand total of 1,468 stores total.

Renting DVDs there is simple. All you need, is a membership card. Once you have that you simply go in, choose from a wide selection of DVDs and take home with you your selection for up to a week. Of course, new releases will be more expensive and can only be rented for a few days, but there is a wide of variety to choose from. From old to new, international domestic, you will be bound to find something that peeks your interest to take home with you.

The first Tsutaya opened in Hirakata, the city where I studied abroad, in 1983. They also launched an online service in 1999. Now, a streaming service is available for subscription members as well as mail delivery even though physical purchases, sells and rentals still seems to be more popular.

 DVD Retal

Why is DVD renting still alive and well in Japan? There might be several reasons. First, Tsutaya isn’t just a DVD rental shop. It also sells and buys books, CDs, games and DVDs. It also rents DVDs, books, magazines and CDS (for some reason, video games cannot be rented in Japan). Tsutaya also recently started opening big buildings called T-sites which include Tsutayas and other stores such as tech stores and even apple stores! Tsutayas can be found everywhere including across every block. Some Tsutayas even have Starbucks inside their stores, similar to like some Barnes&Noble in the States.  Tsutaya was even featured in a list of the “20 most beautiful bookstores in the world”.

Another reason might be that Japan is one of the few countries that watches more of its domestic content than imported content from Hollywood. This creates a wider demand for a more varied and larger range of media.

What do you think? Would you go Tsutaya if you ever go to Japan? How would you feel about renting DVDs? Nostalgic? Why do you think DVD rentals are still popular in Japan? What is Tsutaya doing differently than U.S. DVD rental shops did and why or why not is it being effective? Do you think DVD rental would have survived if the same marketing strategies had been implemented in the U.S.? What do you think the future holds for Japan’s DVD rental culture? Do you think the Japanese DVD rental culture will suffer the same fate as in the U.S? Only time will tell.

Clara Tosi

One thought on “Renting Isn’t Dead : DVD Rental Culture in Japan

  1. Japan is a fascinating and bizarre world. Have to imagine that piracy is completely rampant with how many people and how fast their internet is.

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