「宅配ピザのひみつ」の秘密 by おだぎ みを, 佐藤 守, and 吉原 徹 or (in English) the Secret of Secrets of Home Delivery Pizza by Mio Odagi, Mamoru Sato, and Tooru Yoshiwara
The mystery of this book is the scarcity, so the main reason I am writing this review is in the hope that someone who knows the secret will find the webpage and add a comment to reveal the hidden truth. If you don't want to share the secret in public, then say so in your comment and when I moderate the comment, I will act appropriately. In other words, it won't be published to the Web unless you say it's okay. (Again, apologies for the policy of comment moderation, but I will NOT support the spammers by helping them broadcast their garbage.)
Here is the background of the mystery. This book is Volume 13 of the widely distributed Gakken series, which in a literal translation would means something like 'Gain good understanding by studying comics' (学研まんがでよくわかるシリーズ). The distribution mechanism is unusual. As near as I can tell, you cannot buy these books anywhere, but they are distributed to many public libraries throughout Japan. It appears the libraries can't buy they either, but all of the costs are covered by the sponsor of each volume, which is a prominent company in the industry that the book is describing. For example, Volume 1 in this new series is called Secrets of Hamburgers (ハンバーガーのひみつ) and was sponsored by McDonalds Japan. Gakken has published various series of books over the years, but this seems to be the most successful, with around 90 volumes so far, and presumably more to come.
Now for the details of the mystery. In general, many branches of a library system will each receive a copy or even two. For example, Koto Ward currently has six copies of Volume 11 (which was published around the same time), three copies of Volume 1 (which was published a few years earlier), ten copies of Volume 68 (which was published in 2012), but zero copies of this Volume 13. There may be some loss through wear and tear, but the books are well made and seem to last quite well, but Volume 13 is amazingly scarce. After some fairly heavy research, I was able to discover that there seem to be only four circulating copies left in Tokyo, none at all in the neighboring prefectures, and a few more copies scattered around Japan. Hard to estimate from the data I have, but I'd be surprised if more than 50 copies were ever distributed, and quite probably it was more like 20 copies.
The publisher refused to say anything about what happened, but simply said the book was not available, even when I offered to buy a copy. The author never replied to a query about the book, though she has done a number of other volumes in the series. My next idea is to contact the corporate sponsor of this book, Pizza-La, which is still one of the largest and most successful pizza delivery companies in Japan. However, at this point I have to predict they won't be talking about it. (Just sent the query to Pizza-La, but not holding my breath.)
Once I finally obtained one of the circulating copies of the book (though there are rumors of a scanned PDF version), I read it carefully searching for some explanation of the mystery. The plot is actually more intricate than the average for books in this series (though typically unrealistic), but the story of the company itself is unusually interesting. The founder of the company, Asano-san, appears to have gotten the idea of starting a pizza delivery company from watching the 1982 movie E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial many years ago, possibly when he was living in Hawaii as a young tour guide. I don't remember the details of the movie, but I'm guessing they must have ordered a pizza, and perhaps that was even related to the 'phone home' part of the movie. It was probably after seeing the movie that Asano-san was badly burned when his first restaurant burned down, but he survived, and after some more adventures he started his pizza delivery company. More evidence of my limited Japanese capability, but I'm not even sure when he moved back to Japan... All in all, I would rate it as one of the better books in the series because the different plot threads ought to hold the childrens' interest and the company founder has an interesting real-life story to tell. In terms of academic content (the secrets part of it), I'd rate it below average, but I doubt that would bother the target audience. If the book were sold on a regular basis, I'd expect it to sell well above the average (rather than being the rarest book in the entire series).
The only possible hint I can see to the mystery is on page 58, where there is a growth chart of the number of stores, suggesting that the Japanese market for home delivery pizza had become effectively saturated a few years before this book was published, and the total number of shops had actually started to decline. This data looks worse than the sales figures that appear on page 49, but maybe Pizza-La got into a major financial crunch at the time the book was ready for publishing and was unable to pay for a planned print run that was surely intended to be much larger than 20 copies.
For the so-called record, let me include a brief summary review of the entire series of books. At this time I've read over 60 volumes of the series, mostly in the last two years. The unifying theme is that all of these companies have been unusually successful in their respective industries. In most cases it seems that these companies were positioned for rapid growth right after the war, though there are many variations, and there aren't any clear unifying patterns to their successes. Also, there is a lot of variation induced by the different artists and authors, and also by the various companies that sponsored the individual volumes, presumably through their marketing departments. For example, I would say that Otsuka Pharmaceuticals has an unusually aggressive marketing department... In spite of the wide variations, the books have been quite educational and I hope they have given me a lot of the background information that every Japanese elementary school child takes for granted (since it appears that fifth graders are the main target audience for the series). Almost all of the books have been quite enjoyable, too, though some of the story lines were pretty ridiculous, even allowing for the children's strong imaginations. Probably worth noting that the series does a good job of covering topics of special interest to children. Food-related topics are probably the leader, with about 25 books (so far) features such themes, including the Volume 13 of this review.