Updated: Apple expands iBookstore in Japan with new publisher partnerships

A small update to iBooks on Tuesday has some pretty big implications for Apple(s AAPL) customers in Japan: with iBooks 3.1 they can now purchase ebooks rather than just download free or public domain content.

The move was foreshadowed earlier this year. Both The Nikkei in Japan and AllThingsD reported in early January that Apple had signed distribution deals with three big Japanese publishers.

In a press release sent out on Tuesday evening Eastern time, Apple notes that the Japanese iBookstore features “titles from major and independent publishers, including a great selection of books from Kodansha, KADOKAWA, Bungeishunju, Gakken and Gentosha. The iBookstore has a wide selection of emerging and established authors including Shyotaro Ikenami, Jiro Akagawa, Atsuko Asano and Ryu Murakami.”

The Japanese iBookstore is also offering enhanced ebooks and “digitally exclusive titles including Ryu Murakami’s fiction novels ‘At the Airport,’ ‘Exodus of Middle-School Students’ and ‘I’ll Always Be With You, Always’  which has interactive emails in each chapter to bring you even deeper into the story.”

The update notes for 3.1 say, “The iBookstore in Japan now has hundreds of thousands of books available for purchase, including fiction, manga, light novels and more.” In addition, the update says there are reading improvements for “a number of Asian languages,” though the specific languages are not specified.

The iBooks update is out now and can be downloaded via the App Store.

This post was updated at 8:17 p.m. ET on Tuesday, March 5 with additional details from Apple’s press release about the iBookstore’s launch.