Tokyo Photobook Safari

Portraits, by Eikoh Hosoe, in the Shibuya City Chuo Library

Portraits, by Eikoh Hosoe, at the Shibuya City Chuo Library

Tokyo is photobook paradise. I asked a few friends what were their favourite places in the city, and these are my impressions. I hope they are useful to some future traveller.

Megutama

The team behind Megutama

Kotaro Iizawa playing the ukelele in Megutama

Kotaro Iizawa playing the ukelele

Megutama

Megutama

Discussing photobooks at Megutama

Unveiling of the Edo fluffy egg at Megutama

Unveiling the famous seventeenth century Edo fluffy egg

Kotaro Iizawa showing Takuma Nakahira's For a Language to Come

Kotaro Iizawa telling the story of the first exhibition of Takuma Nakahira’s For a Language to Come. Nakahira didn’t want to exhibit prints because he made the photographs for the book, not the wall, so he asked Iizawa and another friend for their copies of the book in order to unbind them and show the pages directly on the wall of the gallery

The first place to go to is Megutama. It houses an incredible 5,000 book selection from Kotaro Iizawa‘s book collection, that you can examine in detail while drinking a glass of umeshu, or while having lunch or dinner. It is for every budget, because the books are not for sale. It has almost every Japanese photobook you can think of, plus a great selection of western titles. You can sip your wine reading Cartier-Bresson’s first edition of The Decisive Moment, savour the rice bran cake while exploring the early books of Lieko Shiga, or enjoy your sake comparing the subtle differences in printing in all three editions of Fukase’s Ravens. An old legend says that photobook lovers that die with good karma reincarnate in fireflies that appear at midnight in Megutama to take care of the books.

So Books

Ricardo (amarillo here at Cuatro Cuerpos) browsing So Books’ shelves

Ikuo Ogasawara in front of So Books

Ikuo Ogasawara in front of So Books

My favourite bookshop in Tokyo is Ikuo Ogasawara’s So Books, in a nice neighborhood west of Yoyogi park. It is a small used book shop specializing in photography, art, design and fashion. It is smaller than most of the others, but what makes it special is the selection of books, which is outstanding: you could pick any book from the shelves at random and it will be very interesting and in great condition. It goes back all the way to the 1930s, and includes a small but exquisite selection of contemporary titles, some of which you will not see elsewhere. Ikuo speaks english and is very knowledgeable and very helpful.

Sokyusha

Sokyusha bookstore

Sokyusha is a bookshop, a gallery and a book publisher. It is a bit difficult to find: it has a small space in the second floor of a nondescript building near Shinjuku. They have the books they publish and a good selection of contemporary titles in the center, and an extensive collection of vintage books along the walls. The vintage books are arranged thematically, but they are all encased in plastic bags so casual browsing is a bit inconvenient.

Komiyama in Jimbocho

Komiyama bookstore

Komiyama in Jimbocho

Prints and other things on the top floor of Komiyama

Komiyama in Jimbocho

Books on Komiyama’s ground floor

The book district of Tokyo is Jimbocho. There you will see dozens and dozens of bookshops of every stripe, and millions and millions of books. You can see trucks stop by the curb and unload boxes of books on the sidewalk. Book lovers are known to have entered the area and died of exhaustion and hunger amid epileptic seizures from over-stimulation. Keep your medication at hand. (This Tokyo Camera Style guide of Jimbocho bookstores is very, very useful)

The two bookstores in Jimbocho I visited were Komiyama and Bohemian’s Guild. Both have the general photobooks in the ground floor, and the special stuff, rare and expensive books, under glass on the top floor. Komiyama has a bit of everything, the good, the bad and the ugly. On the ground floor and in stacks on the stairs, you have cheaper books, and if you look hard enough you might find some gems at a lower price if you don’t care about condition. On the top floor you will see one of the most extensive selections of the super-rare books, photographic prints, and all kinds of weird artifacts. Bohemian’s Guild has a different flavour. It has less photobooks and more art books. It also has calligraphy, woodblock prints, manuscripts, photographs and art. We spent a while looking at photographic prints in Bohemian’s Guild, including a beautiful Brassai.

IMA Concept Store

Yoshinori Mizutani’s Tokyo Parrots at the IMA Concept Store gallery

IMA Concept Store

One of the tables at the IMA Concept Store

IMA Concept Store

IMA Concept Store

If you are more interested in contemporary photobooks there are two very special bookshops to visit. The first is IMA Concept Store, on the fourth floor of the AXIS shopping center in Roppongi. It has a gallery, a bookshop and a coffee shop in one space. The selection of contemporary books from all over the world is amazing. The place is very quiet and has a nice atmosphere.

The second is Daikanyama Tsutaya, in Daikanyama. It is a shopping center that includes a camera store, a clinic and a dog grooming salon and pet hotel. The bookshop itself occupies three buildings, and on the top floor you have a cafeteria where you can relax with your books —or, like some of the locals, take a nap—, and enjoy the great selection of books and magazines along the walls. They also have a good selection of vintage books, the best of which are on a shelf above the cash register. This bookshop is open until 2AM.

Zen Foto Gallery

Amanda Lo, manager of Zen Foto Gallery, and Issei Suda’s exhibition

Akio Nagasawa Gallery / Publisher

Setting up Kou Inose’s exhibition at Akio Nagasawa

I also visited two galleries/publishers whose books I’ve enjoyed lately: Zen Foto Gallery, in Roppongi, near the IMA Concept Store, and Akio Nagasawa in Ginza. They have great exhibitions —when I visited, Issei Suda at Zen Foto, and Kou Inose at Akio Nagasawa—, and you can browse their books and a small selection of rare vintage books.

Ken Domon book in the Shibuya City Chuo Library

Browsing a Ken Domon book at the Shibuya City Chuo Library in Harajuku

If the photobook urge arises you can also visit one of the Aoyama Book Center stores, there are many around Tokyo, they have a big photography section. Another option is a local library. We went to the Shibuya City Chuo Library, near Harajuku, where we found hundreds of photography books to enjoy.

With only a few days in the city, we’ve only scratched the surface of Photobook Tokyo. We are looking forward to more discoveries in future visits.

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