Words and photos by Ben Davis
In Japan there remains a fascination with, and appreciation for, the physicality of things. Perhaps as an inherent resistance to the proliferation of virtual alternatives, the affinity with experiencing the tangible remains. As such, printed matter is widespread in Tokyo, woven into the places we inhabit. From glossy, tiered rows of magazines in always-there convenience stores to the slender aisles of train station bookstores; from sidewalk vendors with rolled-tight tabloids to dusty neighbourhood caverns of well-aged, lovingly-accumulated literature; printed matter is ever present in the spaces wandered by, passed through, and dwelled within.
A modern mega-city, Tokyo is relentlessly active; and those within are led to operate with an iterative efficiency, micro-managing even the in-between times; filling them with secondary and tertiary tasks usually done in private. Acute observation of a Tokyo train carriage rarely yields an idle commuter, although chatter is rare, passengers spend their transit time reading, studying or sleeping.
As a result, back-pocket novels, portable and accessible, remain popular, and alongside mobile phones, are the most prevalent manifestation of Japan’s pop-up reading culture. However, despite the presence and accessibility of printed matter in Tokyo, the various interim contexts in which it is so often experienced make it difficult to solely engage with, and fully appreciate publications.
It is within this context that the ongoing series of pop-up reading rooms and exhibitions of printed matter coordinated by Tokyo-based Booklet, are a refreshing initiative. A non-profit organisation established in 2009, Booklet is both a small-scale press and medium-scale library, created with the aim of supporting small-press and self publishers around the world. An open call for submissions to their library has resulted in hundreds of packages arriving over the past year. Housed in a quieter pocket of Shibuya, Tokyo; the library is now home to assorted publications from afar as Banff and Belgrade, from the homes of DIY zinesters to more established publishing houses such as Hamburger Eyes, Nieves and Pogo Books.
Set within a clothing and accessories shop in Shimokitazawa, Booklet’s final popup event for 2011, ‘Free Assocation’, presented recent additions to the library, alongside various affiliated and associated titles. There is a certain reassurance in the homeliness of Booklet’s pop-up offerings. Upon arrival, bags and jackets are taken and put aside, and the experience begins with a freshly brewed coffee in hand. Throughout the Sunday afternoon of ‘Free Association’, people pottered and chattered, came and went, each weaving their own path along the series of tables. A communal and informal experience, the atmosphere was a refreshing alternative to the isolation and perfection of traditional reading spaces, a library or one’s own home, and without the societal constraints of many of Tokyo’s public spaces.
In several of the publications, traces of previous readings, bulldog clipped pages and tiny dog-ears, remained adding a level of inquisition that gentrified libraries and bookshops, and even our own books, rarely possess. Why, and by whom, I wondered, had a page entitled, ‘Video: The aesthetics of Narcissis’, been clipped. Indeed what the connection that Tokyo-based designer Ian Lynam had found between R. Kelly, Hot Dogs and Arcosanti, as displayed on an exposed, slightly worn back cover.
Alongside the obvious archival value of the fast-growing library, the creation of an environment conducive to unrestrained, collective engagement with printed matter carries a certain significance. With only a fraction of the collection arriving from within Japan, Booklet Library is memorable in it’s worldliness, containing many works that would otherwise be inaccessible in Tokyo. The incremental, considered presentation of portions of the library gives both emerging and experienced publishers an opportunity to have a considered presence in Japan.