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Book Scouting in Japan - Tokyo

Book Scouting in Japan - Tokyo

By Harper Levine


2:45 AM


At my desk at the Hilltop Hotel in Jimbocho. The hotel is a relic from the 50s, but my room has a large tatami mat that smells wonderful, and I’ve had a shower and donned my yukata. I arrived at 8:00 PM after a 3 hour delay. Kazu was at the airport to pick me up, after having been there earlier to collect John and bring him to the hotel. As I exited customs and walked into the terminal I was greeted with this:

After a quick ride into Tokyo I checked into the hotel, met up with John, and immediately headed out with Kazu to Shibuya to have a delicious dinner of chicken meatballs, warm tomago, tempura, and cold soba with 2 dipping soups. John was already taking pictures, and I was experimenting myself. After dinner we headed to Kazu’s shop, where I proceeded to pile up a stack of books at midnight.

Book Scouting in Japan - Tokyo


5:30 AM


Sweaty 80 degrees at dawn. I’m not a photographer so it’s no surprise that I forget a golden rule: always bring your camera with you. I’m at McDonalds getting coffee. There’s a group of students asleep at a table. Great shot, but no camera. I race back to the hotel but by the time I return they’re gone. Lesson learned. Here’s a shot of an empty Tokyo street, early morning.

Yesterday was a busy affair filled with shooting and book scouting. Gossage and I started with breakfast at our hotel: eggs beautifully cooked and deep orange, the dining room a throwback like the rest of the hotel. Mad Men meets 60s airline terminal.

We arrived at our first shop, Genkido, before opening. This gave John the chance to shoot for 45 minutes in the neighborhood.

When the shop opened we scanned the shelves behind the desk for books to look at. Genkido is one of the best photo bookstores in Tokyo. The prices are reasonable and the staff is friendly. I picked up Fukase’s Homo Ludence with the obi and the outer acetate jacket, as well as a copy of the revised edition of Tomatsu’s Nagasaki which I hope to get signed when we meet with Tomatsu tomorrow in Okinawa. There’s was a book of John’s at the shop. He signed it for them. (I’m thinking about buying the Kamaitachi, by the way.)

Book Scouting in Japan - Tokyo

We left Genkido and went to meet Kazu’s at Starbucks. There were some interesting side streets to photograph. There are shots of John getting a handle on dried fish, and my obsession with teddy bears. (I think John liked my picture.) We made our way to Komiyama, a four floor emporium on the main street in Jimbocho. The top floor has the best stuff, but it’s all properly priced and the buying is tough, especially at 75 yen to the dollar. There were copies of Kitajima’s New York in both obis; a nice inscribed Sentimental Journey, very close, but with a stain on one page that was a deal killer. I was pleased to see a nice selection of original Kitai photographs. We’re looking forward to seeing him on September 19. I managed to find some good stuff downstairs, like a perfect Ballad of Sexual Dependency for 4000 yen, but nothing earth shattering. This is Gossage scouting on the fourth floor.

Book Scouting in Japan - Tokyo

The day progressed in this fashion. Books and shooting. It was hot and sunny. Jet lag started to kick in. We opted for an early sushi dinner. The restaurant was filled. Fish circles around on a conveyor belt and you take whatever small plates you want. It’s better than probably all but 5-10 New York City sushi restaurants. And the price is ridiculous: 5150 yen ($60) for three people eating well. You can see my damage below.


The articles are published on the Harper’s Books Blog (part 1 and part 2). They are presented here by permission of the author.

>>> Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of Japan (ABAJ)

Published since 20 Sep 2011

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