One of the most fascinating things about Japan is the harmonious blend of old and new. If you spend enough time there, seeing a thousand-year-old temple set among sky scrapers or watching as elegant ladies dressed in kimono rush past teens sporting the latest (and often bizarre) fashion trends will start to feel perfectly normal. Today, as I headed into Tokyo to attend the Pop-Up Book Fair put on by the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB) aboard a Shinkansen at more than 300km/h, I knew that I was about to experience one of those special paradoxes.
Tokyo ’s edition of 2015 ILAB Pop-up Book Fair in support of Unesco World Book and Copyright Day took place in the World Antiquarian Book Plaza (WABP) – a permanent fixture on the third floor of Maruzen Bookstores in centrally located Nihonbashi. Founded in 2011, the WABP is a treasure trove of rare and antiquarian books, and collectible printed materials from 22 world-renowned antiquarian booksellers from 11 countries.
Thoughtfully laid out with a museum-like feel, WABP offers an impressive selection of items ranging from ancient clay tablets to intricate pop-up books; and from 15th century illuminated manuscripts to 20th century modern signed first editions. The partner booksellers often refresh their inventory and local curators make great effort to elegantly display the material. A large part of the collection is displayed out in the open, available for anyone to view up close and personal.
My host, Mr. Naoyuki Seki (Secretary of ABAJ, and Manager of Antiquarian Books for YUSHODO Co) kindly took the time to show me some very interesting books and other collectible printed material, including some of the following collections:
• A series of books published in the late 1800s as Tokyo opened its doors to Western influence. Written in languages other than Japanese (including English, French, German, and Danish) these books were printed to give a first glimpse of Japanese culture and folktales to foreigners wanting to know more about this fascinating land. Beautifully illustrated and printed on “Crepe Paper” – a cloth-like type of paper - Mr. Seki was more than happy to bring the collection out from behind the glass case to allow for a closer look, and to feel the beautiful texture.
• A special-themed monthly collection put together by the WABP members. April’s focus was on paper – including Japanese Washi, and many other types of beautiful and collectible hand-made paper and paper products.
• A stunning selection of visually-pleasing items including woodblock prints, lithographs, and rare hand-colored early photographic postcards. It also included several rare pop-up books, depicting scenes such as the Voyage of Marco Polo, or Little Red Riding Hood.
• A set of gorgeous ancient copperplate-engraved maps printed in Germany including some of the earliest foreign-made depictions of Japan.
• A set of ancient Japanese playing cards containing phrases from historical Japanese poets.
Maruzen Bookstore is well-worth a trip on its own merits, but the addition of the WABP makes it a must-visit for any booklover in Tokyo. Take a moment to step out from the bustle of Tokyo and spend a quiet moment taking in some of the best collectible books Tokyo has to offer.
World Antiquarian Book Plaza is open every day (except January 1) from 10:00 – 20:00.