By Mitsuo Nitta
Mitsuo Nitta is the doyen of the rare book trade. As one of the founding members of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of Japan (ABAJ), initiator of many antiquarian book fairs in Japan, Corea and Hong Kong and, with Yushodo, as owner of one of the most famous antiquarian book companies in Japan and the world, he was – and still is – a key figure of the antiquarian book business in Asia. Some 10 years ago Nitta, who is ILAB Member of Honour, analyzed the general characteristics of the trade in Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Since the mid-nineteenth century, many Japanese people have been keenly interested in learning about American and European cultures, societies, and economies. Many have wished to become like the highly developed countries of the west. Japanese book collectors and university scholars have been reading and collecting notable occidental books for a hundred years, but most especially during the past fifty years. Most Asian nations, unlike Japan, have been very careful about European and American approaches. Many have exhibited a wariness of becoming "Europeanized," wishing to maintain their own cultures and values despite the strong economic appeal of western ways.In April, 1996, I attended the opening ceremony of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of Korea (ABAK) third book fair. About twenty dealers participated in the fair, with nearly ninety-nine percent of the books being early Korean items, with a few Chinese and Japanese examples. There were no western books at all, and the only books in English that were exhibited were those with Korean subjects. During its three-day run, about three thousand people attended the fair. Yushodo Company cooperated in the event with a special corner displaying some of our books on Korea. We eventually sold about five lots. Whether there will be another fair next year is still to be determined, for I understand that this market is on a step-by-step basis. [A fourth International Antiquarian Book Fair was held from April 10-15, 1997, in Seoul, because of adverse economic conditions, only Korean dealers exhibited. Yushodo still continues to cooperate with the Korean association.] In Taipei, Taiwan, some booksellers who have normally sold only new books have started to handle rare books. For the first time, they organized a rare book auction at which about ten percent of the books were English rare books, primarily on China. In addition, the Chinese Antiquarian Booksellers held book auctions twice before. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to bid from overseas on anything printed before 1911.
In early November, 1996, Swindon Book Company and Yushodo participated in the Hong Kong International Antiquarian Book Fair. All of the books exhibited were Yushodo's books, but it was through Swindon's efforts and channels that contact with Hong Kong libraries was established. Even though this was the third fair, still most sales consisted of books on China or Hong Kong, with some items on art. The turnover has increased each year, but fundamentally this is not yet our main line of business. [In 2012 the Hong Kong International Antiquarian Book Fair will take place from 30th November to 2nd December.]
This area of the world is experiencing strong economic development; I do think that the art and rare book business will continue to grow since Asian people do enjoy collecting rare books. It should be noted, however, that the Asian market is different from other markets, and it will need a different approach.
(From the ILAB Newsletter 48)