In Memoriam Mitsuo Nitta
I was deeply saddened to learn that Mitsuo Nitta, President of Honor of the ABAJ, Member of Honor of ILAB, CEO at Yushodo Ltd., former Chair of the ILAB-Breslauer Prize for Bibliography, legendary bookseller and friend to so many of us, has passed away on October 27 of 2015.
Mitsuo Nitta played a leading role in developing antiquarian bookselling not only in Japan but also in the surrounding countries like Korea and China, and he had been teacher and friend for generations of younger booksellers. His role in spreading out ILAB’s device “Amor Librorum nos unit” in East-Asia cannot be underestimated.
Since my first meeting with Mitsuo Nitta back in 1988 during the Congress in Paris, we had been in constant contact, and I will always remember countless discussions about ILAB with him, the last one – alas - only earlier this year in Tokyo.
Norbert Donhofer, President of ILAB
In Memory of Mitsuo
I was twelve years old when I visited Japan for the first time. For a boy of the early ‘70s, quite a journey. I travelled with my father Arturo, to attend the 1973 Tokyo ILAB Congress organized by a young Mitsuo Nitta.
With the sad news of his passing, I am moved to write some words of tribute: both as a dear friend of long-standing, and as the man I consider the first western style bookseller to come from the Far East.
At the time my father was president of ALAI. I recall that at the gala dinner in Tokyo he thanked Mitsuo and Prince Misaka, brother of the heavenly sovereign Emperor Hirohito, with an amusing speech in transliterated Japanese.
Mitsuo, ever thoughtful, entrusted his son, a bit older than me, to show a young Tokyo to a 12-year-old boy. I remember spending a wonderful afternoon with him in an overwhelming amusement park, a Japanese Disneyland. Instead of the boring temples waiting for me, thanks to Mitsuo, I sailed to a veritable “Pleasure Island”. Unfortunately, my Japanese friend died much too early.
Over the years Mitsuo became a good friend and important client of both Pregliascos, father and son. He was the first person to whom I sent an instant message through a strange new machine called fax. The result was a speedy purchase of a first edition Principia !
He was an active and loyal member of ILAB, one of the only two Members of Honour ever elected. Of course, he attended the Venice Congress in 1986, and Bologna in 2010. On September 19th, I had the pleasure of throwing a surprise party for his 75th birthday. And, at that very fair he bought one of the most memorable books of his brilliant career: the 1485 illustrated Aesop, the Olschki copy.
Beyond commercial motives, I cannot help but mention how much I learned in dealing with Mitsuo. The exchange of views with such a great man from a country and culture so different from our own has proved an invaluable resource in my father’s sixty years and my thirty spent in our unique profession.
Today Arturo went through many drawers for some mementos of this legendary 1973 Tokyo ILAB Congress, and I am pleased to make public here some of what he found: tokens of memory brought to light on the day we commemorate a great book dealer, as both colleague and friend, Mitsuo.
Umberto Pregliasco, ILAB Committee Member, ALAI Past President
Letters of Condolence
Aside from his very considerable achievements as a bookman, he was a tireless promoter of international trade, international friendship, of ILAB, of cooperation, and the silent but very present “power” behind the ABAJ. He always had ideas to promote books, he always encouraged us, members of the ILAB committee, to continue the good work, he found books and sponsors for the ILAB Breslauer Prize for Bibliography in Asia, flew to Amsterdam for the meeting of the Biblio Jury meeting, the man was never without energy and ideas. If anybody promoted European books in his part of the world, it was Mitsuo.
Arnoud Gerits, ILAB Past President and former Secretary of the ILAB Breslauer Prize for Bibliography
Mitsuo Nitta was one of the two greatest antiquarian booksellers of the post-war generation. His creativity, courage, and hard work enabled him to dominate, for more than forty years, the second-most important market for rare books. He was friendly to all, wonderfully candid and straight forward, and a very generous man.
Jonathan and I join with all other antiquarian booksellers, librarians, and collectors in sending our sincere condolences to Mrs. Nitta and the Nitta family.
Megumi Kaneko Hill, Jonathan A. Hill, Bookseller Inc.
I was shocked and saddened to hear of the passing of Mitsuo Nitta, a great man and a friend to many ABAA and ILAB members. It is hard to comprehend that a man so vibrant and so youthful in so many ways could have passed so suddenly.
I saw him just a few years ago, and we had a long conversation about books and booksellers, the many great sales and finds and “one that got away.” He was animated and still had that driving enthusiasm for the book business, the same enthusiasm he had when I first met him. When I went out for a run last evening, my mind was filled with images of our first meeting, my visits to Japan, and the many dinners he hosted so graciously with his lovely wife. It was in the early 1960’s that we first met at our Hollywood book store. I remember him asking me in a slow and halting English “How much charge me for Gutenberg leaf?” Little did I know at the time that he had attended school at the University of Michigan, was a sharp businessman, and that he could speak impeccable English when he felt inclined to do so!
By the 1970’s, he had become a regular client of Heritage, and he invited me to visit him in Japan with my Shakespeare first folio that he wanted to show to a client. He suggested that I pack an additional trunk load of books and bring them along. When I arrived in Japan, he greeted me with a royal welcome and one of those fabulous Japanese dinners in which the food kept coming until I was inclined to beg, please, no more. Oh yes, and when I asked what we were eating, he just said, “Don’t ask!”
After the meal, he took me to an office nearby where my Heritage trunk was delivered. I was directed to a large conference room with about a dozen Japanese dealers, most of whom I had never met. After being introduced to each other, I unloaded the trunk and unwrapped one book at a time, explaining to the group why each book was important. Each book was passed from dealer to dealer for inspection. I didn’t sell the Shakespeare folio, but I did go home with an empty trunk.
To this day, I thought it very generous of Mitsuo to have invited his colleagues to see my books. It was like Macy’s telling clients to buy at Gimbals, as in Miracle on 34th Street. He was that kind of businessman - willing to put the interests of the trade before his own interests, and this approach surely helped him create strong and lasting friendships in the international trade throughout his lifetime. His approach to building his own business while also supporting the trade is an example that all booksellers, new and established, can surely benefit from emulating.
I think that we can all agree that if you are in the book business, Mitsuo Nitta was your friend. He worked tirelessly supporting the ILAB either by buying books all over the world or by being instrumental in creating and nurturing the Japanese, Chinese and Korean chapters of the organization and to promote book fairs. His purchases supported many book sellers throughout the many years that he has been in business. A considerable number of ABAA and ILAB members have contributed a great deal of time to our organization, and those who knew Mitsuo will attest to the fact that he was the rock, the cornerstone, that made the ILAB the great organization that it is today.
Thank you, Mr. Nitta. We will always remember you as a great leader, a consummate book seller and businessman, and a very dear friend. On behalf of myself and the staff of Heritage Book Shop, I would like to offer my sincere condolences to the Nitta family.
Ben Weinstein, Heritage Book Shop
Just met Mitsuo Nitta last year in Japan, for the Tokyo book Fair : one time, but what a time, and what a meeting with a great man. We will never forget his brillant and incisive mind, and the kindness and hospitality he had, with Hisako, during those days. The « sushi-party" they gave at Yusohodo, and the generosity he gave to celebrate the ABAJ 50th anniversary, at Hakone and Tokyo, are still in our mind.
He will greatly missed by us.
Herve & Eva Valentin, Librairie Walden
I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of Mitsuo Nitta. Both my husband, Daniel Posnansky, and I met him in 1983 through John Fleming. We saw him socially, and I worked with him in the 1980’s. After one dinner party in Boston, he started referring to Dan as “Mister Sherlock Holmes” – with a twinkle in his eye and that wonderful smile on his face. His hospitality during the ILAB Congress in Japan was just one example of his generosity; it was memorable. His personality and force made him one of the important faces of international bookselling and the world of rare books.
While I had not seen him in recent years, I remember with great fondness the publishing / bookselling consummate professional that he was. Our condolences on his loss to his family and friends as well his colleagues in the ABAJ. He will be greatly missed by us and all who knew and worked with him.
Priscilla Juvelis and Daniel Posnansky, Priscilla Juvelis Inc.
In 1996 before the ILAB Congress in California, we invited booksellers to a pre-conference kayak trip in the Santa Cruz Islands. The one couple who accepted our invitation was Mitsuo and Hisako Nitta. For three nights and two days, we kayaked and hiked, lived and ate simply, talked books, and enjoyed each others’ company. Language limitations were sublimated to feelings of warmth and shared experience. This was Mitsuo’s first time paddling a kayak; he was fearless and all smiles. I remember him saying on the second day of the trip that he had forgotten what time it was in Tokyo; a first for him.
In the years that followed, he invited me twice to lecture about miniature books at Yushodo and mount an exhibition of the same. In our two subsequent visits after the ILAB Congress in Japan, he entertained and showed us areas of the country we would not have traveled. We talked business and did business, but the memories of his generosity of spirit and larger than life personality will always stay within our hearts. I wonder if anyone in our business was ever as energetic or creative as Mitsuo Nitta. Great books are called rare; Mitsuo was unique.
Our hearts are heavy that he is gone as we extend our deepest condolences to his beautiful wife, Hisako.
Anne and David Bromer, Bromer Booksellers
Mitsuo Nitta was not only a great bookman and businessman, he opened Japan to English language items for the Universities of Japan. I knew him for over 50 years and was shocked to hear of his death. We had many good times together in Shinjuku and at a number of Congresses, most especially all the ones in Japan! I cannot say enough about him. He was unique and non-replaceable. I will always remember him.
Goodbye old friend.
Michael, Michael Ginsberg Books
(Picture: Mr. and Mrs. Nitta, Lou Weinstein, Mr. Kakasu, Michael Ginsberg and Mitsuo Nitta jun. at the Presidents' Meeting in Yverdon, Switzerland, in 1989. Courtesy of Michael Ginsberg.)
He was my friend for so long … I thought he would be with us for many more years and am so saddened by his passing. Mrs. Nitta and Mitsuo welcomed me to Japan in the most personal way during my first trip in 1990. And for all the years since then, we have remained close friends and colleagues. We enjoyed many years of wonderful business together. Over that time, he had his arms around both of my boys and cared for them as he did for both my wife Anne and me. When my youngest son Ari spent time living in a Zen Buddhist monastery in Kyoto, Mitsuo made sure that the Yushodo people at the Kyoto offices would stay in touch and connect and spend time with Ari so to make sure he was at ease. On every visit he and Mrs. Nitta would spend days with me and many nights out enjoying the special places of Tokyo and the countryside around. He came to Boston to visit with us and spent three days enjoying the sights as well as our fresh seafood which he relished greatly.
It's difficult to imagine the world of antiquarian bookselling without him. A gaping hole is left, both in our professional lives and in our hearts. I wish for Mrs. Nitta and the Nitta family all the best and as gentle a healing as possible. My own sadness at the passing of such a dear friend is palpable. I will miss him greatly.
Martin Weinkle, Buddenbrooks, Inc.
We never did much business with Mitsuo, but we had golf in common. He and I had a memorable match with Johnny Boyle at Johnny's club in Richmond during the 1984 Congress in London. We all played well, but Mitsuo beat me on the last hole. I say memorable because for the next 30 years whenever we had occasion to meet after a long period, he was always quick to ask me about the state of my game, then laughed, in a good natured way, and reminded me, again, that he beat me that day. He was competitive.
He once told me that he had sold his membership in his golf club about 30 miles from Tokyo for something north of $800,000. I congratulated him on what he said was a large profit, and then he told me it had cost him almost double to join another club closer to the city.
As I said, I didn't know him well, but he was a nice fellow. I am reminded of what Andrew Carnegie replied when asked to describe his feelings about friends, "Ah, we played golf together!"
Rusty Mott, Howard S. Mott, Inc.
Our blessings and sympathy for the personal family and friends of Mitsuo Nitta as well his colleagues at Yushodo Booksellers, Japan.
My own apprenticeship under Jake Zeitlin brought to my attention many colleagues, collectors and friends of the Zeitlins. At the time, in 1979/80, Mr. Nitta was a frequent visitor to Zeutlin & Ver Brugge and the first impression was a lasting one: he was a man full of conviviality, an undying thirst for exquisite books, and his visits were ones that demonstrated both a friendship with the Zeitlins as well as honoring Jake's position as an authority in the history of science and medicine. He asked Z&VB to represent his bidding interests at the Robert Honeyman sale. Jake Zeitlin had an unusual interest in the sale:
Honeyman was both his primary client for many years and, in addition, he negotiated the sale of the collection to Sotheby in London. This in itself was unprecedented because of course auction houses are consignment centers and typically did not purchase collections, certainly not of this high value. I believe the sale was in the range of 4 million dollars. The arrangements for this sale were not part of my experience as I entered into the firm after the fact. Nonetheless I witnessed the activity of the entire multi-year sale and with each sale Nitta was a participant. This was also a time when the Japanese book trade became very active and visible throughout the Western world as they had funding and interest in bringing great books to private collectors and institutions in Japan. The unique characteristics of these relationships have been learned by some colleagues, especially Rob Rulon-Miller who continues to this day to exhibit in Japan as well as buy unusual items for selling. There was one prize item the Nitta bought from Jake Zeitlin that I will never forget: Jake Zeitlin managed to acquire an actual laboratory notebook from Marie Curie. He even found out that there were traces of radioactivity with this notebook. It was Nitta who bought the piece and that happened because of the trust and friendship the two shared. Those relationships were a real part of the Zeitlins' social circle: their friends were collectors or scholars or artists or writers. Jake Zeitlin was a raconteur and his lunch date was always inviting and welcome.
Those days were where I enjoyed learning this trade and I know each and every day how much my experience then influences my work even now. Thus despite a multitude of changes in the book world since the 1980s some elements, like friendships still remain constant. This is a business of relationships and in fact each book has a personal story behind it. Mr. Nitta's stories were wide and remarkable as his own experiences cultivated many friendships in the trade. I suspect many will have similar stories of Nitta.
I will light a candle in his honor this day and pause to remember Mitsuoa Nitta, a great man and bookman. With deep sympathy,
Jeff Weber, Jeff Weber Rare Books
I met Mitsuo Nitta on many occasions but never did much business with Yushodo until 2005 when I sold a large Isadora Duncan dance collection, owned by Yushodo, to an American university. The sale of this collection gave me a clear understanding of what it was like to work with Mitsuo. At the suggestion of a colleague, I flew to Japan to examine the Isadora collection which had originally come from Los Angeles. Yushodo had owned the collection intact for almost twenty years but had been unable to find a client. Since I knew the field of modern dance and this particular collection from years before, I felt that I might find somebody to buy it. I told him so. Mitsuo looked at me directly and asked how certain I was of a sale. I said “100 percent absolutely!” (while internally not being all that certain). His response: “OK We send it to you.”
The collection arrived almost before I got home. Sixty boxes of rare material worth nearly seven figures. During the two months I had the collection, he did not once ask how I was doing with this “100 percent” certain sale. I would volunteer an email often to make sure he knew I was working on it.
After the sale was made and all parties were paid, I wrote him a heart-felt thank you then thought nothing more about it. However, the next year, when I let him know that Kate and I were going to be in Japan, he called to invite us to spend the weekend with him. From the time we arrived in Tokyo until the time we left, he and his wife made certain that we were treated and fed royally. This included a trip us to the Nagoya mountains for a stay at his luxurious resort.
For me, Mitsuo’s finest quality was his ability to make business dealings intensely personal. Like everybody else, I was shocked and dismayed when I learned of his passing, but I will always have these memories.
Gordon Hollis, Golden Legend, Inc.
It is with great sadness that I learnt the passing away of Mr. Mitsuo Nitta. I shall always remember his colorful personality and his great knowledge of the trade and of ILAB. A few years ago, he had come to Paris and took me along with him to a rendez-vous he had at the Bibliothèque Nationale, where a private visit of some of the Library’s treasures had been prepared for him, amongst which two Gutenberg Bibles. This was a very memorable and unique visit. Whenever he came to Paris, he would come and see my husband and I at the bookshop. I shall always treasure these moments.
Please convey to his wife, his children, his family, to ABAJ and in particular to all the staff at Yushodo, my husband’s and my deepest and most sincere condolences.
Nevine Marchiset, L' Intersigne Livres anciens
Although our paths may have crossed at previous congresses, it was at the ILAB Congress in Tokyo in 1973 that I first got to know Mitsuo. Some dozen or so ABA members were exhibiting at the annexed book fair, and, as holders of a Bulk Mail licence, my father and I offered to ship everyone’s books to Yushodo for the fair. This huge shipment impressed the Post Office which gave 27 Cecil Court its own special post code, but much more importantly it must have impressed Mitsuo Nitta for not long after that he enquired whether I was able to communicate by telex and if so would I be Yushodo’s auction agent in London. Thus began a long period of intense, and often exciting, commercial activity between Fletcher and Yushodo, and of course, given Mitsuo’s dynamic personality and gift for friendship, there grew up a friendship between the Nitta family and the Fletcher family. It must have been sometime in the mid- 1980’s that Mitsuo’s son, Yusaku, came to live with my parents for a few months to improve his English. The exotic computer toy that Yusaku brought as a present for my sons, is still played with by my grandson. And two years ago, after the birth of our grandson we received a small package from Mitsuo of “Pochi-Bukuro”. As he explained in the covering letter these are small paper envelopes traditionally used in Japan to give people money, whether it be tips in hotels and restaurants, or in his case the present of money that he remembers being given as a child at New Year by his parents. He was delighted with the picture we sent of our grandson, Jacob, holding his pochi-bukuro last New Year.
Some months after my father died in 1996 Mitsuo and Hisako were in London and invited my mother, my sister Valerie, Marina and myself to tea. They explained that it was a tradition in Japan to have a tea ceremony to remember one’s ancestors and they wanted to reminisce with us about my father. One of the stories that I reminded Mitsuo of on that occasion was that on a very early visit to Cecil Court my father had sold him a Gutenberg Bible leaf. On his next visit a year later he offered him another leaf. Mitsuo threw up his hands in mock horror and with a twinkle in his eye said “ Oh no! Maybe two three years time. I sold first one ‘Only copy in Japan’”
Not only was Mitsuo the consummate businessman, [the importer of no less that 40 Shakespeare Folios during his career] he was also a tireless promoter of the world of antiquarian books, and particularly of ILAB. At committee meetings, and latterly when the committee’s email traffic increased, he constantly bubbled with ideas and enthusiasm for fostering the ‘Spirit of the League’. Several colleagues have already pointed out how much Mitsuo did in opening the eyes of Japanese libraries to western books, and then supplying them. But to me his importance is even greater than that. He was the conduit through which we in the West got to know Japan, and even began to understand the inscutible Japanese. He was a Titan in our world of books; deserving above all others to be a Member of Honour of ILAB, and of course we, who knew him and delighted in his friendship, will always miss him. In fact I do believe that, as long as ILAB exists, future generations will be aware of the influence that Mitsuo Nitta had on our world and have cause to be grateful to him.
Keith Fletcher, H.M.Fletcher, Member of Honour of ILAB
I knew Mitsuo Nitta since the mid 1980ies, when I first came to Japan. We met again at the ILAB Congress in Japan, at the meetings of the Association internationale de bibliophilie in Barcelona and Vienna, and at some book fairs I attended in Japan. Finally, at the ILAB Congress in Bologna in 2010, he approached me with the idea of opening the World Antiquarian Book Plaza in Tokyo. Since then and on during my frequent trips to Tokyo, I could experience his wide knowledge, his enthusiasm for our trade, his views on the different aspects of the antiquarian book business and his generosity.
Last September I had a long chat with him about the rare book trade and the world of rare books in general. When I once again came back from Tokyo to Vienna and heard of Mituso Nitta’s passing away, it was a great shock and a huge sadness.
With him one of the last great personalities and a good friend has gone. He will stay in my memory and I will try to keep his ‘baby’ – the World Antiquarian Book Plaza - alive.
Michael Steinbach, Michael Steinbach Rare Books
It was certainly sad news to hear of the death of Mitsuo Nitta. I first met Mitsuo in 1956 although I do not remember the encounter. Mitsuo was a close friend and colleague of my father, Muir Dawson. When Mitsuo first came to the United States he stayed in our home in Los Angeles before heading to the East Coast. Over the next fifty years, Mitsuo would always remind me that when he first came to the United States I was “this big” at which point he would spread both hands about 12 inches apart. Mitsuo was instrumental in encouraging my father to travel throughout Japan and Korea starting in the early 1960s. Through his contacts, Dawson’s Book Shop developed a thriving trade in Japanese books and scrolls in the U.S. market when there was very little interest among collectors in Japan.
I last saw Mitsuo in 2005 when he travelled from Tokyo to attend my father’s memorial service. He was a man of unfailing kindness and courtesy combined with keen sense for business opportunities. The rare book world has lost a major figure. I send condolences from the entire Dawson family.
Michael Dawson, Dawson’s Book Shop
Nous connaissions Mitsuo Nitta et Yushodo depuis 1986. En février dernier dans les environs d’Hakodaté au cours d’un déjeuner, nous avions projeté un voyage en novembre-décembre pour rendre visite aux dirigeants de la bibliothèque national de Pékin et autres institutions. Cette équipée n’aura pas lieu, mais nous garderons en mémoire ce projet dont il aura été l’initiateur et nous ne manquerons pas de songer à lui et à sa formidable énergie si ce projet se concrétise un jour!
We knew Mitsuo Nitta and Yushudo since 1986. Last February during a meal with him, we planned a trip for December in order to meet some curators of the Beijing’s National Library and other institutions. Sadly this project won’t take place, but it will be kept in our memory because it was his idea and we will think about his wonderful energy to make it real.
Requiescat in Pace.
Véronique et Jean-Philippe Geley, Oriens Librairie orientaliste
I never could imagine, that I would not meet my friend Mitsuo Nitta again, if not anywhere else in the world, at least at ILAB Presidents Meetings, ILAB Congresses or ILAB Fairs. So Budapest 2016 will be the first time without him. I owe him many good days, evenings and businesses. I will miss him in many ways. Condolences to his family.
Dieter Tausch, Antiquariat und Galerie Tausch
Please add my name to the long list of people deeply saddened to learn of the death of CEO of Yushodo Ltd. and President of Honor of the ABAJ. He was an extraordinarily wonderful presence at ILAB Congresses and Fairs, and an always enthusiastic, cheerful supporter of all aspects of the antiquarian book trade. He will be greatly missed.
Richard Ramer, Richard C. Ramer Old & Rare Books
It was with great sadness that I heard yesterday of the death of Mitsuo Nitta. Although I had not seen him in recent years, I worked with him and got to know him when I was president of the ABAC and then secretary of the ILAB Committee. He had a bright and incisive mind, and worked very hard both for the Japanese Association and for ILAB. And I shall never forget his kindness and hospitality, both private and professional, when my late husband and I spent time with him in Tokyo during the ILAB Congress there.
My warmest wishes and sincerest condolences to his family, and to members of the ABAJ.
Helen Kahn, Helen R. Kahn & Assoc. Inc.
In both commercial dealings and committee rooms I will always recall his natural effervescence, charm and generosity of spirit. Our trade needs more like him. He will be missed.
Robert Frew, Robert Frew Ltd.
The first contact I had with Mitsuo Nitta was in the sixties of the former century when Shozen Nagayama started acquisitios on a large scale of European old books, journals and pamphlets for the Tenri Library The import into Japan, a complicated and time consuming matter, was handled by Yushodo Booksellers.
What struck me from the beginning of our friendship as dealers, was Mitsuo’s eagerness to know what he imported. His aim was not only to make the dealings a financial success, but also to enlarge his knowledge of European history in all its aspects. During business dinners he liked to discuss European history and politics. And he appeared to be well informed about these issues. Mitsuo was convinced that cooperation throughout the world of booksellers was of the highest importance. He was pleased and enthusiastic also of successful sales other dealers made. Never a touch of envy!
During the years of my ILAB Presidency Mitsuo was nominated a Member of Honour of the League. Due to his indefatigable strive for worldwide cooperation and togetherness, this mark of honour was applauded unanimously.
Anton Gerits, ILAB Past President and ILAB President of Honour
We have Lost a Giant of the Rare Book World
My “boss” has passed away. It is true that all humans must one day face this inevitable fate. When I met Mitsuo Nitta in the middle of October after returning back from the ILAB Presidents Meeting in Seville, aside from thinking his stomach looked little inflated than the usual, he spoke and moved in his usual energetic ways. So when I heard the news, I literally had to ask myself twice to make sure I heard the news right.
After graduating university in 1971, I joined Yushodo by following the recommendation of my father Sakichi Yagi who worked at Maruzen. At the time, Mr. Yuji Nitta served as the chairman, and I looked up to President Mitsuo Nitta who is fifteen years older than me as my boss like figure.11 years have gone by since the company reconstructed in Yotsuya, and starting a few years ago, the company began to handle rare books. The company was engaged in various affairs such as making deals with antiquarian book dealers from around the world and establishing business relations with university libraries in Japan. The 5 years I spent at Yushodo provided me with a significant direction toward my future life. Up to that point, the conventional business style of antiquarian bookstores was to just sit at the store counter and wait for the customers to arrive. However, such was not case for me since I was taught to be more business minded by making catalogues and actively stepping out of the office to make deals.
In 1964, Mitsuo Nitta bundled up Shiro Muraguchi, Ryuichi Matsumura, Ukichi Sakai, and Kenichiro Nakao who at the time were considered to be the leading antiquarian book dealers in the Tokyo/Kansai area. He achieved the “super play” in the young age of 31 by establishing Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of Japan (ABAJ) with just 10 dealers, and joining ILAB in the following year.
His achievements for ABAJ and ILAB is something I don’t need to explain as everyone is well aware of his great success. In September, 1973, ABAJ hosted the 22nd ILAB Congress and the 5th ILAB International Antiquarian Book Fair in Tokyo. About 180 people gathered from around the world for this event. Further, in 1990, ABAJ hosted the 30th ILAB Congress and the 13th International Antiquarian Book Fair, again in Tokyo. This congress was record breaking in the history of the League: over 350 people from 19 countries attended the congress, and over 180 companies exhibited at the fair.
Mitsuo Nitta served ILAB in various ways, for example as an ILAB committee member and for many years as Chair of the ILAB Breslauer Prize for Bibliography. The speech he held at the ILAB Congress in Paris in 2014 as an ILAB Member of Honor was his last speech within the ILAB community.
ABAJ celebrated its 50th anniversary last year with a memorial ceremony in December 2014 and the Tokyo International Antiquarian Book Fair in March 2015. Although I was the one who executed the planning/execution/operation as the president and executive committee chair together with ABAJ members/committee/directors, I owe much of the project success to my “boss” who was always there to support me from the behind.
Needless to say that, through Yushodo, Mitsuo Nitta’s contributions to the international trade were monumental: the exchange with antiquarian book dealers from around the world, with Japanese universities, with librarians, scholars, and collectors. And he was known as someone who truly loved ABAJ, ILAB and its motto: “Amor Librorum Nos Unit”. He lead ABAJ for 50 long years and gained reputation for being a true leader. Although he passed away at the age of 82, ABAJ’s President of Honour and ILAB’s Member of Honour Mitsuo Nitta will remain with us forever.
It is with great sadness that we have to inform you that our President of Honour, Mitsuo Nitta, passed away during the course of medical treatment on 27th October at 17:15. On this sad occasion we would like to express our gratitude to all who helped and supported him during his lifetime.
It has been decided that Yushodo Co.,Ltd. will conduct the funeral of the late Mitsuo Nitta at Gokoku-ji, 5-40-1, Otsuka, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo, 14:00~15:30, on 7th December. It is the will of his family not to accept any obituary gifts and flowers.
Masaji Yagi, ABAJ President
Mituso Nitta's death is a big loss for the community of antiquarian booksellers and collectors, not only in Japan, but in all Asia and across the world. I have known Mitsuo Nitta since the year 2007, when I met him at the Antiquarian Book Fairs in Tokyo and in Hong Kong. He introduced me to many Asian dealers, especially to Mr. Yeo, the biggest antiquarian bookseller in the Republic of Korea. Mitsuo always encourage me to work on the future of antiquarian book trade in Asia and particularly in Korea.
For the last time I met Mitsuo Nitta in March 2015, when the Japanese antiquarian booksellers celebrated the 50th anniversary of ABAJ during the Tokyo International Antiquarian Book Fair. Japan Association and Tokyo International Book Fair. As I knew he lost his nephew Isamu Nitta, Manager of Yushodo, I went to the graveyard and prayed for him.
Mitsuo Nitta was my teacher and mentor. He asked me to reorganize and to reestablish an International Antiquarian Book Fair in Korea. I am determined to fulfil his wish, but I am very sorry that I will not be able to show the results to him. I will miss Mitsuo Nitta, his mind, thoughts and energy.
TJ Kim, Tmecca Korea, Inc.
Mitsuo was small in stature but an absolute giant of a man. I had the privilege of meeting Mitsuo in 1990 and over the years met him many times. In Canada one year we dined together and conceived the idea of a Hong Kong Book Fair. He was of the opinion that the booksellers of the world did not appreciate Asia and it was our shared dream to bring China into the fold of international bookselling. "I have a good friend in Hong Kong," he said, "we will go there and talk to Chris Li and he will help us organise a bookfair there."
So we met in Hong Kong and the three of us became good friends and with lots of travel and emails and excitement the first Antiquarian Book Fair in Hong Kong happened. We arranged the first four of these events and I am very happy, as he was that it is still happening every year. Now under different management but this is good as it means someone else is doing the work.
Days and evenings with Mitsuo were full of exchanges of ideas and most of the ideas were his. He dreamt of a bookselling community with booksellers assisting each other and working together around the world. Bookselling with no national boundaries. His dream was to bring all the booksellers of Asia and Australia together into a special Asia Pacific Antiquarian Booksellers Association. My energy did not match his and I am sure that I was a disappointment to him in this instance.
China was where lots of his dreaming took place and we were fortunate to make good contacts in China and travelled together to Beijing a couple of times and had very good productive times there. Meals at famous Beijing restraurants, speeches and toasts. It was all such fun. The National Library and the University of Beijing made us both welcome and
in fact both held special exhibitions in our honour. To stand beside Mitsuo and listen to his enthusiasm and knowledge about each item was outstanding. Although things did not quite work out the way he envisaged he certainly did pave the way for a lot of international trade between China and the rest of the international booksellers.
He always had a scheme and he wanted to discuss very important things and we had to meet in various places of the world to discuss these. He often travelled with his wife and on one occasion we travelled through Hong Kong and China with his beloved grandson who was obviously the apple of Mitsuo's eye. The grandson was very different and had a job pumping petrol in Tokyo and Mitsuo was proud of his grandson's ability to work and told me tales of his grand children with love and pride in his voice.
I like being 75 was what he told me when I reminded him that I had now attended his 75th birthday party in 4 different countries and 3 different continents over a period of 4 years. I will not be older than that because older than 75 is starting to get old. Immediately he came up with the idea of celebrating the 75 years in all 7 continents. Sadly it never happened but I can imagine him being at home in the Antarctic and looking at everything and asking questions and smiling contentedly as we sang for him.
We say farewell to a great bookseller. A most generous man full of ideas and enthusiasm. I shall miss him.
Paul Feain, Cornstalk Bookshop
Dear Friend, your last journey has started and I wish you a good and friendly trip. Many stories and the memory of a wonderful friendship will be recalled when I look back at 'our time' together.
Ulrich, Ulrich Hobbeling Rare Books
Soon after I acquired Quaritch in 2004, I visited Tokyo to meet our friends. Nitta-san was naturally curious about my “investment”. “Why?” he asked. We were at Yushodo’s old premises, and he pointed out - in his inimitable rapid fire speech - that in the rare book business, whenever you make money, you will just buy more books.
Every sentence he spoke on the numerous occasions we met contained valuable insights: recalling his memories of the time spent in New York training as a young bookdealer, or simply fishing out of his pocket and discussing an early book printed in Deshima, every conversation was a discovery. We mostly discussed the book trade - in his later years he was particularly keen to identify opportunities in China. Indeed it was thanks to his determination and support that the first international antiquarian book fair was held in Hong Kong in 2007.
During our first meeting he had said that he was looking to retire…that was the only thing he said that one needed to take with a pinch of salt! Our last meeting was last year, over a weekend at his country home and Matsumoto. He had suggested that we visit old bookshops. It was a packed weekend with an activity scheduled for every hour. After a hot pot dinner, he also decided that we might catch the earlier express train from Matsumoto to Chino, and I was somewhat concerned to see him run up the steps in order to catch the train. Mrs Nitta, my wife and I only just managed. He did not age a day in the years that I knew him.
So it was a great shock when I learned that Nitta-san had passed away. I had just missed him in Tokyo over the weekend of 16 October as he was going to Sendai on book business –“A challenge, such a hard market…” were the last words in his email.
Mitsuo Nitta was a force of nature, and his energy and determination encouraged all of us to look at new opportunities. He will be deeply missed.
John Koh, Bernard Quaritch Ltd.
As I had retired from the publishing business more than fifteen years ago, it was only when we sent our annual Seasonal Greetings to Mr. and Mrs. Nitta that we learned from Yushodo that Mitsuo had passed away two months earlier. I was shocked that my old friend had died, as was my wife and son. It seemed impossible, a person with such brimming enthusiasm and largess of life. And I felt particularly saddened that we had become so out of touch since my retirement that I only recently discovered this great loss.
I first met Mitsuo in 1968 when I was working for Johnson Reprint Corporation but it wasn’t until I became the President of the Greenwood Publishing Group in the early 1970s that our friendship and extensive business dealings blossomed. I knew Mitsuo mostly from the publishing side of the business, Yushodo becoming our distributor in Japan and that relationship lasting decades. We also cooperated on a number of joint ventures, including reprints of some antiquarian titles.
He always had that twinkle in his eye with a warm but restrained smile suggesting what the future might bring, soliciting an opinion and sharing his. Many of our joint publishing ventures were initiated with nothing more than a handshake agreement, committing resources even before a contract was drawn and signed, a mere formality.
When my wife Ann and I first visited Japan in 1975 he treated us royally and even helped set up appointments with some of his competitors with whom I had dealings on other projects. Our evenings were occupied by a number of dinners with him and Hisako, or staff from Yushodo. He liked to pair me with some of his younger managers, always intrigued by what we members of the “younger generation” might bring to the business.
He loved to share the Japanese culture with Westerners and had such generosity of spirit. On one of my trips to Japan, at the very end of 1989, with Japan at its zenith of economic power, he asked me to make a major address on U.S. - Japan economic relations to Tokyo's Rotary Club consisting of executives of leading Japanese companies at the time. Mitsuo was my mentor for the speech which was very well received.
As that trip was at the end of the year, I brought my wife Ann and my 12-year old son, Jonathan, so we could experience the Japanese New Year together. Mitsuo took Jonathan under his wing, admiring Jonathan’s inquisitiveness and interest in Japanese culture. Mitsuo asked his son to take Jonathan for an insider’s tour of the Ginza area in downtown Tokyo.
We all travelled with Mitsuo and his wife to the Tateshina Resort & Spa northwest of Tokyo where Naruhito, the Crown Prince of Japan had stayed. I’m not sure whether that trip was a greater delight to us or Mitsuo who was constantly amused by our reaction to living Japanese style (we loved it of course).
There on the eve of the 1990 New Year, we were treated to a special weekend where we were the only Westerners, sleeping on handcrafted tatami mats, eating traditional Japanese food. I remember that Mitsuo challenged me to guess the identity of one of the many dinner courses served throughout the 3 hour meal ……… something that tasted like steak tartar to me. He laughed when he told me it was raw horsemeat, a delicacy in the region. Luckily, I had sufficient Sake to wash it down.
The high point of the weekend was the spa. First we had to bathe ourselves sitting on small stools, using a bucket with water, soaking and scrubbing every inch of our bodies until squeaky clean. Then, with nothing on but the winter kimono, we walked outside into the freezing night air, with snow all around, disrobed, and plunged ourselves into the steaming hot tubs. A bamboo curtain separated the ladies from the men. We could talk to our wives but not peek. Jonathan took to this so naturally while I had to be coaxed into the hot pool, simply because the temperature difference was so great. Mitsuo found this very funny. That trip had a lasting impact on our friendship and left such a deep impression on Jonathan that nearly ten years later he chose to spend his college junior year abroad at Doshisha University in Kyoto, immersing himself in the culture and the language. Naturally, Mitsuo kept an eye on him, occasionally getting together and giving me his opinion of “the boy’s” maturation and adjustment.
Mitsuo and Hisako were in New York City in April 2011 when he heard I just had open heart surgery, with complications which required a two plus week stay in the hospital. He insisted on flying down to Florida upon my returning home to see his old friend.
Sadly, that was the last time I saw him. We hugged as he left. There will always be a place in my heart for Mitsuo, a person of remarkable spirit and dedication to his profession, one who has impacted so many lives. Farewell, my friend.
Robert Hagelstein, former Greenwood Publishing Group
Printing and the Mind of Japan
"My father started in the book trade when he was fourteen years old, working for Ganshodo, in its day the Foyles of Japan. It was an enormous business in Jimbocho, the bookselling district of Tokyo, and had branches all over Japan and one in Korea and Taiwan. My father was educated at Ganshodo's own school, which enabled him to work part-time in the business before becoming a full-time employee at the age of seventeen. In 1932, when he was in his mid-twenties, my father left the firm to start Yushodo, his own bookshop. This way was a rather traditional way of independence at that time when starting from zero ..."