2007年12月1日 星期六

愛書家的東京天堂 Kanda-Jinbocho.

2007.12 早上經過真理堂的書局, 看到教堂慶祝55周年的布告。


biblio・phile━━ n. 愛書家.
Weekend Beat/ Our Town: Traditional book town caught in a new bind
These days, there aren't many titles that you can't get through your local big-box bookstore or by searching through Amazon's virtual catalog.

photoInside the 125-year-old Ohya Shobo bookstore, where Kuri Koketsu, left, works with her father, Kimio. (Louis Templado/ Staff photographer)

But if there is one you can't find, though, chances are it's buried among the racks and stacks that make up Kanda-Jinbocho.
Set in the middle of Tokyo, the district of fusty old shops and narrow alleys is to bibliophiles what nearby Akihabara is to otaku--a holy land.
Both neighborhoods are in the midst of change. Akihabara's transformation from a home appliance retail district to a hobbyland--digital and otherwise--is practically shouted by barkers and maid touts on its streets.
Transition in the book district, meanwhile, has been rather more discreet--true to the neighborhood's character--and at the level of a librarian's whisper.
Yet it's there to be seen, even at such venerable landmarks as the Ohya Shobo.
Located near the central Surugadai intersection, the bookshop has been in business since 1882, back when Emperor Meiji sat on the throne. On most days you can make out the owner, Kimio Koketsu, through the window. Dressed in suit and tie, he leafs through his stock of yellowing prints and scrolls, as he holds an unlit cigarette between his fingers.
Deeper in the shadows of the store, you'll run into his daughter, Kuri, in jeans and hoodie, looking through the same inventory on a computer screen.
After 40 years at the front of the shop, the elder Koketsu is about ready to hand over the keys to his daughter, who grew up in the neighborhood and has worked for the past nine years beside her dad.
"To be honest,'' Kuri says, "I've never thought of not working here.''
She'll have a host of challenges to deal with, the first of which the elder Koketsu gestures to with his thumb: the recently opened noodle shop next door.
"We have nothing personal against them, but their gaudy advertising doesn't really go very well with the look of the neighborhood," he says.
"And no one wants to smell food when they're browsing for books."
One restaurant, Koketsu says, isn't an issue. But the fact is that there are more and more of them wedging in between the bookshops along the area's representative avenue: Yasukuni-dori street.
The influx of eateries is a sure sign that more visitors--
especially young people--are streaming into the area. In fact, Koketsu says, that's the case: Kanda is now a tourist destination. Yet more strollers hasn't translated into more sales for the book dealers.
"We're not like food businesses,'' says Koketsu, who until recently headed the Kanda Antiquarian Booksellers' Association made up of nearly 170 shops in the area.
"They're guaranteed to make money from everyone that comes in--we're not. When people step into our shops, they're coming just to look."
In fact, sales are at a low, since Japanese do more talking and texting these days than they do reading. A generation ago they spent their extra cash on novels; now it goes to pay the phone bills.
"They don't see how much they're racking up every month on telephone charges. But with a book you know exactly how much it will cost you--the price is on the cover,'' Koketsu says.
Oddly, that hasn't stopped a clutch of new bookstores from settling in.
More than 30 of them have opened, mostly in the past five years, drawn by falling rents in the area. You'd be hard-pressed to find them, however, since they occupy the second and third floors of buildings on the back streets. Street-level spaces are out of reach for these new enterprises, Koketsu says, but not for chain cafe franchises.
The new stores target collectors of anime, manga, children's books and various subculture literature. The old shops are also genre-specific--Chinese literature, science or philosophy, for example--but these are out of vogue.
"Young people prefer visual things that are easier to understand,'' says Yasushi Ishizaka, who opened his shop Amulet, a bookstore-gallery that also sells accessories, in the area seven years ago. "They see a book as more of a decorative element than reading material."
Amulet is actually an exception among the newcomers because it welcomes customers from off the street. Most of the other businesses work solely through the Internet.
"They are storage rooms and offices,'' says Tomoyuki Nakano, head of the neighborhood antiquarians, referring to the Net merchants.
"They come here because they want the address. Kanda is still synonymous with books."
Keeping the name alive, however, is what's at issue. Survival for the antiquarians, says Nakano, has always been a matter of fractions: Once merchants could count on one in a thousand customers to make a purchase. Now, he says, half-jokingly, they'd be happy with one in 10,000.
The new rich are out there, he says, buying up big condos and big cars. Eventually they'll turn their attention to high-priced first editions. But who knows when.
The task for second- and third-generation shopkeepers is to hang on.
"It's not like it was 20 years ago," says Kuri Koketsu, when Tokyo was awash in bubble cash.
"You could be silent, you could be rude and you could still sell books,'' she says. That drove a lot of potential customers off and created the curmudgeon image--not entirely accurate--
that the sellers have today.
"We have to find young customers, which means we need to find a new approach," Koketsu says.
Her touch is already evident at Ohya Shobo. The shop is still crammed with 100-year-old prints and scrolls, but the eye-level shelves are filling up with newer books devoted to yokai ghosts and monsters. They're popular, she says, especially with young women.
A book or print has be held in the hands to be appreciated, the elder Koketsu insists. Kuri, meanwhile, has catalogued the shop's collection online.
She and other young booksellers she grew up with are involved with Book Town Jimbou, an NGO-led effort to daisy-chain the antiquarians in a common database at .
The result can be seen on Yasukuni-dori, where an old storefront has been turned into a media center. Visitors can come in and peruse more than 360,000 titles from 88 shops, look at Google maps and also get dining recommendations.
It's not exactly up to the level of Akihabara and probably never will be. Digital data, after all, isn't enough to satisfy a bookseller's soul.
Lee Myoung Bu is one of the faceless online sellers new to the area. He found a fifth-floor office seven years ago and moved his shop, Suihei Shokan, in from a Tokyo suburb.
Six months ago he expanded, moving part of his overflowing stock into a ground-level space on a back alley.
"I rented it for storage but ended up turning it into a real shop,'' Lee says. His specialties are books on the Ainu and Okinawa, and leftist labor union posters from the 1950s.
"I really don't expect to get much walk-in business--some days no one comes in at all. But there's more to being in business than just making money. There's spiritual satisfaction.
"The Internet has really changed the business, but it gets lonely dealing just online. There's no chance to meet your customers. You don't get the pleasure of seeing them holding your book in their hands."
KANDA-JINBOCHO in Chiyoda Ward is one of Tokyo's three traditional used book retailing districts. The other two are Waseda, near the university of the same name, and Hongo, the area around the University of Tokyo main campus.
The other two have nearly disappeared, but Kanda continues to expand. While there were about 110 shops in the area 30 years ago, according to the Kanda Antiquarian Booksellers・Association, the number is now closer to 170. A growing number of the businesses, however, deal only on the Internet.
Kanda is the location of Japan's main used book market-open only to licensed dealers-where auctions are held daily.
During the Edo Period (1603-1867) the area of Kanda, located between the Imperial Palace and the Kandagawa river, was occupied by ironsmiths, dyers and ryokan operators.
It transformed into a student town during the Meiji Era (1868-1912), when Meiji, Chuo and Nihon universities, among others, were founded in the area. Bookstores, prints shops and publishing houses naturally followed. The number of bookstores increased during the Taisho Era (1912-1926), thanks to a rush of students from China.
Most of the bookshops are arrayed along the southern side of Yasukuni-dori street for a reason: to avoid direct sunlight fading their books.
Restaurants are now appearing between the bookshops, causing another worry for the antiquarians-the risk of fire.(IHT/Asahi: November 17,2007)