Tokyo Art Book Fair
Featuring the work of more than 300 artists, writers, designers, paper-makers and printers, the Tokyo Art Book Fair was an inspiring showcase of creativity.
The promise of over 300 stalls, the bright pink branding, and the location amongst the new offices and cool shops and eateries of Higashi-Shinagawa held a lot of promise, though in many ways I didn’t know what to expect from the Tokyo Art Book Fair.
But I’m glad I went.
Spread out over several floors of unused low-rise office space was a vivid assortment of artists, writers, designers, photographers, printers and paper- makers showcasing their work, with everything from high-end coffee table books to the most raw kinds of hand-made, rough and ready zines. There were samples from commercial paper mills, displays of metal typesetting and letterpress printing, and lots of creative people keen and willing to talk about their work.
If my Japanese were better I could’ve spent all day there. As it was, I enjoyed a little over two hours walking from stall to stall, checking out what people had made, chatting where I could, and buying a few things.
The experience was a mix of inspiration and market research. I was curious to see what photographers were doing, where they were getting books printed, what kind of paper they were using, and how they priced their work. I made a point of chatting where I could and at least getting contact details from every printer and paper supplier there.
As I often do, I paused to watch the other visitors: which tables they paused at, the ones where they spent a little longer thumbing through the pages or talking with stallholders about their work.
The fair wasn’t crowded; at least, not when I was there in the early afternoon of a working Friday. But it definitely had a buzz, and I heard that over the weekend there was a solid attendance.
I was particularly interested in checking out the zines. Extremely popular at the moment, zines represent everything I love about indie and self-publishing, the spirit of making something very personal in your own way, with your own aesthetic. But it’s disheartening to see how many rules have developed, at least online, about what a zine is and how it should be made.
There’s something about the fear and pain of our cultural moment that causes us to retreat behind rules as a way to feel safe.
Thankfully, most of the zines I saw at the Tokyo Art Book Fair played loose with these so-called rules. It was nice to see that some of them had very DIY production values, and also that some had more artistic aspirations. I felt liberated to experiment with the format.
In a lot of ways, visiting the Tokyo Art Book Fair left me with a “you can try” sort of feeling. It’s not that the work on display was bad; it wasn’t that at all. Rather, it was the variety on display, from the beautifully professional to the smudged-ink-and-a-staple titles, that made me optimistic. There are no visible barriers to entry. There’s space to try, to experiment, to make something and offer it up.