December 3, 2015
Minimalist Tokyo bookstore stocks only one book each week
by Kait Howard
There’s too much to read. This nagging anxiety afflicts everyone working in/for/around books at some point. And while it’s easy to see how luxurious a complaint it might be, it’s a topic that has been agonized over again and again on the pages of MobyLives.
It’s also easy to see how one Japanese bookstore’s new radical approach to retail would give book-crazed people pause. The one-room bookstore Morioka Shoten & Co, Ltd, which opened in Ginza, Tokyo, in May, keeps only one title in stock each week. That’s right: a single room, a single book (or, in the Japanese: “Issatsu, Isshitsu”).
Conceived by longtime bookseller Yoshiyuki Morioka, the store functions as a kind of emphatic rejection of online retail giants by only selling copies of a single title Tuesdays through Sundays (the store is closed on Monday). Nightly book discussions are held to help promote the chosen book, and book-related artwork is often on display.
In an article for Wallpaper, Jens Jensen described how Morioka first came up with the idea for the store:
“Morioka came up with the idea for Morioka Shoten when he was running another, more conventional bookstore at a different location, where he organised regular readings and signings with authors and publishers. These were always well received—why not, he thought, launch a dedicated shop where the focus was always on just one special book?”
With white walls and sparse decoration, Marioka Shoten seems more akin to an art gallery. It’s a far cry from many of our most beloved stores, with their endless rainbow of covers vying for attention. There’s a soothing orderliness to such minimal presentation—not to mention a whiff of marketing genius.
It’s not immediately clear who picks each week’s title, or what kind of books tend to be stocked. “This is the curation craze taken to its logical, if extreme, endpoint,” wrote Shaunacy Ferro in a critical write-up for Mental Floss. But Bustle’s Alex Heimbach takes a more enthusiastic tone, describing the project as “essentially the anti-Amazon: instead of offering unlimited selection and no guidance, Morioka offers nothing but guidance.”
In any case, the store is an interesting lure for city dwellers and tourists. Marioka Shoten occupies the ground floor of the historic Suzuki Building, which, according to Jensen, housed Nippon Kobo, the publisher of the propaganda periodical Nippon, from the early 1930s through the end of World War II.
And in what Jensen describes as a funny coincidence, in order to help finance the opening of the store, Marioka sold his large collection of Japanese wartime propaganda, which he admires for its graphic qualities.
Kait Howard is a publicist at Melville House.