Visiting Tokyo last week was predictably enjoyable. And no trip is now complete without a stop off at Tsutaya Books’ shop, T Site, in Daikanyama.
Daikanyama sits on one of the many hills that rise up in Tokyo almost imperceptibly, as the winding streets and low rise houses obscure any long-distance vistas for most of the time. But a subtle sense of elevation mixes with the calm and quiet of this largely residential neighbourhood, and the effect is that of a Tokyo version of Hampstead in London, where my publishing company is based.
After working with the local business community for a couple of years to rebrand and promote Hampstead to the rest of London, it is finally starting to attract the kinds of shops which will potentially put it on the map for purposes beyond walks on the Heath and Sunday pub lunches. But Daikanyama has no such issues.
It has leading technical fashion companies such as Nanamica, Porter Yoshida Kaban and APC. And it has the very innovative T Site, possessed of a beautiful architectural housing, and an extraordinary range of books, journals and magazines, that are lovingly displayed and which could envelope the inquisitive mind for hours. Design pieces from alarm clocks to items of paper craft tableware are on show throughout the various structures separated by walkways, merging the idea of the book as both a vessel of information and an objet d’art, with items similarly made to combine a multitude of functions and aesthetic rewards.
The business model is based on the idea of variety. The unusual and the niche both triumph over the safe bets that many bookshops - and shops of any kind - so often plump for. The curious and the arcane have become the fuel for successful commerce, which is inspiring for the creative mind which harbours strange creations that want to see the light of attention. Tsutaya itself is a vast company that has built its brand on more conventional shops selling more conventional wares. But here it has evolved into something more beguiling, a rich bazaar in a sharp, modern setting.
Upstairs is a fabulously peaceful cafe, dimly lit, with macha tea and various treats on offer, as well as pieces of art and prints on shelves and walls, many temptingly sized, perhaps with the suitcases of travellers in mind. And here we come full circle, as books both new and rare have accumulated throughout the dark recesses as well.
After my first visit a year ago in January, I was returning to meet one of the buyers, as I had my own book to submit to T Site on this occasion. You tend to get around three minutes with a buyer at a good bookshop, and happily the meeting was a success, pending final confirmation from the buyer for the travel section. I said goodbye to the sample copy I had with me and another business card, and left T Site feeling like I knew another corner of Tokyo a little better - and perhaps soon it would feel the same way about me.