Jimbocho (Part I)

The other day I attended a “Bean Book Carnival” held at the Tokyo Secondhand Book Hall.  “Bean book” is a literal translation of a word that actually means “miniature book.”  The venue was located in a part of Tokyo called Jimbocho, an area with a high concentration of secondhand book shops.

I didn’t know what to expect, but from the little I already knew about miniature books in Japan, I had built up an image of high school girls or college-age women both as readers and creators of these tiny highly artistic and ultimately “cute” works.  When I descended the stairs to the basement room where the “carnival” was being held, I found it mobbed, but not just with the very young.  There were plenty of thirty-and-forty-somethings and plenty of men, too, both as makers of the books and as admirers milling about in the crowd.

The so-called “carnival” was actually an exhibition by 28 miniature book artists, as well as a few workshops held at the back of the room on how to make your own miniature book.  The way it was set up was interesting and reminded me of the lay-out of a traditional Japanese garden.  The room was not that large, but there were 28 exhibits on view.  If it had been me in charge of the layout, I probably would have set everyone up side by side around the edges of the room.  Maybe you would have done it that way, too.  But only numbers 1 through 4 and 21 through 28 were at the edges of the room.  The other 16 booths were in the center of the room, in four sets of four.

In each set of four, each booth was side-by-side with one booth, and back-to-back with another one.  And the numbers in each set of four, rather than proceeding 5, 6, 7, 8, as you might have expected, were instead 5, 6, 9, and 10; 7, 8, 11, 12; 13, 14, 17, 18; 15, 16, 19, 20.  This arrangement created an interesting flow pattern, because if you wanted to view each booth in numerical order, you had to move from one booth, not to the booth immediately next to it since that was not the next number, but to the booth immediately behind it.

Although this was confusing at first, it had the interesting effect of making the distinction between each side-by-side booth much stronger.  Because of the limited space, these booths were very narrow, with only room for three or four shelves about one foot wide and a few inches deep, a small table holding a change box and leaflets, and a stool for the exhibitor to sit on next to the table.  So it would have been easy to confuse the two side-by-side exhibits with each other had it not been for this interesting order of viewing.

The overall effect was of a much larger room than it actually was, a sensation I have experienced before when wandering the pathways of a Japanese garden, whose twists and turns within a small area created the impression of a much larger space.

In each of these narrow booths the world of the tiny was on show.  Each exhibit was different from the others, both stylistically and in some cases in the wares on offer.  Most dealt with miniature books, but many also showed other miniature items, such as tiny carved animals, a basket of miniature mandarin oranges, or thumb-sized books attached to phone straps.  At one booth, a young girl–the daughter, it turned out, of the woman who had made the books–offered me a basket and the chance to have my fortune told.  I pulled out a slip of paper, and she opened it up to reveal that my fortune was “Small Good Luck.”

“Ring, ring, ring.  Try getting in touch with a close friend–there might be good news,” the fortune slip said.

I wanted to take a picture of the room, but when I asked a young woman standing at the doorway wearing a yellow armband if I could use my camera, she informed me that I had to ask the exhibitor for her or his permission first.  “What about a shot of the whole room?” I asked.  “In that case too…,” she replied with a smile.  As I wasn’t in the mood to go around asking 28 people if I could photograph the whole room–what if numbers 1 through 27 all said OK, and number 28 said no?–there are no pictures here of the carnival itself.  But I did purchase a miniature book, and brought it home and photographed it.  The book measures 2 by 2 and a half inches.

Its title:  Sky:  A Collection of One Line Poems.  The poet and creator of the book itself is Rukawa Tohmei, which I suspect might be a pen name since it means something like “crystal running river.”  The Tree translation staff found three poems it especially liked, to share with you, and rendered them in one line like the originals.

From a journey in search of myself, my self did not come home.


From a journey in search of myself, my self did not come home.


* * *


Evening:  inside the silent computer there is no one.


Evening:  inside the silent computer there is no one.


* * *


God:  Is it that you are forgetful, or are you just not there?


God:  Is it that you are forgetful, or are you just not there?


* * *



[The Tokyo Secondhand Book Hall (東京古書会館) will be the site of a Foreign Books Bargain Fair on Friday, October 22, from 10 AM to 6 PM, and Saturday, October 23, from 10AM to 5 PM.  Address:  3-22 Kanda Ogawamachi, Chiyoda-ku.  Ph.:  (03) 3291-5209.]



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