Tokyo Art Book Fair – For the love of (self) publishing

By Ben Davis

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There’s much to be savoured about an event that attracts an ever-growing audience by taking a fun-filled approach to the simple act of publishing. As the largest (and possibly most energetic) fair of its kind in Asia, the Tokyo Art Book Fair has a knack for bringing together book-lovers and publishers; artists and galleries; musicians, foodies and fans of sub-culture into one all-encompassing creative community.

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After several years at 3331 Arts Chiyoda, the three day fair relocated to an arts campus in Kita-Aoyama in 2012, where it now hosts hundreds of exhibitors and thousands of visitors each September. As one would expect, visitors are greeted with tables adorned with printed matter in all shapes and forms – handmade risograph zines sit alongside limited edition monographs and freshly bound photo-books – yet it’s the encounters with the creators of such publications that make navigating the fair’s busy terrain all the more enjoyable. Aside from artists and photographers presenting their works, you’ll also likely to find grindcore musicians, architects, wrestling fans and bread enthusiasts, all of whom have self-published as a way of sharing their interest in everything from everyday mundanity to the most obscure of subjects. Accordingly, the fair is a place where a humble booklet can lead to the deepest of conversations.

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Whilst the slender rows of stalls and peg-hole walls adorned with ad hoc decorations have formed a familiar backdrop over the past three years in Kita-Aoyama, the fair manages to grow with each edition and spread into different corners of the campus buildings. The entrance serves as a venue for live gigs and performances – expect avant-garde rock and hand-drawn body scans – as well as a food court fed by tents selling bagels, bentos, burritos and bio-wine. Inside the main building, hallways and foyers become exhibition spaces, with one of this year’s highlights being ‘Tsuka No Ma’, the standing bar that emerged under the stairs to serve drinks at a counter stacked with blanks – unprinted books commonly distributed as pre-publishing samples.

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As an event built around a common love for publishing, the fair not only offers a chance to browse printed matter from Japan and abroad, but also an opportunity to get a taste for Tokyo’s creative culture. In that sense, you’re just as likely to leave with a handful of books as you are a long list of artists, musicians and venues to investigate during your time in the city.


–Tokyo Art Book Fair
–Where: Kyoto University of Art and Design, Tohoku University of Art and Design – Gaien Campus
–When: Mid September *19-21 September in 2014




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About Columnist

Ben Davis
Editor of Thousands Tokyo

Ben is an editor, consultant and photographer who has been based in Tokyo since 2010. Following a stint with local farmers in the Japanese countryside, he now works as Editor of Thousands Tokyo, which sees him happily spend most days (and nights) exploring the world’s biggest city from the ground up.