A visit to the bookshop is not only about looking at books, it is also about looking at the other customers, staff, and the bookshop itself. The kind of books the bookshop sells and how it is decorated tells you something about the shopkeeper’s personal taste. With so many people coming and going, and so many personal stories being created day and night, a bookshop is one of the best places to observe the lives of others.
I don’t want to create a nostalgic feeling that everything in the good old days is perfect. I want my bookstore to be a place where people are inspired to discover something new.
與現今書店的經營軌跡相反，當大量實體書店都退守或轉戰線上業務時，nostos books卻是先從線上書店起家，直至2013年才發展成實體書店。而雖然官網中介紹寫到，他們是一家主力販售六十至八十年代舊書的書店，涉獵範圍由美術到建築，商品和字體等設計類主題的書籍。但實際到店裡後你又會發現許多書以外的商品，像是Postalco的生活用具；東京香堂的線香和香座；辻有希的木工藝術擺飾，以及Aji Project的庵治石書立等商品。
在2017年時書店甚至親自出面，聯乘包袋品牌raregem推出「Magazine Bag」雜誌包，不僅在本土受歡迎，國外的訂單也絡繹不絕，不少外國人也因此認識了nostos books這家書店。而這些被店主稱為「書籍旁邊的東西」的商品，就與老書本一起構成了nostos books的性格，也定調了他們不會是一般意義下的書店。
Nostos is a theme that was commonly used in Ancient Greek literature. While the word itself means “returning to the homeland”, a nostos narrative usually includes an epic hero being forced to leave the homeland, and in order to return home to reclaim his honor and status, the hero has to go through a treacherous journey that is filled with temptation and suffering. A nostos journey is not merely a homecoming journey but a transcendent experience to the returning heroes. With some understanding on the background of nostos, it is not too difficult to understand why nostos books vows to inspire readers to “discover new perspectives on the past” (“新しい過去の発見”) rather than simply discovering the past (“過去の、新しい発見”).
While physical bookstores are either closing down or switching to online business, nostos books started out online before opening a physical space in 2013. As stated in their official website, nostos books specialises in secondhand books on art, architecture, and design from the ’60s through to the ’80s, but in fact, they also sell other merchandise such as everyday objects from Postalco, incense sticks and holders from Tokyo Kodo, Aki Tsuji’s woodwork, and Aji Project’s Aji stone bookstand.
In 2017, nostos books collaborated with raregem to launch a “Magazine Bag” which became an instant hit in local Japan and garnered much attention from overseas. These “items sitting next to the books”, as nostos books’s owner called them, together with the carefully curated book selection, have given a distinctive and unique character to nostos books.
OBSCURA: Could you describe the neighborhood where nostos books is situated? What kind of visitors do you usually have?
NAKANO: nostos books is located right in front of the Shoin Shrine in Setagaya, Tokyo. Basically, everyone who visits the shrine will have to pass by our store. In the renovated old building where we are housed, there are many other shops. Some of them are new, and some of them have many stories behind. Because of our selection of books and merchandise, we attract a lot of designers, artists, and the like. But since we are in a shopping area, we also have a lot of random walk-in customers.
OBSCURA: Nowadays, a lot of bookstores are going online. But nostos books is, however, going the opposite way — transforming from an online bookstore to a physical bookstore. What do you think are the pros and cons of online and physical bookstores?
NAKANO: The good thing about online bookstores is that there are no restrictions on the amount of information flow. Yet, at the same time, there is no exchange of sensory information, which means, people can’t touch and feel anything. In a physical store, customers can make use of all their five senses to really engage in the book-shopping experience. The drawback of a physical store is that there is a limitation in physical space which limits our book and merchandise selection.
OBSCURA: I really like what’s on the front page of your store’s website — “Discover New Perspectives on the Past” (新しい過去の発見). Where did that notion come from?
NAKANO: The concept came into shape two years ago. It went through three rounds of review and changes. I knew that it’s important to have a concept when I first started my bookstore. I’m glad the idea of “Discover New Perspectives on the Past” came up. It defines nostos books and reflects our vision to inspire people to discover new perspectives on the past, rather than simply discover the past. I don’t want to create a nostalgic feeling that everything in the good old days is perfect. I want my bookstore to be a place where people are inspired to discover something new.
OBSCURA: Non-book merchandise is a main feature in nostos books. I came across an interview of yours in which you said you’d sell “items sitting next to the books”. Can you elaborate more on that?
NAKANO: I wonder how writers and brands interpret the past, and eventually incorporate their interpretation into their work (or merchandise). I want to put those books that are (perhaps) inspiring side by side so that readers are inspired to discover new perspectives from them. Although the narratives in these books might be different, the authors often share similar perspectives. In fact, (these similarities) is not restricted by time or national boundaries. I want to inspire people to discover these new perspectives.
OBSCURA: Should we still call it a bookstore if nearly half of its merchandise is non-book items? Should it be called a daily goods store that sells books instead? Do you think it’s getting more difficult to define a bookstore nowadays?
NAKANO: I don’t really have a sense of crisis about the survival of bookstores, and I’ve never thought of giving a definition to “bookstore” either. But I want to emphasize that it is indeed very important for a bookstore to operate in line with its principle or concept.
Although Mr. Nakano sounds indifferent, I could still vaguely get a sense of his personality from his answers to my questions — for a bookstore that specialises in secondhand books, he claims that he doesn’t “want to create a nostalgic feeling that everything in the good old days is perfect,” and as a bookstore owner, he has no sense of crisis about the survival of bookstores, and let alone, a definition of bookstore. It appears as if the bookstore is a medium for him to materialize his thoughts and beliefs. If I really have to draw a conclusion, I’d say “not wanting to fall into stereotypes” is one of his strong character traits.
OBSCURA: What are your personal interests? What kind of music do you like? How about movies? Where do you usually go during holidays?
NAKANO: I don’t have any hobbies, but I did spend quite some time in a band before. I like Hardcore and Emo music. For movies, I prefer something that is based on real life and real stories. On my day off, I’d make special trips to the public bathhouse.
OBSCURA: What was it like where you grew up? What kind of person were you when you were a kid? When you were young, what did you dream you’d become?
NAKANO: I grew up in a small town which is neither a countryside nor a city. It’s just a very ordinary town. I was good at sports, and I dreamt of becoming a professional baseball player.
OBSCURA: Then how did you end up opening a bookstore?
NAKANO: I used to work in the design field. I opened my bookstore because I wanted to have a venue in which I can observe the buyer’s journey. There are so many unexpected things that have happened since the bookstore started, but I think it’s quite an interesting experience.
OBSCURA: What would your life be if you never opened a bookstore? Can you imagine what would “you” be in the parallel universe?
NAKANO: If I can go back in time, I think I will continue to make music with my band.
OBSCURA: What kind of life do you want to live in the future?
NAKANO: I want to live a life closer to nature.
To be honest, as the owner of a secondhand bookstore, Takashi Nakano is way too fashionable — a neatly trimmed beard, dark plain clothes, and a pair of glasses with a black frame that matches so well with his face. As he gracefully stands in front of the bookshelves, I wonder if he has a cool list of books to recommend.
OBSCURA: What are your criteria in curating books? Are there any common features or elements in those books that are on your bookshelves?
NAKANO: If you study a subject on design or art over a time span of 50 to 100 years, you’ll find that even though the protagonists and background settings such as country and time period vary, there might be similarity in the authors’ way of thinking. I want people to discover this interesting fact. So that’s what I’d take into consideration when I curate books.
OBSCURA: Lastly, could you recommend a book to us and give us a little background about it? Thank you.
NAKANO: Escape to the Unfinished (未完への脱走) by Yokoo Tadanori. I read that book when my bookstore was first opened. It impressed me a lot. Tadanori retired from graphic design at the peak of his career, and devoted himself exclusively to painting. There are some sayings in the book that inspired me the most, such as “I have no interest in completing this project” and “I don’t have any completed works.” I am inspired by his idea on “moving towards the unfinished.”