Bright Young Booksellers: Tengyu Shoten

Courtesy of Tengyu Shoten

Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues its journey to Japan with our profile today of Tengya-san of the shop Tengyu Shoten in Osaka. Special thanks again to Rose Counsell of Hozuki Books for providing translations.

How did you get started in rare books?

The second-hand bookshop ‘Tengyu Shoten’ was originally started by my great-grandfather, Shinichiro Tengyu, in 1907 as a street stall. I decided to succeed the family business after I finished my postgraduate studies.

What does Tengyu Shoten specialize in?

By dealing with a wide range of books, with no particular specialization, we hope to offer a variety of customers the chance to encounter their favorite books.

What is your role at the bookshop?

I am the manager of the Tenjinbashi Branch and do clerical work. Sometimes I attend auctions and help with purchasing. I also occasionally design flyers and other materials for fairs.

What do you love about working in the book trade in Japan?

The opportunity to encounter a variety of books from neighboring Asian countries, as well as traditional Japanese books and prints (ukiyo-e). There are also opportunities to handle wonderful antique foreign books due to the strong influence of Western culture. In addition to antique books, there is a wealth of translated literature and a plethora of subculture-related books to enjoy. 

Please describe a typical day for you:

Typical working day at the Tenjinbashi Branch:

10:30 -- I prepare for opening the shop.

11:00-20:00 -- Customer service and sales in the shop with breaks in between.

Typical working day at the main shop:

10:30 -- I arrive at work.

11:00-19:00 -- I carefully select books for the Tenjinbashi Branch, do accounting work, create flyer designs and prepare for fairs to be held at the Tenjinbashi Branch, etc.

I don’t have to worry about lunch when working at the Tenjinbashi Branch, as there are many tasty and cheap restaurants in the neighborhood. 

Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you’ve handled?

Grandville’s Scenes de la vie privee et publique des animaux (1842). Grandville’s humorous illustrations are very charming. This book is not so rare, but I fondly remember how pleased an insect researcher was when I introduced this book to him (he was looking for a beautiful book with insect illustrations in to present as a gift to his teacher).

What do you personally collect?

I personally buy a lot of books, but I also love gemstones and rocks. I have always loved looking at books of gemstones and jewelry, but have come to buy ores, gemstones and meteorites (from affordable ones to … not so affordable ones) since attending mineral shows. These days, I often buy loose gemstones (cut gemstones not set in accessories) as a treat for myself. While I like high quality stones, I also like unique stones with interesting inclusions.

What do you like to do outside of work?

Alongside my bookshop business, I am also an artist. I consider it a privilege to be able to draw inspiration from the books I see during my work. The production of the artworks is a bit of a pain, but the joy when they are completed is priceless.

Thoughts on the present state and/or future of the rare book trade in Japan?

Personally, I think that the lack of budgets for researchers, especially young people, is a serious problem. I think that more social support should be given not only to those who research science, but also to those who research culture and art, otherwise the number of people who can collect valuable books, which are important materials, will further decrease. However, I feel that the importance of original books and unique items is likely to increase in this digital society, and I want to do my best to deliver good books to our customers.

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

In August, Tengyu Bookshop will hold a 'scary books' fair at its Tenjinbashi Branch. We have collected many books on 'scary' topics such as ghosts, yokai, witchcraft and fantasy literature. Books related to spiritualism published in early 20th-century Britain will also be on display and for sale.