Bright Young Booksellers: Naoyuki Seki

Image courtesy of Mr. Seki

Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Naoyuki Seki, manager of the World Antiquarian Book Plaza (WABP) in Tokyo. The rare book emporium, located a few minutes’ walk from Tokyo Station, is not your ordinary bookstore. The creation of Mitsuo Nitta (founder of the prominent Japanese bookstore Yushodo) and Antiquariat Michael Steinbach, the WABP is home to over 1000 items displayed by booksellers from around the world. With all the elegance, intrigue, and inventory of a small museum or art gallery, the WABP has the bonus of being a place where visitors can purchase the important pieces of history on display.

Special thanks Rose Counsell, proprietor of Hozuki Books in Tokyo, for translating our questions into Japanese and Mr. Seki's answers back into English.

How did you get started in rare books?

I joined the antiquarian book department of Maruzen Co., Ltd., when I was 21 years old after graduating from a Japanese university. At Maruzen I worked as a cataloguer of European and American rare books. My boss at the time was the department director Shuji Tomita, who made a successful bid for the Doheny copy of the Gutenberg Bible at the historic Christie's NY auction in 1987. This copy is now preserved in Keio University's library in Tokyo.

What does the World Antiquarian Book Plaza specialize in?

Modern first editions, illustrated books, books on Japan, maps, literature, books on books, ephemera, and children's books.

What is your role at the bookshop?

As the general manager, I am in charge of communications with our advisor Michael Steinbach in Vienna, Austria, and with overseas/Japanese dealers regarding buying and selling books, as well as many other tasks.

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

Buying books from dealers/collectors. It is very exciting to meet many different people through the book business.

Please describe a typical day for you:

9:30 I arrive at the office.

10:00 I discuss promoting antiquarian books/collections to institutional customers (e.g. universities/libraries) with salespeople.

14:00 I go to the World Antiquarian Book Plaza (WABP), where I meet with customers and have discussions with the shop staff.

16:00 I go to Jimbocho and visit a couple of bookshops to buy and sell some books.

18:00 I go to drink with a few book dealers.

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

Ortelius, Abraham - Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (Antwerp: Christopher Plantin, 1579). I sold this beautiful hand-colored atlas to a Japanese museum.

What do you personally collect?

English and Japanese-language books on books and bibliography (e.g. H.P. Kraus's autobiography Rare Book Saga, the biography Rosenbach by Edwin Wolf 2nd and John Fleming, and old Maggs/Quaritch/Sotheby's catalogues).

What do you like to do outside of work?

I enjoy going to see Noh plays at theaters. I prefer Noh plays to Kabuki as a traditional Japanese performing art.

Thoughts on the future of the rare book trade in Japan?

We should find (and educate) new and young customers who can build their own collections. We can offer them the enjoyment of collecting old books, which can be more enjoyable than playing smartphone games or reading Kindle books.

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

I hope to make a new catalogue this spring.