Book and Sons, Tokyo. Bringing together designers and typography lovers

«The desire to pass on the traditional habit of reading and appreciating printed media to the next generation», says store owner Osamu Kawata

Book and Sons in Gakugei-Daigaku, Tokyo

Hidden away from the hustle and bustle of a nearby shopping street, just a short walk from Tokyo’s Gakugei University, Book and Sons is an oasis for lovers of everything print. The Japanese shop specializes in books and magazines on typography, design, photography and the arts. It attracts college students, established magazines and graphic designers, locals and visitors to Tokyo alike.

«I am a Tokyo-based web designer and I collect and study typography-related books as a hobby. After purchasing a new house, I lacked space. So I was looking for a place to properly store and display my books. When I came across this location, I decided to open a bookstore», says Osamu Kawata, the owner of Book and Sons. Explaining the idea behind his concept shop, he says «it is a place where people can browse our collection of expensive and rare books. We also have a coffee stand so that young designers and students can enjoy relaxing and reading at their leisure».

On top, there’s a gallery space at the back of Book and Sons. It allows artists, both from Japan and from abroad, to showcase their works, giving to those interested in the arts a chance to discover rising stars of the scene while browsing through books and magazines or popping in for a coffee.

The inception of Book and Sons

Book and Sons, the name of Osamu’s store, might suggest that it is a family business, with a tradition over several decades and parents and siblings working side by side. The Japanese concept store is fairly new though. The shop, in fact, only opened its doors in 2015. «The ‘Sons’ in Book and Sons literally means ‘son’. But it also means ‘successor’», Osamu Kawata explains. «With the rise of web media, less and less people are reading printed books. Books have an intrinsic value that digital trends cannot replace. The desire to pass on the traditional habit of reading and appreciating printed media to the next generation is part of the store name and culture».

Osamu Kawata, the shop owner himself has an educational background in business. While he has always appreciated the arts as a leisure activity, his desire to share her passion for books, design and typography only shaped after he earned his college diploma in a different discipline. Following his heart, he decided to change direction after graduation. He explored an alternative career path and became an entrepreneur by opening his own store in the heart of Tokyo. «After graduating from university with a major in Business Administration, I became interested in design and bought books to learn it by myself. While I don’t have a formal educational background, I am proud to say I am a self-taught designer», Osamu says. 

Lampoon, Book and Sons
Book and Sons is an oasis for lovers of everything print

Lampoon review: Products selection at Book and Sons

Resembling a mix of living room, library, shop and exhibition space, Book and Sons houses a permanent collection of approximately two thousand books as well as hundreds of magazines, selected and updated by Osamu Kawata himself and his team on a regular basis. «We buy international books at a ratio of about 6:4. We research interesting and appealing books online. Then we purchase the ones we feel would be of interest to our customers», the shop owner explains.

Titles on sale range from research and work books on typography to coffee table books dedicated to specific designers, photography books from all corners of the world and collections of Andy Warhol and others, with the current bestsellers being books on Japanese designer Eiko Ishioka. Book and Sons also sells artistic posters and accessories such as bags, buttons, pens and notebooks. «We generally curate and stock books and other things that serve as an inspiration for art and design», Osamu says. «These can be books printed on beautiful high-quality paper or ones that contain moving, astonishing and impactful imagery».

The same criteria apply to the magazines the store has on display. Books and other printed products are arranged by genre rather than country and origin from all corners of the world. Customers will find reads on everything Japanese in the store. While, the staff is available to point out titles to everyone interested in the country’s culture and arts scene. Osamu Kawata named KUMO by Japanese photographer Osamu Yokonami as his current favorite, which is available through his online store. Book and Sons’ online blog features other staff recommendations, while their social media focuses on new publications. 

The impact of COVID-19 on the publishing industry

Like any business around the globe, Book and Sons was hit by the Covid-19 pandemic from early 2020. It therefore had to adapt its business model in order to survive and thrive long-term. Customers from abroad have become a minority over the past year. While students and graduates of the nearby arts-focused university have re-started popping in.

«Compared to before the pandemic, more people use our online book store», Osamu Kawata says. «Due to the strict preventative measures we take to avoid infections, we are seeing more and more customers coming back to the store. Unfortunately, we are seeing fewer international customers than before. Nowadays, most of our customers are based in Tokyo».

Despite the current circumstances that brought businesses around the world to a halt, the team behind Book and Sons is already working on ideas and concepts for the time post Covid. One goal Osamu reveals during the interview is the aim to make the store even more international. Both in terms of book and magazine selection and in terms of artists showcasing at their space. «After things become safer for everyone, we are planning to hold more international artists’ photo exhibitions. We would like to provide a place for Japanese people to enjoy their art. Even if it’s difficult for the artists themselves to come to Japan».

Currently, all artists interested in exhibiting their works at Book and Sons can apply to do so, regardless of their background or prior professional experience. If both sides agree on the terms, they can use the gallery space free of charge for a fixed time. Exhibitions change on a regular basis. This gives customers a chance to check out different artists and works throughout the year. While it also ensures that as many artists as possible get the opportunity to use the space. Book and Sons also holds an annual book fair set to recommence post pandemic. 

Book and Sons – future projects

Talking about trends in the book industry in general and the future of independent stores like his, Osamu Kawata remains optimistic that physical books are going to stay. With more and more people around the globe reading on their phones and laptops and switching to e-book, sales of paper books tend to decline. Nevertheless, «interest in the printed book will remain strong. Textbooks or learning-focused books may see a shift towards e-books. But design or art-related paper books will continue to remain because they can be collected and enjoyed in hand», Osamu Kawata predicts.

Asked about the fate of print magazines in the decades to come, she believes that «some collectors’ magazines may continue to be printed. But there is a chance they may disappear. It’s a difficult question to answer». Another issue widely discussed both in Japan and at Book and Sons is sustainability. A hot topic around the world for the past years, it has only recently become mainstream in the country, says Osamu Kawata. Book and Sons takes the matter seriously and aims to encourage their customers to do the same. On their website, customers are asked to bring their own bags to the shop.

Behind the scenes, the global sustainability trend has impacted Book and Sons’ way of doing business. «We maintain an awareness of sustainability. Not only about the environment, but also about the book sales system. We also sell and buy used books because we don’t have to discard books. We have to pass them on to future generations instead», Osamu Kawata says. Generally speaking, for him, Japan doesn’t rank among the top countries worldwide in terms of sustainability just yet but it’s going in the right direction. «Public awareness increased. But there are still many challenges to overcome before Japan can catch up with the world».

Book and Sons

Japan, 〒152-0004 Tokyo, Meguro City, Takaban, 2 Chome−13−3 キャトル 鷹番

Book and Sons is a Japanese shop that specializes in books and magazines on typography, design, photography and the arts, attracting college students, established magazines and graphic designers, locals and visitors to Tokyo alike.

Astrid Hofer

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.