In a corner of Tokyo’s upscale Ginza district is Morioka Shoten, a bookstore with a single book selected by the owner,Yoshiyuki Morioka.
Naturally, the visitors come to the bookstore for one of two purposes: for the specially curated single book and the ephemeral ambience created by it, or for the company of Mr. Morioka. (Depending on the week, the bookstore might be a flower shop, or a lecture hall, or an art gallery.)
“I feel I am gathering work from the context of play. Or should I say my hobbies and interests are not separate from my work. I meet people and talk with them, and often, that’s how my next project comes into being. I might say that my position is not to perform routine work but to take responsibility for making up my own work.”
The scope of Mr. Morioka’s activities is hard to describe in a single word. He is at times a bookseller, at times a biennale curator, and then at times a clothing producer, author, and confectioner concocting delicacies under the brand Morioka Seika. What’s more, as a bookseller, he not only sells books but also cultivates the role of the individual. Ordinarily, Mr. Morioka is as gentle as the calm sea and chooses his words carefully, as if hauling in a fishing net. Watching him at work offers a glimpse of another facet of his character— that of a quite hunter.
“I was born in the city of Sagae, in Yamagata Prefecture. Up to about middle school, I loved spearfishing in the river, especially for ayu sweetfish. I guess you’re right. That isn’t exactly hunting, but it comes close. As far back as then, I was gaining valuable experience from the context of play. It must be in my nature.”
Spearing ayu sweetfish in the rivers of Sagae as a boy is comparable to carving out a career in faraway Ginza. The common denominator is a natural instinct for hunting. Both involve embracing the world while keeping eyes open, seizing the right moment, and making a good catch. This is the axis around which Mr. Morioka rotates.
The world in question, however, is packed full of books. Selecting just one requires a conscious effort to accept or reject. How does Mr. Morioka handpick the single title to feature in his bookstore?
“One criterion for selection is my personal desire to work with the author or with the editor. Also, my favorite projects always amaze and awe me beyond my expectations, so and I definitely like to feel the passion that went into the book. That might mean it’s the author’s debut work or the author’s life work. I like the idea of drawing out and playing up the significance of that particular volume.”
One volume Mr. Morioka hopes to feature a second time is ceramist Taizo Kuroda’s (1946–2021) photo book A Day in February with Light. Mr. Morioka took part in the book’s editing process himself and planned the first showcase to celebrate its publication. It presents a series of photographs of Taizo Kuroda’s works, and by doing so, seeks to interpret the ceramist’s thinking in his final years.
“I had a very brief chat with Taizo-san before he passed away this spring. I asked why he worked with only two forms in his later years—ento cylindrical vessels and meiping plum vases. From what I gathered, the cylinder expresses masculinity and the strength to crop the world according to one’s own sense of aesthetics; the plum vase expresses feminine tenderness and the capacity for benevolence and tolerance that comes with it. My understanding was that both of these qualities exist without conflict in each of us, and this was the message Taizo-san hoped to deliver through his works.”
Faced with the heretofore unknown virus called COVID-19, we today are forced to rethink our way of life. Mr. Morioka’s reaction? He decided to take this opportunity to assess the situation thoroughly in his own head. His thinking—he insists he has no intention to force his ideas on anyone—is inspired by Taizo’s work.
“Taizo-san’s starting point was himself, and he gave a great deal of thought to establishing his own set of ideologies. Right now, is an important time for reflection, and one way to do that is to study his work and his body of creations.”
Having recognized a paradigm shift, Mr. Morioka took on a new confectionery project called Morioka Seika. It’s also his attempt to maneuver capitalism, Japan’s system of choice at present, while promoting a fresh sense of values.
“Our current lifestyles and work styles are built on the base of capitalism, and this may have been what invited the unprecedented crisis. The situation is absurd and unfortunate. If only things could change so that being kind to the environment is profitable, and the [capital] value of those efforts is more readily acceptable.”
Mr. Morioka has been concerned about the environment and the role of humans within it since he was a student, as he discusses in his book Koya no furuhon-ya (Used Book Cowboy). This is why he refuses to be tied down by a single job title, and instead, carries out his work relying on his own sensibilities and sense of values.
In his words, he is carving out a career of selecting the “good” in the world.