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The Literary Life: Hiroyuki Yamaguchi

So what exactly does it mean to be a “book director.” It’s an occupation that encompasses much more than selecting books. For our Fall Style issue, we invited Hiroyuki Yamaguchi for an interesting interview. Using books as his magic wand, he connects people with varying points of view, and conveys messages that change our perspectives.

 What kind of work do you do as a book director?

My main work is to curate a space where books exist, such as bookstores and libraries. I choose books, produce and create book-related spaces. Roughly speaking, my work is to think about how to utilize books as tools. A book-related space can vary; from clothing stores, general stores, cafes, hotels to hospitals. Sometimes I also make personal libraries for individual usage. I am also doing a variety of other works which are related to books in a broader sense. Book editing, writing and copywriting for advertisements, for example. Also, I work on overall creative direction, making concepts and ideas for brands, campaigns, and advertisements. Just recently I was involved in brand-building and creating campaign visuals for department stores.

How did you become a book director?

Originally, I loved fashion. When I was a high school student, I used to wear only avant-garde fashion. I mean, the kind of clothes nobody would wear nowadays. Actually, I didn’t read books until 18, but since then, my interest has shifted from fashion to subculture and academics. After graduating from university, I got my first job at “BOOK 246” in Aoyama, which mainly carried traveling books. I worked there for about three years. Then in 2006, I joined “BACH”, a group of professionals specializing in selecting books, established by book director, Haba Yoshitaka. My career as a book director started from there.

I worked at BACH for about nine years in total. While I was there, I started getting work requests from clients on an individual basis. I’d been trying to handle them along with my regular workload at BACH for a while, but it became increasingly difficult, and I finally decided to leave and start my own business. Although the range of my work seems to have expanded, the fundamental characteristics of it have not changed since my days at BACH.

What was the most impressive work you have done so far?

I was once assigned to select many kinds of books for a library at a salon at Suruga Bank called “d-labo”, I selected about 1,500 books, all on the same theme, “dreams.” Banks remind us of money, but money, in fact, is mere means and your goals are to buy a house, to travel etc. So, whether you spend, borrow or save money, it is all about what dreams you want to make true. I chose the books for the salon with these messages in my mind.

Another time I was given the assignment to choose books for a hospital specializing rehabilitation of cerebral infarction. I learned that leafing through flip books at a consistent speed helps people recover smoother linkage between brains and muscles. Reading books on the Hanshin Tigers’ (a major Japanese baseball team) victory, on the other hand, can stimulate your memory and activate your brains. I would never have realized that books could be useful in such ways. There is always something new to learn.

As for the work of creative direction, I recently did the visual marketing campaigns of “Hanabanasai 2017” and “Irodorisai 2017” , both held at Isetan Mitsukoshi department stores. My job was to come up with specific words to represent each season, decide on right artists and execute the designed plan.

Creating visual content sounds unrelated to books, but interestingly enough, all of my jobs are the same; to “edit.” I put together, organize, give direction and set the tone to ideas and things that seem unrelated and irrelevant, and then give them a form with words or images. Or sometimes I will do just the opposite; to break up things which were originally in one monolithic form. So to me, all the jobs I do are “editing” in a bigger picture.

Are there any unusual tasks for a book director?

This may sound strange to you, but I always try to read things which don’t seem to have anything in common with my job or life. I read news and magazines on teenagers’ fashion, on those hobbies that I am totally unfamiliar with, or women’s magazines. Perhaps I am always preparing to share what strikes me as interesting with people who have the least idea about it.

I see. Books seem to be a good tool to communicate with other people?

That’s right. For example, say, there is a fashion designer. If you know about them to some extent, you will also be able to guess what books they might read or be interested with. If you have books as a common language for the conversation, you might be able to learn more about their preferences, therefore it might make it easier to establish a better relationship with them.

Could you recommend any books to O.N.S?

Since O.N.S stands for “One Nice Shirt”, how about “People of the 20th Century”, written by a German photographer, August Sander? It is a collection of portraits of men of various occupation in the 1900s. Most of them wore shirts. Since shirts were originally underwear, in this photo book some people wore them that way, or with a tie in a suit, or with a vest. Many of their styles would be accepted today. The fashion seems to have changed drastically by period, however, in reality, you can tell it hasn’t really been changed much. You will notice that shirts are endowed with the level of universality which endured for well over 100 years.

What kind of possibilities do you think books have in this modern era where the internet has developed very rapidly?

All sorts of information are posted on the internet, but how about the credibility of everything we read? Books are always written with much more time and research before they are actually published. Reading a book is like a “one-to-one” relationship, a dialogue, unlike the internet which is more like an open relationship. Thinking profoundly will become your habit. Your literacy towards words and information, or rather, should I say reading comprehension and patience will expand. Books should be more appreciated as a tool to examine and judge whether given information is useful or accurate, rather than jumping quickly at any given information.

Moreover, by reading a book, you will be able to do better internet search. For example, if you search for a certain word, then whatever information you get could be the same with everyone else. However, you can alter these search results greatly by adding extra words or different expressions. Then you may get unique search results. In order to better execute your search, it will be essential for you to have abilities to analyze and break down the words. Books are perfect for developing these skills.

For more information about Hiroyuki, check out his IG here.

All Photography by Yosuke Suzuki (Erz)

Original Text by Akihiro Tajima

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