December 11, 2023
TOKYO – An increasing number of people are breathing new life into old and damaged books, either by calling on professional repairers or undertaking the task themselves. Some enthusiasts even design and bind their own tomes. As e-books continue to proliferate, paper books are being reevaluated, with many fans citing their pleasant textures and the sense of warmth they invoke.
In early October, Nobuo Okano, 78, could be seen repairing the spine of an old book published around 1970s at Bookbinding Studio Livre in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo.
The studio, which Okano manages, was established in 1980 and repairs and binds books upon request. Repair requests have risen in number over the past few years and the studio now handles about 40 to 50 books annually. Due to a backlog, it presently takes more than two years before a repair can be carried out.
Last year, Susumu Ueda, 71, of Kobe, had the studio mend the binding of a book of quotes. The tome, which Ueda had bought in his 20s, had become damaged over the years.
A translator by trade, Ueda has also had his favorite English-Japanese dictionary repaired by the studio on multiple occasions. “I want to keep my irreplaceable books close at hand,” he said.
People ask the studio to restore their books for a variety of reasons. Some bring in old picture books that were read aloud to them when they were kids to be reconditioned for their own children to read. One customer requested the studio redo the binding of the complete works of their favorite author in any way they liked.
“Many people remain particular about the texture of paper books and how they look when displayed on bookshelves,” Okano said. “For these people, a book just being readable is not enough.”
Repair costs vary, depending on such points as whether original materials and designs are copied or overhauled. Prices range from around ¥7,000 to ¥20,000 per book, Okano explained.
Library supplies firm Kihara Corp. began marketing a simple book repair kit in Tokyo in 2018. The kit, named Hon no Odogubako (toolbox for books) costs ¥4,807 and includes several types of tape and reinforcing materials.
After the novel coronavirus pandemic broke out in 2020, the product became so popular that stocks temporarily ran out on online stores. Due to the popularity of its original item, the company this year released a mending kit using glue for ¥6,050.
There are also classes that teach bookbinding techniques. Marumizu-gumi, a hands-on bookbinding workshop in Itabashi Ward, Tokyo, offers such lessons. About 120 people — ranging from university students to people in their 80s — attend the classes each month. The lessons teach a variety of techniques, including a Japanese-style bookbinding method that involves sewing stacked pages together with thread, a Western-style rounding technique to imbue the spine of hardcover books with a curve, and making a slipcase to hold a book or books.
“Binding books by hand is now more widely recognized compared to more than 10 years ago when we set up the workshop,” said Nao Inoue, 50, the head of the workshop.
A woman in her 60s who has been attending a basic course in which students learn about bookbinding techniques over a period of one to two years said, “I made a miniature book in the past, then became interested in bookbinding so as to combine my interest into a single item. I enjoy pouring all my attention into bookbinding.”
According to a 2021 survey conducted by Rakuten Group, Inc., of the about 10,000 users of its online bookstore who responded, 53% said they only used paper books. With multiple answers allowed, they gave such reasons for this as “being familiar with the paper book format” (57%); “paper books engender a sense of possession” (49%); and “collecting books and putting them on bookshelves is enjoyable” (21%).
In recent years, many young people enjoy making and reading “zines,” self-created publications that contain illustrations, photos and other materials based on that person’s particular interests.
“Paper books can remind people of the time when they read them, and can thus provide a kind of emotional support,” said Yashio Uemura, a professor at Senshu University and publishing specialist. The recent “retro” trend may also be contributing to finding new value in paper books.
“These days, people tend to get tired when using digital equipment. So, it’s common for consumers to choose paper books or e-books depending on the contents,” Uemura added.