My Bookman's Holidays (2007.12.3[Mon])


I'm not much of a tourist. When I travel overseas, it's usually for a scientific meeting or a research collaboration, and when I do travel for pleasure, I'm generally so interested in doing things like collecting insects that I don't have much time for tourism in the traditional sense. But when I talk to other scientists, it seems there are those who make time to do some sightseeing during their travels, so I think this is more a matter of personal preference than of simply not having the time. But that's not to say that I've never been to the world's important places; strangely, somehow, I've visited my share. I think that's because, when I am overseas, I spend a good deal of time walking about for an entirely different reason-hunting for old and out of print books. I will ask acquaintances and sometimes even passers-by if they happen to know of any used book stores in the area, and then I head off hunting. It's that simple. But as a result I find that I have often walked past famous old sites and renowned cafes on the way. But it always strikes me in retrospect, an accidental tourist in the truest sense. I find that booking expeditions are also a great chance to try out a newly acquired language as well, although that holds less interest for me these days. They say that once you've lost your curiosity...

 Just what kind of places are used book stores? I'm sure there must be comprehensive guidebooks that list the world's antiquarian booksellers, and an internet search would no doubt yield good leads. But as a rule, I don't make any particular preparations before setting off. Basically, I just look for a likely spot and just follow my nose. In Tokyo, the areas near Jimbocho and Waseda, in Osaka, the Kappa Yoko-cho district near Umeda, and here in Kobe, the Koka-shita arcade beneath the train tracks in Motomachi (sometimes called "Motoko"), are all such locations where, even if the bookshops are not lined up one after another, the unique local atmosphere seems somehow conducive to bookworms. In London, Charing Cross, and in a very different vein, the neighborhoods of Paris along the Seine, sellers of books and bookplates can be found in their numbers. Zurich also has such a street, although I've forgotten its name, which I found on the other side of the river seen from the university.

 There's some form of association to network used book people pretty much anywhere you go in Japan, and used book fairs are held regularly. In Tokyo, there's one every day of the year, and if you put together a list of such events in the Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe area, I'm sure you could keep yourself occupied for at least a third of your days off. Many used book stores, both foreign and domestic, have a strong sense of identity and refuse any attempts toward systematization, meaning that sometimes you just happen to stumble across one while out strolling about. And sometimes those are real finds. There's a great diversity the booksellers in other parts of Japan, which can be impossible to predict for those unfamiliar with the locale. But I can say from several experiences in Okinawa that even here you will sometimes find unexpected treasures.

 Used book stores tend to be legacy shops, and don't tend to be subject to the same regional economic pressures and vagaries that cause the ordinary bookstores that serve as outlets for the major publishing houses and wholesalers to constantly pop into existence and fade away. Which also means that they aren't necessarily located in thriving commercial districts, making them somewhat harder to find. Whatever the case, what we're really hoping to encounter is not the shops themselves, but the books they might contain. When I go out on my walks, it is with a dream in my heart of finding such books. Fat old tomes tend to be of great value to the student of morphology and comparative anatomy. One shop I frequent in Tokyo is well-known to specialize in such works, and has made important contributions to the CDB's collection. When I visit that store, I already have a pretty good idea in mind of what I'm looking for, and I even know which shelf they should be on. I'm probably the only person in the world looking for these titles anyway, and the current owner (the second since I became a regular) knows that. But what really captured my interests are when I make long-sought discoveries in otherwise unpromising shops in unfamiliar places. For example, there was the time I found a copy of Haeckel's Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte (1902) mixed in with a stack of novels and magazines at a shop in Amsterdam and bought it for practically nothing. The same store also had a copy of German-language printings of van Wihje's papers from the late nineteenth century, so undoubtedly they had acquired the full collection of someone whose tastes paralleled my own. It's interesting that the holdings of used book stores provide a good indicator of the distribution of research interests of the local scientific community. I was similarly able to pick up a number of books formerly owned by local faculty and students at Reiss Village in Houston when I lived there. I owe my acquisition of an atlas of chick brain that I had not even known existed.

 The store I mentioned above, located in the Akamon-mae section of Tokyo, is exceptional in that it specifically caters to those interested in anatomy and a select few other biological sciences, and so its collection serves as a means of tracking generational changes within that community in Japan. Although it sounds a bit morbid, when you hear of a famous professor passing away, you can be fairly sure that it will pay to start watching for books from his collection to turn up on the shelves. You can covet his books even if you don't mourn the man. It may seem a bit outrageous, but there are times you have to be a fiend to get a certain book. You don't need to read the works of Kousaku Ikuta to know that books can drive men mad. Once you're hooked, you're hooked for good. In any event, books have a way of moving from person to person, and you might even go so far as to say they keep the academic spirit alive. I have a copy of Wiedersheim's Vergleichende Anatomie der Wirbeltiere (1909) that once belonged a well-known Japanese anatomist, and which also bears an ex libris plate from a foreign academic's collection. This single book bears three names on its overleaf, the third of which happens to be me, or I may even be a fourth. The pages are heavily underlined, but I never considered this to be a flaw, and though I recently had the book re-bound in leather to make it easier to handle, I am fully aware that the bequest held between those covers is not solely my own.

Postscript: The work by Waldeyer in the Tokyo University medical school library that I introduced in a previous column contains a monograph by Ziehen on monotreme and marsupial brains, entitled Das Centralnervensystem der Monotremen und Marsupialier (Semon. Zool. Forschungsreisen 3). The texts is underlined in several places in red pencil, which highlighting, according to Takeshi Yoro, was very likely made by none other than Shigeo Miki, anatomist at the Tokyo Art University in Ueno. Perhaps we can't applaud him for his mark-up. But looking on it from the perspective of science as we do it today, perhaps one can be forgiven a little smile at the peculiarities of a bygone age.