Book-less bookstore open for business

September 09, 2012

By ROPPEI TSUDA/ The Asahi Shimbun

For a bookstore, Ika Bunko is surprisingly short on shelf space.

That's not exactly a problem, considering the store doesn't have any books, either.

The virtual shop, operated by three bibliophiles, specializes in book-related goods, info and events--everything but the books themselves.

Yuki Kasukawa, the "store manager," calls Ika Bunko an "air bookstore," because it exists even though it can't be seen.

The idea for the store was born in March out of a casual conversation between Kasukawa and a friend, sparked by the question, "If I started a bookstore, what would I call it?"

She said the name, literally "squid books," doesn't have any deep meaning.

"The store name came from my squid-shaped cellphone case," said 34-year-old Kasukawa, who also has a regular job as a bookstore clerk.

Daisuke Nakajima, one of her drinking buddies, soon joined in on the idea.

"I'm not rich, but I love books and bookstores," Nakajima said. "So we came up with the idea of starting an imaginary shop. We don't do what actual bookstores do."

The two then invited Mao Fujita, from Niigata and a big squid fan, via social networking site Twitter.

Nakajima, a-36-year-old editor, and Fujita, a 25-year-old company employee, both "work" at Ika Bunko.

The trio, who share a passion for reading, meet after work to talk about books and business. They regularly publish the free Ika Bunko newsletter, which runs columns on books and bookstores, and they have also created original T-shirts, tote bags and book covers with the store's squid logo.

Their events feature group book discussions and lectures by bookstore attendants.

Even though Ika Bunko is primarily a virtual operation at the moment, it has very real-world ambitions.

"We want to make Ika Bunko a worldwide bookstore," Fujita said.

Ika Bunko can be glimpsed in physical form at Books Ruhe, a bookstore located in Tokyo's Kichijoji district, where it has set up shop for a special fair.

Kasukawa and her two "part-time workers" selected 20 books to display at the event and created hand-written display ads for each title. Word has it that the books and Ika Bunko-themed goods are selling well.

Takeshi Hanamoto, a salesclerk at Books Ruhe, said he invited them to host a fair at his shop because he found Ika Bunko's activities interesting.

"They enjoy the activities of their virtual store themselves, unlike existing bookstores, and that's what is interesting about them," Hanamoto said.

The members of Ika Bunko hope one day to publish books.

However, Nakajima is hesitant.

"If we set a goal, that means our activities will come to an end some day," he said. "We would be happier if we can keep on going, wandering aimlessly, like squids floating in the water."

By ROPPEI TSUDA/ The Asahi Shimbun
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Ika Bunko, a virtual bookstore, holds a book fair at Books Ruhe, a real store in Tokyo's Kichijoji district. From left, Ika Bunko "manager" Yuki Kasukawa, and "part-time workers" Mao Fujita and Daisuke Nakajima (Roppei Tsuda)

Ika Bunko, a virtual bookstore, holds a book fair at Books Ruhe, a real store in Tokyo's Kichijoji district. From left, Ika Bunko "manager" Yuki Kasukawa, and "part-time workers" Mao Fujita and Daisuke Nakajima (Roppei Tsuda)

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  • Ika Bunko, a virtual bookstore, holds a book fair at Books Ruhe, a real store in Tokyo's Kichijoji district. From left, Ika Bunko "manager" Yuki Kasukawa, and "part-time workers" Mao Fujita and Daisuke Nakajima (Roppei Tsuda)

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