The Tokyo Art Book Fair Review-Where Artists and Their Books Define Publishing and the Power of BOOKS


TABF 2016

The Tokyo Art Book Fair (TABF) celebrated it’s 8th year with over 300 participants from Japan and abroad representing individual artists, independent publishers, bookstores, galleries, artists and artists collectives. TABF, the biggest art book fair in Asia was held this year September 16-20 at the Kyoto University of Art and Design, Tohoku University of Art and Design GAEIN CAMPUS in Tokyo.

courtyard of kyoto university design center, tokyo

Over 11,000 people were expected to pass through and engage with art bookmakers from twenty countries; eleven from the USA. TABF joins a growing group of niche art book fairs held annually in New York, Los Angeles, Berlin, Vancouver, and London. Art book fairs are popping up in Mexico, San Francisco, Brooklyn and other urban art centers.

dress code

fill a bag


Outside of the art book fair community of artists, zine makers, bookmakers and booksellers people assume an “art” book fair is filled with art books-Van Gogh, Impressionism, Warhol and Contemporary. 

don't judge a book...

Cecille Starkson tells us

This changes as soon as you set foot into a fair like TABF, an art book fair in its best and newest definition. The atmosphere is thick with passion, energy from art makers bringing their imagination to the page in form after form after form by the artists who create the work. California is represented with Colpa Press, improper printing, The Thing Quarterly, Louis Schmidt and Allied Forces Press.  

THE THING Quarterly.Will Rogan and John Herschend.San Francisco

Colpa Press-Luca Nino Antonucci and Sarah Hotchkiss.San Francisco

Allied Forces Press.Christian Riechert and Jared Pittack.California

improper printing.Billy Ocallaghan.Northern California

Louis Schmidt.BridgetheVoid.Southern California

With 300 participants each displaying and offering numerous choices of their work multi-tasking at the TABF takes on a new meaning of  navigating an immersion into a hypnotic world of printed books traveling the stories told in thousands of artist books in every shape and size.

Thais Ueda and Yumi Takasuta.Tokyo

Marek Bienczyk and Joanna Concejo. Poland

Tired from travel and prep, artists who make up the art book fair believe in the value of their practice and focus on the published book as they envision it. They manage their equal sized tables, some with two chairs, in a series of rooms on two floors in the TABF venue.

Recently, I was reading about shrines in Tokyo and how many of them bring the visitor into a world of beauty, tranquility and mindfulness just steps to the side of the hustle and chaos of the city. This is a good metaphor for what the art book fair is to our demands on time, dependent on snippets for information and loss of attention span that has taken people away from experiencing the written word in a book, on a piece of paper, in a pamphlet or on a multi-page card created by hands.

try Infinite Jest or The Neverending Story electronically

Kazayuki Yameda uses coffee, graphite and fire in his bookmaking.Tokyo

Here, the artist is typically the creator, the maker, the producer, the marketer, the shipper (often in backpacks and rolling suitcases) the sales person, the translator, the demonstrator, the PR rep and the cashier. They fund their own travel, their accommodations, their booths, and their merchandise. All in an effort to expand awareness of their practice, share it with the public and the visitors who cannot find these works in traditional channels of bookselling.

Saito Akari.Tokyo

Louis Schmidt from Southern California says that some think he is living the dream, the dream of an artist. He would say differently. He simply fills his life with showing his artwork wherever and whenever he can. Living a simple, bare bones life and making work.  He admits that it is a struggle at times.


TABF mantra

I have been to several art book fairs over the past few years. Each with it’s own personality. Over 35,000 people pass through the New York Art Book Fair in September where live performances fill the entrance of MoMa’s PS1 and a packed zine tent is in “the schoolyard” when you enter. High-end galleries have hopped on the art book fair train as they come to realize that the art public crowd at the art book fair is a new and viable potential. The LA art book fair now coming up on its sixth year in 2017 fills the Getty MOCA as soon as the fair opens.


What overwhelms me in each experience is the depth of pride, effort, energy and belief in the sustainability of the printed book from the artists and the customers. People, unplugged, smile and take time to thumb through publications in their own and in foreign languages. They change their expressions of interest with each turn of a page or flip through another book on the tabletop. It’s a rewarding experience to see younger crowds immersed in printed publications. Aside from messaging meeting places and “must-see’s  time is spent browsing through thousands of artist-made books.

book time is family time

Jiyoung and Jiwan of Choo. Korea

At TABF like at the others there are fold-out books, accordion books, zines, circular books and numerous other styles on tabletops. Content that is hand-written, self-published or delegated to a small publisher that limits the artists they can work with because of their own resources. Little kids are tucked into carrying pouches, pulled in strollers or tightly grasped in adult hands for the book experience.

book awe

artists transport

The artists are tired. Often they’ve arrived a day or two before the fair. Worn out not only from the trip, far or local, but from the weeks of preparation that happen before the fair. The planning. The figuring out how to maximize a table that is 59” x 18.” Inventory. Navigating travel.  Navigating Tokyo. PayPal. Square (and lack thereof for foreign artists). Pricing and exchange. Wi-Fi. Packing. Accommodations. The night before the fair for many is a jet-lagged anxious short sleep. 

Lori Ono.Artbyte Critique.Tokyo

The first morning of the fair starts with shots of caffeine before schlepping inventory to the venue on wheels, over shoulders and in boxes. Planning, check-in and set-up which often includes manipulating the display in real life and then storing the boxes waits for them at the other end of their morning journey by foot, by train or taxi.

tokyo train

TABF has a storage room for boxes once unloaded. In other fairs it is a return to the hotel and back for opening. Some artists have a partner with them but this doubles the cost. 

Diana Rikasari and Dinda Puspitasari. #88 Love Life.Indonesia

The doors for TABF opened on Friday, September 16 at 3PM. Crowds were strong and artists and publishers were immediately engaged with their curious visitors despite the language challenges.

The power of the book, a published reality that you could hold, flip through, interpret or imagine words of the story between an artists self-bound publication is a communication like nothing else. It’s not just a joy for the artist or why the artist does this it is the joy on the faces of the on-lookers, often not buyers, as they engage with something new.

The artists chair their booth, a fold up table, until closing at 8PM. During the day they ask their neighboring artist to watch the table when they need to go to the bathroom or they leave their space unattended for a quick relay. Often, folks in the community ask others if they need a coffee, a soft drink or tell them when they are going to get something to eat. Backpacks have energy bars, some cookies or a sandwich that should have been kept refrigerated but mostly goes uneaten. The artist doesn’t want to miss the chance to share their work.

bookseller pride

I have chosen to write about TABF from a broad scope. Given the detail, inventory, passion and drive of all the participants it would be unfair to 'review" the work and choose specific 'picks."  Photos were selected to convey the energy and the commitment to individually created and self-published work to capture the theme of TABF and it's vibrancy.  For information on all the presenters and available contacts click here and go to EXHIBITORS.

day 4

Haruna Kashiwazaki.Kyoto

It is a long day that ends with a deep breath, lazy eyes, hungry stomachs and drained attention spans. Some continue the night into the life of the city or at an after party but many get back to their hotel, hostel, guest couch or air bnb to start all over again the following morning.

Side discussions at the fair are not about politics or the current headlines. Aside from poor Wi-Fi connections the conversations heard are about what people saw, what they bought, what amazed them and what roused their curiosity. There are recommendations throughout the hallways and the stalls from strangers and people sharing the fair experience. People talk face to face not looking at screens, not tapping, tapping, tapping. They are present in a crowd surrounded by all definitions of what a book is and can be, 


Till Lulcat.Poland

Here you do not see displays of electronic readers. You do not see screens explaining the craft. Many artists do not have websites, You do not buy on-line. You see people, lots of them, hundreds of them looking away from screens, off-line, engaging with books and reading materials. 

People are interested and intrigued. Kids smiling and wanting to look at pictures in books or try a cascading accordian where they can manually animate a rainbow, a galaxy or a rotating sun.  Youngsters tag alongside their parents. Artists engage them. Kids become wide-eyed at publications on table-tops just above their heads. They reach for them or ask for them. They drop them. They fumble with them. They want them. And it is an amazing thing to watch this communication at it’s best!

kids learning cascading accordian from improper printing

TABF where books are the center of attention, topic of conversation and get their deserved respect.

handle with care

There are zines. Most often a small-circulation self-published work that includes original text and images commonly produced and conceived by the artist. In art book fairs zine makers may be relegated to a specific section or tents. At other fairs they are incorporated within the main exhibition space.

zines and small production cassettes

The artist at the art book fair more often is also placed in a chaotic unending crowd of selling their own product which many times is an uncomfortable or unnatural experience but they forge through it with the energy from the pride in what they have created and why they have participated..

Ryan Browning originally from Texas now teaches art-making for Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar. His wife stayed home managing a house with their three young children so he has the experience and the opportunity the TABF offers him.

Ryan Browning.VCU in Qatar

The artists are unconditional. People stop by, experience the product that catches their eye and talk to the artist.  They call a friend over to show them.  They may be an art student, a teacher or a reporter. The artists never really know. Sometimes they end up in a column or they get a delayed request from a museum.  All this is unexpected but sometimes it happens.  Art fairs are like the coffee shop where the superstar model may have been discovered. Sometimes there is that one person who wants your zine or self-published book at a museum or a university or a library.

And there's plenty of room for the traditional black and white book, although tradition takes on all new definitions at TABF.

Driven by pride and sharing their work the artists maintain low sales expectations. They justify the sales volume. Too many times and perhaps not intentionally a visitor will stay for awhile, laugh and engage with numerous pieces and then express disappointment in the cost of a product. The artists keep their excitement up but get a disappointed at the absent sale. At TABF there was an overwhelming number of choices priced less than a burger, fries and coke at the new Shake Shack a five-minute walk away. The entrance to TABF and many of the other art book fairs is free.

Microcosm Publishing.Tokyo

Attendees do not realize the value, the labor, the travel, the time, and the details an artist focuses on to make each single piece of work and bring it to their hands, the very piece that just made them giggle or smile or share. There is no mass printing, no production team other than supportive volunteers, friends or partners.  The best hope an artist has is to cover the cost of the trip. The opportunity to show their work to a new audience is what matters most.  Most artists have day jobs, full-time or part-time to help support their craft ending full days of work before starting full nights of creating.  Most take vacation time to participate in an art book fair they applied for.

Melbourne.Atsushi Shimizu

At TABF it is still primarily cash transactions. People are prepared. Vendors cannot rely on little chips attached to their smart phones. Some have PayPal but most ask for cash. It seems to go with the atmosphere. It is not an on-line rushed experience here. It is a slow, physical and mindful experience.

The TABF along with the growing number of art book fairs are champions of the printed product and focus on an energy and objective for the masses to engage in this vibrant community and sustainability of a timeless product. Zine sections and self-published books are showing up at Powell’s, The Strand, and other independent bookstores.  Printed Matter in New York an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization founded in 1976 by artists and art workers revolutionized this space where art-making making and book making come together.  Where writers, crafts-people, and artists bring their world and their passions to an audience that sadly has become too lost in a fast paced, on-line electronic world.

The TABF also includes a “Printer Section” filled with vendors and resources that display paper, folding techniques, binding and building publications.  A compelling section of the fair as much as the other rooms of publications and projects.

letter press

Not everyone will make an art book fair a destination unless it is local or on the way to or from somewhere to see something new, fun, out of the ordinary. I recommend it as  a destination away from all the destinations of the day that pull us away mentally and physically from being present. Pulls us away from the time that makes us go home to order something online.

The TABF like the other books fairs for this writer is a showcase filled with passion, inspiration, dedication, creativity, energy and BOOKS!  Books in all shapes and sizes and forms with paper and binding that changes with every step. Content that is beyond imagination or presented in a way that gets us to laugh, to think and the experience.

unplugged and engaged

Books and content thought of, created by and brought to you by the most passionate and dedicated art makers one can find and engage with in one very special place.

packing up

“There is a book inside everyone of us and no one can tell it like you,” says Lidia Yuknavitch, author of The Chronology of Water.  Yuknavitch spoke of Misfits in a recent Ted Talk.

The art book fair is where everyone writing a story, living a story, thinking of a story, looking for a story or creating a story come together. TABF and today's art book fairs bring us back to an individualized place where misfits, mainstream, and makers celebrate writers and artists with their content and craft in it's most genuine form, the book!

For more on the TABF visit here.









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