Monocolumn

A daily bulletin of news & opinion

9 June 2014

Newspapers are dying. The future of news is online, mobile, interactive, real-time and easy to share. That might be the conventional wisdom but it's not the way Kouta Ishizaki sees things. In his view there's still plenty of old-fashioned printed material to read – you just have to look for it.

At a Tokyo gallery not far from Shibuya, the city's centre of teen consumer culture, Ishizaki has assembled more than 100 items for an exhibition called Only Newspaper. The title is a bit of a red herring: there's no sign of the national Japanese dailies with their generic stories for the masses or the tabloids offering sensational headlines and salacious content. Ishizaki has focused instead on the esoteric, speciality, small-town, handmade, unheralded and industry-centric.

He offered a tour late last week before the start of the exhibition's three-week run. There are broadsheets, weeklies, newsletters, PR journals and a few curios that would be a stretch to categorise as news. None of it would appear in the bot-generated I-know-your-preferences content suggestions of Amazon and Facebook.

For instance: the Jinja Shinpo is a weekly affiliated with the Association of Shinto Shrines, the largest of the organisations promoting Japan's indigenous religion. Itagami Danboru Shimbun (the daily Paperboard and Cardboard Newspaper) and Zenkoku Kinoko Shimbun (the National Mushroom Newspaper, printed twice a month) are must-reads for executives in the paper and mushrooms industries. The Rito Keizai Shimbun, or Ritokei, brings news from 430 islands (of the 6,852 total) along the Japanese archipelago. Then there's Newsless Paper by illustrator Noritake, which has the layout of a standard newspaper but only ink lines where the text and graphics should be.

Ishizaki is best known as the man behind two notable ventures: Only Free Paper, a Tokyo shop that specialises in free newspapers from all over Japan and other parts of the world; and Nomazon, its name a play on the e-commerce giant's name and its selling point an archive of impossible-to-find, small-circulation, high-quality books, manga and other literature. It's unclear how these work as businesses but somehow he's made of career of being an expert on non-mass-market printed materials that can't be found on Amazon.

Ishizaki has no grandiose vision for the Only Newspaper exhibition. He isn't trying to celebrate journalism or save newspapers. He merely wants to shed light on the existence of obscure published items that aren't books yet contain vital information for somebody out there and that haven't been crushed by the shift to digital media. It took him more than a year to persuade some publishers – and give up on quite a few others – that were suspicious of his intentions.

Ishizaki comes at this from a love of books and concern about the state of his country’s publishers, many of which have stopped printing the magazines that he had been loyally reading of for years. His collection is the stuff of new discoveries and conversations – and for him that's as good a reason as any for his efforts.

Kenji Hall is Monocle’s Asia editor at large.

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