One room, One book

the Most Minimal Bookstore in the World

December 2023
3 minute read
Yoshiyuki Morioka and Yoshifumi Yamamoto stood outside Morioka Shoten bookstore in Tokyo

You’re stood in your favourite bookstore.
Rows of beautifully bound books, the smell of the paper, the chance of discovering a hidden gem.

Every book’s unique - the size, cover, layout, typeface, paper, and of course the content.
There’s something magical about a physical book that can never be replicated.

But how do you decide which to buy?

At Morioka Shoten in Tokyo, they’ve solved this problem once and for all. A radical approach.

They sell only one book.
That’s right, just one book.

The Vision

On a recent trip to Tokyo, there was one place we had to visit.

Nestled between the grand avenues and luxury department stores of Ginza, is a curious shop on a quiet side street.
A small white room, a display of beautifully carved wooden objects, and a neat stack of books. What appears to be an art gallery, is in fact a bookstore.

This is Morioka Shoten.
The most minimal bookshop in the world.

Exterior of Morioka Shoten bookstore in Tokyo, glass facade surrounded by brown brick
Morioka Shoten - a single room with a single book

The philosophy is simple ‘A single room with a single book’.

They sell only one title at a time, accompanied by an immersive exhibition inspired by the book.

The concept transforms the 2D book into a 3D experience. As if you’re entering inside the book. You can also talk to the author or editor who is in residence for the week.

The book can be anything from a novel to manga, or a biography, and changes each week on Tuesday.

a Japanese book
'Investigations from the Forest' by Yoshifumi Yamamoto
Each title is sold for one week only

The Launch

Morioka Shoten (shoten = bookstore) is the brainchild of Yoshuyuki Morioka, a man obsessed with books.
Before creating this unique book experience, he worked in a standard bookshop in Kanda and later opened his own independent bookstore in Kayabacho selling around 200 select titles.

He hosted book launches and noticed they were always a huge success. His customers got to meet the writer, the atmosphere was great, and he sold lots of copies.

This got him thinking. With all the focus on a single title, did he need the others? What if he were to sell just one book at a time?

But an idea is one thing. Turning it into a sustainable business is another. Here, everyone needs an opportunity.

In 2014 Morioka attended a lecture called ‘New Business’.
Toyama, the CEO of Smiles, invited pitches from attendees.
Morioka pitched ‘A bookstore with a single book’.
Toyama loved it and decided to invest.

Eight months later, Morioka Shoten opened its doors.

Inside the Store

Morioka’s extreme approach to literary curation is mirrored by the minimal space.

Behind a simple glass façade is a small room. The original raw concrete structure left untouched, with just a coat of matte white paint to the walls and ceiling. A vintage apothecary cabinet forms the counter, lit by a single pendant above an old black telephone.

The rest of the room is empty. A blank canvas for that week’s book inspired display.

exterior of morioka shoten bookstore filled with hanging tote bags
To celebrate BLESS BOOK vol. 3, each page was printed onto a tote bag

One week hang 176 individually printed tote bags, each representing a page from the current book. The next, the space resembles a forest.

Artist Mariko Hirasawa stood outside Morioka Shoten bookstore with and umbrella. The store is filled with tree branches.
For the book 'one day in the forest' by Mariko Hirasawa, the store was filled with tree branches

As a physical store, it’s location also has great significance.

Situated on the ground floor of the Suzuki Building (one of the few listed buildings in Tokyo), this was previously the offices of the publisher Nippon Kobo. In the 1930’s they produced Nippon, a quarterly state sponsored magazine aimed at promoting Japan to an international audience. This high quality publication was a stylised mixture of graphics, typography, text, photography and stories of Japan. With the approach of WWII the magazine took a sinister turn and became more heavily involved in military propaganda.

Despite this, the building has great cultural and historical significance as the birthplace of modern Japanese publishing. The perfect location for such an innovative bookstore.

When we visited, Morioka was hosting an exhibition of exquisite handmade wooden bowls and other objects by Yoshifumi Yamamoto to accompany his book ‘Investigations from the Forest’. A beautifully produced collection of photos of his woodwork, with poems and recipes for delicious food presented in his dishes.

two men stood in front of an old wooden cabinet in a minimal bookstore in Tokyo
Yoshuyuki Morioka (left) and Yoshifumi Yamamoto (right) inside Morioka Shoten bookstore

Wood and Ink

Morioka was at the store and his enthusiasm for everything book related was infectious. With a twinkle in his eye, there was something he had to show us.

He led us a few streets away to Nakamura moji, a traditional letterpress printers established in 1910, still printing with their own unique typefaces.

Exterior of Nakamura moji, a letterpress printer in Tokyo
Nakamura moji in Tokyo

Entering the shop you’re enveloped by the smell of aged hinoki wood and ink, and greeted by the proud owner, enthusiastic to share his craft.

He pulls out tray upon tray of neatly stored characters that make up the 2136 kanji commonly used in modern Japanese. 

A man pulling out an old hinoki wood tray in front of racks of trays containing Japanese kanji characters for letterpress printing
Racks of aged hinoki wood trays store the Japanese Kanji characters used in the letterpress printer

The speciality of Nakamura moji is business cards. These have great significance in Japanese society. Your business card represents you in a professional context and there’s a strict etiquette for how they’re exchanged when meeting someone for the first time.

More with Less

Morioka Shoten is a fusion of bookstore, gallery and meeting space. It celebrates ‘the book’ as a unique physical object with desirable qualities.

You’re invited to rethink the concept of a bookstore and how to experience books. Just as minimal interiors challenge you to rethink your home and the way you live.
An approach that favours quality over quantity.

Discover this week’s book @MoriokaShoten or visit the store at Suzuki Building 1F, 1-28-15 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo, Japan.

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