one: Traditional Noh masks come to life in this lavishly photographed introduction to a centuries-old tradition. In terms of style, Noh—in which a mere handful of performers employ a range of exceedingly understated movements and gestures to weave a myriad tales—is one of the world’s simplest forms of theater. A perusal of The Secrets of Noh Masks reveals a realm of flesh-and blood humanity that is just as subtle yet striking in the 21st century as it was over 600 years ago.
Bookstores throughout Tokyo, ¥3,990.
two: Modern Patterns of Japan: Sweet & Nostalgic is a bright and fun book which presents a collection of patterns designed by Yonagado, an artist who has created lovely and nostalgic patterns and products since the 1960s. Patterns cover everything from children’s kimonos, papers, packages and stationery. A great coffee table tome offering a Japanese take on decades of pattern design and production.
Art and design bookstores throughout Tokyo, ¥2,100.
three: Eco-Friendly Graphics displays advertising and promotional campaigns from an eco-friendly point of view. Plastic bags transform into characters when filled, a pile of garbage becomes a school of fish, and Sesame Street characters actively encourage children to recycle. The simple genius displayed in the corporate design work is a refreshing change. With a bit of thought, the most mundane item can take on a whole new life.
Art and design bookstores throughout Tokyo, ¥14,700.
four: Illustrator, designer and all-around creator Remo Camerota’s first book, Graffiti Japan, took his passion for urban art across Japan’s often hidden graffiti scene. Upon arriving in Japan the author stayed on the floor of a Tokyo graffiti artist’s apartment, which was followed by a year of traveling and photographing underground art. Although American in origin, the street art featured is distinctly Japanese and offers a fascinating view into an often hard-to-find world.
Amazon Japan (www.amazon.co.jp), about ¥2,800.
five: Remo Camerota’s third book is still being prepared, but promises to be just as fascinating as his other titles. Menko is a Japanese card game, dating back to the Edo period. Decorated in wonderful color images and illustrations, the cards mirror society and the popular culture of the period. Before WWII military themes dominated, but today manga and children’s characters are more prominent. Menko, Art of the Japanese Game Card focuses on an overlooked cultural phenomenon that has influenced the childhood of generations of Japanese people.
To be released this summer, price TBD.
six: In the 1980s Japan was slated to receive new sewer systems, but these public works projects were met with resistance. One dedicated bureaucrat solved the problem by devising a way to make these mostly invisible systems aesthetically appreciated above ground: customized manhole covers. Today nearly 95 percent of the 1,780 municipalities in Japan sport their very own specially-designed manhole covers. Drainspotting is the first book to document this unique aspect of contemporary Japanese visual culture.
Amazon Japan (www.amazon.co.jp), about ¥1,300.