Bakezori Books started as a cluster of teetering book towers covering Leila Odagaki’s living room. Motivated by her love for tattoo culture, she would find and sell rare books — mostly Japanese and East Asian art tomes — to tattoo artists, illustrators and other creatives to use for reference work. 

When Odagaki and her partner Hiro Toguchi, a tattoo artist, found a building set to be demolished in Toyokawa City, they couldn’t believe their luck. The space was big enough to house a bookstore, a tattoo studio and still have room left over for other ventures. Additionally, they would be allowed to renovate it as they saw fit. At this point, the story usually ends with “and the rest is history.” 

Fraught Beginnings

If only things were that easy. Opening a brick-and-mortar shop, especially in the digital era, can be a challenge. The pair found their new location in January 2020 and signed the lease the following month. The ink was barely dry before the government announced a state of emergency, essentially closing down the postal system — on which Odagaki was reliant on for her business — while also limiting other opportunities. On top of that, her partner had injured his hand and couldn’t work. 

So, they did the only thing they could do: isolate and prepare the new property, while hoping for the best. They constructed bookshelves, tables and walls, redesigning the formerly musty gray office space into a contemporary locale for both their businesses: Company Tattoo (stylized Cömpany as a nod to British band Motörhead) and Bakezori Books. The shops face each other, connected by a communal area that displays merchandise and art prints. It’s the perfect gathering place where visitors can hang out, buy a few books, get some art — or even make an appointment for some new ink. 

Cömpany Tattoo

Community in Ink

When the topic of tattoos comes up in the context of Japan, Odagaki takes it in her stride. “There are sacrifices you have to make when tattooing. There are some places you can’t go; you’re going to be turned down or treated differently. But as a foreigner it doesn’t make a difference, I guess,” she says.

Her passion for the artists and their work shines through when she talks about tattoo culture in Japan. “Despite the taboo, there’s so much art to be appreciated in this culture. And I think Hiro and I both believe that, and that’s why we continue to do what we do,” she says.

Odagaki’s appreciation for tattoo art was the reason Bakezori Books was conceived. “I can’t put out art like these people do, but I can contribute to the community by giving them the resources that they need to keep creating. Especially with my partner being an artist as well. I support what he does and I would never ask him to do anything else. We joke and say we’re ‘tattoo baka’ and crazy for them.”

She pulls up her shirt sleeves to show elaborate designs on both her arms, saying her only regret is that she doesn’t have room for more. “People always ask me why I covered my [tattoo] sleeve up. I didn’t. I only have two arms — I had a sleeve and I wanted another one, so Hiro, who does all my tattoos, went back over it again. So, this is my second sleeve on this arm,” she says, indicating the deep black art on her left arm.

Give Books a Chance

As Odagaki talks about her tattoos, she mentions that many of them depict Japanese yokai, or folkloric supernatural entities. In a world where almost anything can be mass-produced, old or broken goods are tossed aside instead of fixed. The store mascot, a bakezori — a lone straw sandal yokai that came to life when it was thrown away — symbolizes Odagaki’s relationship with the books that decorate the shelves in her store. She says, “My shop sandal is a perfectly good sandal that became trash. In the same vein, my store is full of perfectly good books that people didn’t want anymore. They would have been trash. And books are not trash. Now, they can become useful in someone else’s hands. Instead of letting them become yokai, I would love to see them on your bookshelf.”

To find out the latest updates and exhibition info from Bakezori Books and Company Tattoo, check out the Bakezori Books and Company Tattoo Instagram pages.


Photos by Lisa Knight