David Wang, co-founder and editor in chief of sankaku, talks to Tokyo-based illustrator Grace Lee.
Since it launched, we have been following sankaku, an initiative that has been interviewing and documenting creators in Tokyo, our second home. As a project close to our hearts, we are now delighted to stock its first book "sankaku Vol. 1," a collection of essays, interviews and beautiful photography.
To celebrate, we asked David Wang, Sankaku co-founder and the editor in chief, to tell us more about the inspiration behind limited edition volume, the importance of community and the future of books.
How did sankaku come about?
So sankaku was originally kind of a pandemic project with a few friends. We were talking about how Covid-19 changed our views on things, including our connections to communities. This was when everyone was shut indoors or working from home. I guess part of it was that we thought we should take the opportunity to try something new in that environment. It started off as just an idea — a media platform to tell stories. We never really set out to specifically make a book. It was more like, “Oh, this could be interesting. We could show a different side of Japan — one that was not stereotypical or cliched.”
The range of creators interviewed for sankaku is eclectic — in a good way! What was the thinking behind the selection?
Personally, I had been thinking a lot about crafts and the people working in local industries — how their objects represented something that was so different from today’s fast fashion and consumerism. These were things that made you slow down, think, and really enjoy life. Knowing the effort, care and time behind these objects can make you feel more connected to them, as well as to their makers. The same can be said about art, textiles, even farming. I just thought, wow, these are all interesting stories, and they have not had enough exposure in English-language media.
There are a lot of interesting people around me who aren't living the typical salaryman life. They are creating new things with old techniques and old things with new techniques. Mixing tradition, custom and their own experiences in different ways. Some people we interviewed are friends, or were introduced to us by friends, so the project evolved through connections, too. We started with craftspeople, but along the way, we discovered so much more that we wanted to include. It was an organic progression.
An employee of Shinohara Shiko book binders in Tokyo packages sankaku Vol. 1
Why does sankaku focus on Tokyo?
To be honest, we were very limited by the state of emergencies in Japan at the time, so we couldn’t really leave the Greater Tokyo Area. But that helped us realize that Tokyo has a fascinating creative community unknown to many. For example, the “machi-koba” small factories in the east end of the city. Despite myself and another member of the team living here for years, we had never really explored that area.
Do you have any particularly special memories from the interviews?
They were all interesting and fun! But, we do cover several aspects of Tokyo Keyboard, a mechanical keyboard brand, because we followed Alvin Cheung, the designer as he had it made. We went to many factory visits and it was just amazing to see the development of the project unfold before our eyes. The plastics dyer was also such a funny dude. He had to dye keyboard cases by hand, because it was the only way to achieve the gradient effect. He was constantly cracking jokes and liked to sit on a tiny old folding camping chair. One day, we all just went out to eat with him and he just happily chatted away like we were old friends. You know, normally, you would never meet these people in person…
Why did you decide to turn the project into a book?
You know, we got halfway and we stepped back and suddenly realized, “Oh wow! We have a bunch of essays — almost enough to fill a whole book. Why don't we just keep going and actually make a book?” The last two interviews in the book we chose to make our first print a limited edition: Grace Lee, a very talented Australian illustrator based in Tokyo, who we asked to create the colourful cover art based on her Tokyo experiences. And Shinohara Shiko, a bookbinding factory, who we worked together to put together the book. I think it's quite unusual for a bookbinder to be featured in a book that they actually created — to be able to open a book and see images of the very thing you are holding being made. When we were talking to the artisans at the bookbindery, they loved the fact that they saw themselves in the book as they were binding it. It’s nice to be able to give a voice to these people.
A photo-spread of a Tokyo Keyboard piece being dyed a gradient orange by Toya Senryo in Tokyo.
Tell us more about Grace Lee’s cover illustration.
With this book, we really wanted to show a different side of Tokyo and also work with someone who was based here too. Grace is an exceptionally talented illustrator. The only prompt we gave her was to ask for her to show her personal side of Tokyo. We asked for her to base it on her experiences of living in Tokyo. She created a really nice cover based on photos she took over time with her mobile phone — daily life and other scenes. The interview with her goes over her artistic process, but also her personal thoughts on living in Tokyo — her unique perspective.
The limited edition sankaku Vol. 1 is clearly not your average book, but one designed to be conceptual and self-referential — dare I say very “meta.” Do you think this could be the future of print publications?
We actually drew a lot of inspiration from other retro formats, for example how vinyl records are very popular in Japan. I'm not exactly a music aficionado, but I like music and I’ve been to a lot of bars and friends’ houses where someone will play their records for you. One thing that is really nice, is that it’s a curated and deep experience, and you listen to an album from start to finish — the way the artist intended. It's a focused and concentrated experience that is often missing in modern society. I think that's one reason why records remain popular. Vinyl records are also cool because of the cover art, which is another form of creative expression. People own vinyl so they can have something physical to show off in their homes and share with friends. Now we can stream music, yet people still enjoy vinyl. Similarly, there are ebooks and audiobooks — but I think there is still a role for the physical book as an object of art or craft.
What about the future of sankaku?
Obviously, we do want to publish more physical volumes especially because Japan is home to so many unique printing and bookbinding factories. One thing we are thinking of playing around with, though, is different materials to make books with — materials related to or reflecting the books’ contents.
Keep an eye on upcoming sankaku projects at its website sankaku is.