Interview #14



Written by RMM

The mountains of Nagano in Japan hold many secrets. In winter, its slopes and plains are blanketed with soft, powder snow and dozens of avid winter sportsmen and women explore hidden trails in the mountains. In spring, the infamous snow monkeys emerge from their hot spring bathes and venture out under the cherry blossom trees. Summer in the Japanese Alps is a cool affair, and this is when the books comes out to play.

Books? Yes, you read that right. Since 2014, a cosy book festival has been held on the banks of Lake Kizaki, in the Shinshu region of Japan. It’s only befitting that such an event is called the “ALPS BOOK CAMP”, an annual get-together of book lovers and campers. Now in its third year, the festival is a weekend affair that where avid readers and families can interact with bookseller, lifestyle shops and food stalls from Nagano Prefecture. There are participating stalls from other parts of Japan and even the rest of the world too! Visitors can stay the night at the campgrounds, and participate in campfire sing-alongs before turning in.

RMM has an exclusive interview with Toru Kikuchi, the founder of ALPS BOOK CAMP.

RMM: Hello Kikuchi-san! Can you tell us more about yourself?

Kikuchi: I run a book café in Matsumoto City, Nagano Prefecture called “sioribi”. I was born and raised in Shizuoka Prefecture, and studied International Relations at Tsukuba University (Ibaraki Prefecture). After graduating, I found a job at a onsen-ryokan (hot spring resort) in Matsumoto City!

RMM: What was the inspiration behind ALPS BOOK CAMP?

Kikuchi: After I decided to open a bookstore in Nagano prefecture, I began thinking about organizing a book event. However, I didn’t want to imitate the domestic book. I wanted to create a new kind of event that couldn’t be imitated even if someone wanted to.

RMM: How did you choose the location and why did you choose to have it as a camp instead of a day-only festival?

Kikuchi: Nagano Prefecture is surrounded by mountains and has an abundance of nature. It’s really cool and pleasant in the summer as well. I wanted to give our visitors an experience they’d never forget Since it’s a campsite by the lake, it’d be a pity if the event was just held in the day. You won’t be able to enjoy the night-sky and campfire if it was just a day-only event.

RMM: How do you choose the exhibitors?

Kikuchi: We really treasure personal connections. The exhibitors that have participated in ALPS BOOK CAMP have been people who’ve visited my store and people whose stores I’ve visited. I’ve personally invited businesses and stores that have a charming premise, similar values and great design sense — basically people who I really want to work with.

RMM: Can you tell us more about ALPS BOOK CAMP’s visual identity?

Kikuchi: The logo was created by the Matsumo City-based team “Yamatobasha”, and illustrated by Chika Miyagi. We briefed Miyagi-san on concept of ALPS BOOK CAMP – “banquet of mountains and books” – and she drew whatever inspired her.

I heard that the bear motif was inspired by the “Little Bear Mountain” right by the Lake Kizaki campsite.

RMM: ALPS BOOK CAMP is not only about books – it’s about celebrating food and art as well. What do you think the relationship between food, art and reading is?

Kikuchi: Books are the entry point to the entire world. When you think about your day-to-day life, I don’t think books can exist in a vacuum. It is through our everyday meals, having conversations together, enjoying music that books make their appearance. ALPS BOOK CAMP is an event where we propose a book-filled life, where books are as essential as food and art and music.

RMM: What are you plans for the future?

Kikuchi: Books are primarily associated with the indoors, so I’m hoping to create more opportunities for people to go outdoors. I’d like homebodies to head outdoors and experience nature for themselves, and outdoorsy people to discover the charm of reading. I’d also love for publishers and editors, who usually focus on producing books, to meet and interact with their readers directly without the bookstore as a middleman.

RMM: Lastly, what’s your favourite book?

Kikuchi: It’s “On Thinking” by Magoichi Kushida ( 『考えることについて』(串田孫一)), a philosopher, poet and mountaineer. The book is a collection of short essays for youths, and talks about life’s lessons. It’s the kind of book where I discover something new every single time I read it. I use it as a guide on how to judge something and develop my own opinion about it.

The interview has been translated from the Japanese, and edited for clarity.

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