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People Make Places, owner of Owan

In Praise of Well-Made Books

“People Make Places”

People Make Places is a book about craftspeople in Tokyo. It is a book I wish I made. It feels like a sequel to Art Space Tokyo, but broken free of the art world and much more visual. The whole thing is a gem. Creative directed by Lizzie Murray and designed by Ben Chong, it’s printed on heavy, matte stock. The photography by Gorta Yuki is bright and detailed, delicate. The writing is clear. The goal simple:

People Make Places seeks to discover the people who construct the reality of the city: its cultural spaces, fashion stores, bars and coffee shops, and especially its food culture. We built this book to get to know them, because these are the people who build the backdrops to our urban lives.”

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A People Make Places udon spread

In the afterword, Charles Spreckley — the book’s publisher and mastermind —writes:

This project was supposed to take one year. In the end, it took three.

That sounds about right. Those making books are constantly confounded by the way the book-time continuum does not match with our normal sense of space-time. In book-time, books expand at will, hours disappear in minutes, and months are swallowed by days. If someone delivers a book on time, have them checked. Duplicate their DNA. Bottle it up and break it down.

Still — in the end it’s worth it: You feel those three years of work in every page of the book.

People Make Places arrives unassumingly in a standard postage package. But remove the 1kg block from within and you quickly intuit that this is not a normal book.

Wrapping things in washi (Japanese paper) quickly veers into eye-rolling territory, but People Make Places uses a matte black, nearly extraterrestrial washi, wrapped tight. Glued in place using strategic little dabs. Unwrapping the book feels less like opening a package and more like undressing something. Each little glue dollop pops, the washi is thick and never rips, and once you’ve got it all opened, a charcoal book emerges. A black hole of impeccable curation.

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Is it beautiful to the touch? It is beautiful to the touch. The weight just right. This is a substantial object.

The main headers and body text use variants on Scala, the subhedes, Compasse Thin. The whole thing feels precisely considered.

Six years ago (six!) I wrote:

I propose the following to be considered whenever we think of printing a book:

  • The Books We Make embrace their physicality — working in concert with the content to illuminate the narrative.
  • The Books We Make are confident in form and usage of material.
  • The Books We Make exploit the advantages of print.
  • The Books We Make are built to last.

The result of this is:

  • The Books We Make will feel whole and solid in the hands.
  • The Books We Make will be something of which even our children — who have fully embraced all things digital — will understand the worth.
  • The Books We Make will always remind people that the printed book can be a sculpture for thoughts and ideas.

People Make Places nails all of these points. It embraces its physicality. It is confident in form and use of material. And it’s built to last.

Most importantly though, there is an obvious sense of love and craft suffusing the entire object.

If you are planning to visit Tokyo (or just fantasizing) and are looking for inspiration, I can’t imagine a better book. It’s expensive — but this is what books like this cost: books made with little compromise, by individuals, independently published. As purchasers we become patrons. This is the price of entry, and if it’s within your budget, it’s a price worth paying.

People Make Places also lives on Instagram, sharing snippets from the book. And they sell an app, containing all the book’s information, too.

Lots of people send me books, but it’s the rare one that makes me stop. Thanks, People Make Places. You introduce us to people who care deeply about craft, and you do so caring deeply about your own craft. A virtuous circle — one we’re all better for having witnessed.

Buy People Make Places, here.

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Mr. Hara, of Hara Museum in People Make Places

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