About us

In 1903, my grandfather Ukichi Sakai founded the firm, Sakai Shoten, with his brother Fukuji, in his home town Nagaoka, Niigata prefecture, after training for three years at Tokyodo Shoten. Three years later, in 1906, they moved the firm to Sarugaku-cho in the Kanda district of Tokyo and changed its name to Hobundo. In 1911 their partnership ended and my grandfather opened his own shop in Kanda, but after only two years the great fire in Kanda forced him to make a new start, under the name Isseido.
Ten years passed before Kanda's next tragedy, the earthquake of 1923, which caused family upheaval in addition to the tribulations of our book business. My grandfather had married in 1912. His wife was a member of the Takane family from Ojiya in Niigata prefecture, to whose home my grandparents moved after the earthquake. There my father attended elementary school, while my grandfather tried by all possible means and with help from my grandmother's father to open his bookshop
again in Tokyo. Isseido was indeed the first bookseller to reopen in Kanda in the wake of that tragedy.

Our new building, four storeys and a basement, still in use today, was constructed with reinforced concrete as a defence against any repetition of that disaster. There were people at the time who thought it somewhat conspicuous. On its completion in 1931, we held an exhibition of "Saga-Books", with lectures from Dr. Soho Tokutomi and Dr. Kazuma Kawase. We, also, published Dr. Kawase's work on "the Iconography of the Saga-Books". Two years later father left Tokyo Commercial College for health reasons and joined my grandfather at the bookshop.

My grandfather took pride in his good health and would travel on business by overnight train to Kansai or Kyushu, returning the next day, but this taxed his strength, and he died suddenly in 1940. My father, naturally, succeeded him at Isseido, assuming his name Ukichi.

When war broke out the following year, about twenty members of our staff were called up for military service. My father had to manage with the help of three women staff and my grandmother, my aunt, and my mother Machiko. It is believed that an American scholar of Japanese culture, Dr. Serge Elisseeff, used his influence to avoid intensive bombing of the Jimbocho neighbourhood.

After the war my uncle Masatoshi, returned from military duties, worked in the antiquarian book department of the Isseido Nihonbashi branch at Mitsukoshi before founding his own bookshop for new publications under the name Shosen, in Jimbocho. Sadly he died in 2002 at the age of eighty-four. My father was very pleased that his wife Michi succeeds him, and that their business prospers.

Many people, when the war was over, came back to Kanda, anxious to renew acquaintance with the civilized world of books, and sales were high. The re-shaping of society caused famous families such as Mitsui and Yasuda to sell their collections, which made our own path easier; yet there is no easy means to succeed in business, and many problems lay ahead.

In 1969 I started to work at Isseodo, after studying at Keio University and Shido Library under Dr. Ryuichi Abe.

We experienced difficulties after the economic 'bubble' of the nineteen-eighties, when many people abandoned traditional forms of scholarship to join the revolution in information technology and universities felt the effects of a declining birthrate. However, Japanese culture and wisdom endure. I have faith there will always be a demand for good books.

Takehiko Sakai
Isseido Booksellers