Last Updated:Oct 23, 2020

One Thousand and One Nights of Photobooks

Critic Kotaro Iizawa’s YouTube channel is a primer on the art form

Kotaro Iizawa
Kotaro Iizawa
Kotaro Iizawa is a photography historian and critic who has written more than 50 books. He also runs Ebisu’s Photobook Diner Megutama (写真集食堂めぐたま), where you can enjoy Japanese homestyle cooking while browsing his collection of some 5,000 photobooks. The COVID-19 crisis has hit the diner hard, causing it to close temporarily. During this time Iizawa decided to use the café’s YouTube channel, megutama TV, to share highlights from his extensive collection.

Each Sunday at 9:00 p.m., Iizawa broadcasts live from the diner and reviews a photobook of his choosing (in Japanese). Called “Iizawa Kotaro’s One Thousand and One Nights of Photobooks” (飯沢耕太郎の写真集千夜一夜), these talks offer a look at the book in full while discussing the photographer’s career and touching on the history and major themes of photography. (As an added bonus, Iizawa also plays the ukulele and sings in each episode.) You can check out all the episodes recorded so far on the megutama TV channel archives. Viewers can also ask questions to Mr. Iizawa live through the comment feature.

The books covered (26 so far) range from early to recent titles by photographers from a variety of countries and eras. They are among the most groundbreaking and influential books in the history of photography. Authors include Daido Moriyama, Walker Evans, Shoji Ueda, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Rinko Kawauchi, Masahisa Fukase, Diane Arbus, and Richard Avedon. Tokyo Art Beat spoke with Iizawa and the artist Tokitama, co-operator of the cafe, about the project.

Inside Photobook Diner Megutama
Inside Photobook Diner Megutama

Why did you decide to do One Thousand and One Nights of Photobooks?
Megutama has struggled because of coronavirus and we’ve had to stop doing events. During this time, I wanted to find a way to keep sharing what is great about photobooks and also give people something to enjoy while helping out the diner. The name just came to me.

When did you start the series? How long will it continue?
We started in late April of this year. I’m not sure how long we’ll continue. I want to keep it going as long as I can.

Can you tell us about your photobook collection? Do you have a method for finding and choosing books?
I have about 5,000 volumes at the diner and another 5,000 or so in storage. I switch out around 100–150 titles at the resturant regularly. The books have come mainly through my studies and work…I’ve been studying photography for around 40 years, so I’ve amassed a large collection.

How do you choose from your collection for the show?
I have a philosophy of drawing from old and new, East and West. I also try to choose books that are diverse, important, and influential.

Are there any books or photographers you especially recommend?
It’s interesting to see which episodes have been popular. Shigeo Gocho and Eiko Yamazawa are worth checking out.

You promote the diner’s online shop and accept donations through the show. What do the funds go towards?
They go towards supporting the store’s staff and keeping the collection in good shape.

Do you have any other plans for your YouTube channel or the cafe?
Actually, Tokitama has been thinking about starting a Japanese homestyle cooking show with Megu-chan, another co-operator of the diner. We also plan to resume monthly portfolio reviews and other live events (with limited participants).

What in the photography world are you excited about now?
Fugensha has a gallery in Meguro that’s doing a lot of interesting photography exhibitions. They had a group show called “Corona Spring” earlier this month that was excellent. Tokitama will have an exhibition of her photography there this November.

Do you have any tips for enjoying photobooks?
There are no rules. The best thing you can do is hold a book in your hands yourself.

Photobook Diner Megutama
150-0011 Tokyo
Shibuya-ku, Higashi 3-2-7-1F
Nearest Station: Ebisu

Tuesday–Sunday: 12:00–22:00 (Last order: 21:00)
Closed: Monday/Public Holidays
The diner is closed July 28 through August 31, 2020.

Jennifer Pastore

Jennifer Pastore

Jennifer Pastore is a writer, editor, and translator. She was editor of Tokyo Art Beat's web magazine from 2015 to 2022. Her thoughts on the Japanese art scene can be found in publications like artscape Japan.