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Publisher Yumiko Tsukuda

by Judit Kawaguchi

Yumiko Tsukuda, 45, is the founder of Anika Co. Ltd., a publishing house in Tokyo, that prints books about the town and residents of Tsukuda on Tsukishima Island. Originally from Chiba, Yumiko moved to Tsukuda in 1998, partly because the town shares her last name but also because she fell in love with the area. Tsukuda is a unique part of central Tokyo famous for its mix of historic wooden buildings and skyscrapers. It is also known for its “monja street,” where around 60 restaurants serve monjayaki and okonomiyaki, delicious Japanese-style pancakes that are grilled at the guests’ tables. Yumiko is a self-taught publisher and has documented her struggles learning the ropes in an amusing book titled “Japan’s Smallest Publisher.” Since 2002, she has published 16 books, including her hit “Emergency Book,” which advises victims on how to deal with life after a disaster. Her success as a one-woman operation on one of Japan’s tiniest islands shows that when loved, independently published books and small neighborhoods can survive.

Print publishing will never disappear. People will never stop enjoying curling up on a sofa or relaxing on the beach with a good book. The beauty of a book is how it feels in the hand and what it looks like. When you put an open one down, it’s like a floppy rooftop and it can even move on its own as if it were alive!

I am an accidental publisher and a happy one. Seven years ago my friend was writing a book and the publishing house he had a contract with went under. He asked me if I would publish it. I said yes, although I had no idea how to do it. Lucky I pulled it off, because I discovered that I love creating books.

If you’re serious about making it in something, you learn and catch up fast. I do everything alone: I pick topics, find writers, write contracts, edit, sew props, take photos, design pages and create all the digital information necessary for printing. Once the books are bound and sent to my office, I hop on my moped to deliver them to distribution centers.

Books are like kimono: Everyone agrees that they are wonderful, yet less and less people buy them.

When life is too easy, it is hard to appreciate it. Elementary school, middle school, high school, university: That was like a set menu that nauseated me. When I was 20, I was living off my parents money, barely going to my university classes and partying a lot. Everything was handed to me on a silver platter so I didn’t appreciate anything. In the end I quit school and escaped to Australia. I figured that since I was already off the beaten track, I might as well get off the road completely.

English language education in Japan is not as bad as its reputation. When I lived in Australia for 10 years I found out that the English I had learned at school was sufficient to get by. It really was. I’m proof that the average Japanese can probably speak English but prefers not to because he or she is too shy or nervous.

The goal of a publisher is to find what topics suit what format. Some literature is better when read on a computer or a mobile phone. For example, city guides should not be printed. Who wants to carry a book around when we can have all that info and more, constantly updated, on our mobile phones? When making books, I always think about what would work better on paper than in digital format.

Racist people may sometimes have a point, but it doesn’t mean we have to accept their opinion. I had no idea that Australians fought against Japan in World War II. But one time, in Australia, someone yelled “Jap, go home!” and threw an egg at me. When I realized that some Australians hated us Japanese, I set out to investigate why. I went to the Canberra War Museum to learn history from their point of view.

People shouldn’t be obsessed with their own DNA. I don’t have any desire to reproduce. If I want children, I’ll adopt. There are plenty of kids that need good homes. I give birth to books, others have babies.

Giving feels great. I’m an average Japanese but with a bit of money, so it’s nice that I can help someone in another country. I am a foster parent to a little girl in Nicaragua.

Being politically correct feels so wrong. “Green” people need to calm down and realize that the world has fluctuated between warm and cold periods for millions of years. Global warming is normal. Being eco-friendly is dated. It’s time to get over it.

To protect lives, practice is more important than theory. In Japan, Sept. 1 is Disaster Prevention Day, the day everyone goes through fire drills. I am a volunteer fire-woman, so I teach residents about dealing with fires. Most people don’t even know how to use a fire extinguisher! Pull the pin, take aim and push the handle. It sounds easy and yet many people have problems actually doing it, so practice is very important. The fire extinguishers could also do with a redesign.

Japanese people have no idea how rich we are. Australians come to Japan to make money and Japanese go to Australia to have fun.

I don’t want to leave anything behind. Human life is so tiny compared to the scale of the universe.

The end of the world is coming, thank heavens! If you have a problem, just remember that the universe will eventually disappear. Whatever is bothering you will seem minor in comparison.

Judit Kawaguchi loves to listen. She is a volunteer counselor and a TV reporter on NHK’s “Out & About.” Learn more at: http://juditfan.blog58.fc2.com/