Vaughn Mossop and Simon Davis, co-founders of Australian micropublisher Somekind, never expected that their “Take away” series, which started last year as an effort to help out a few Australian restaurants in the early days of lockdown, would soon spread to the United States. Now, it’s coming to Japan.
“We thought maybe we would sell a few hundred books and give a few thousand dollars back to the venues,” Mossop says, “but it just snowballed. We’ve sold 30,000 books and raised about 375,000 Australian dollars (about ¥31.6 million). From two little books to where we are now with a series in Los Angeles and Tokyo, it’s been an incredible ride.”
Somekind’s model brings together the concepts of crowdfunding, publishing on demand and presale. Once a venue agrees to do a book, the countdown to publication begins with a cover design and a 10-day crowdfunding period for preorders — each volume is ¥2,200. Once those hit the minimum 100, then the writing, editing and, in the case of the Tokyo series, translating process begins in earnest.
Curated by Jessica Thompson and Sherry Zheng of the Tokyo-based bilingual food culture website Appetite, the Somekind Japan series, “Take away Tokyo,” is off to a running start.
The first two books in the series, “Pigalle: Welcome to Small World” and “Bricolage Bread & Co.: How to Build a Bakery” both hit their 100 minimum preorders during the 10-day crowdfunding period, and the third book, “Ise Sueyoshi: The Dashi Book,” is currently crowdfunding. The bilingual series will continue with a farmers market, a modern Japanese restaurant and, hopefully, expand to incorporate a variety of places that reflect the country’s dynamic foodscape.
Venues write their books in whatever format and about whatever topic they wish. These have so far included: a novella; handy tips, such as a step-by-step diagram of how to shotgun a beer; and a cookbook for multiple ways to use leftover bread. This is also where Thompson and Zheng step in to lend authors a hand.
“Most of these people aren’t writers,” Thompson says, “and they see it as this huge project. However, if we help them find the concept, work on a chapter breakdown, and suggest some points on what to include and word counts, that helps a lot.”
“We make a real effort to keep the books in the tone and voice of the venues, the writers themselves,” Zheng adds. “The format is so candid — all monochrome inside with beautiful illustrations — that it reflects the stories well. The books are an opportunity for the chefs and owners to be very open, and the customers can hear the stories they wouldn’t otherwise.”
Another important aspect of the Somekind model is the percentage of the profits that authors receive: 40% for Japan. The 100-book minimum preorder ensures both that the venues receive an injection of much-needed funds and that editors and designers are paid a fair wage.
Thompson and Zheng also point out that even though the lockdown situation in Japan has been different than in places like Australia and the United States, the damage to the hospitality industry has been profound. Paired with the postponement of the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tokyo saw more restaurants declare bankruptcy in 2020 than any other year on record.
“Venues are getting flung all over the place with the state of emergency,” Zheng observes. “They don’t know whether they can open until 9 p.m. next week or whether it will go back to 8 p.m. The community feels that, too. You can’t make any plans, and you can’t look forward to anything.”
“The project supports the whole hospitality industry,” Thompson adds, “but it really focuses on independent venues that play a fundamental part in their community, and who have a story to tell.”
For Thompson and Zheng, craft beer bar and bottle shop Pigalle met those criteria with ease. Founded in 2010 by Hide and Chie Yamada in Sangenjaya, Pigalle serves a carefully curated collection of craft beers, ciders and complementary cheeses. Tiny by almost any standard at just 15 meters long and 3 meters wide, Pigalle brims with character. From Hide’s eclectic DVD collection and the myriad baubles hanging from the ceiling to a toilet that doubles as an event space, Pigalle is a perfect example of how a local place becomes an integral part of its neighborhood to customers.
“We are writing about our beer selection and past events,” Chie says. “This is an opportunity to look back at all the things that have happened and that we’ve done. We also asked friends and customers to contribute as guest writers. Seeing them enjoying themselves as they worked on it was something really pleasant for us as well. This is Pigalle’s book,” she continues, “but we are creating it with our friends, guests and customers. It’s very heartwarming.”
The Yamadas also recognize a kindred spirit in Somekind.
“We like that it isn’t big,” Hide says. “It is a small independent publisher doing something only a small organization like that could achieve. It was cheering us on, and we wanted to support that, too.”
While the series may have been born out of crisis, Thompson and Zheng see potential for these stories in the future as well.
“We would love for it to be an ongoing project because there are people who will fall in love with these venues when they read the book,” Zheng says. “It gets everyone excited to visit these places once we all get vaccinated and borders open. People will know about these restaurants without even having traveled to the country. These stories came out of the pandemic, but they’re not tied to it.”
Hide has one more hope for Somekind readers, and that is to accept the invitation to look beyond the obvious.
“There are the famous and big places in Tokyo,” he says, “but there are also many interesting venues throughout the city that aren’t featured in the Michelin Guide or big magazines. We hope this independent project helps people discover these other venues and learn more about the scene in Tokyo.”
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