We have an affinity for Japan at The Golden Rays. So much so that I spent a year and a half living in the wilderness of Hokkaido, Japan’s northern most island, and Alena, the other Ray, jumps at any chance to travel to Tokyo. There's something about the way Japanese sensibilities latch on to particular strands of Western sub-cultures and run with them to the point of obsession and perfection that is really special. And surfing is no exception.
And Bueno!Books is the perfect example. A publisher based in Tokyo, they specialise very specifically in surf and skate related art and photography books. With strictly no deviation, they have amassed an impressive catalogue of books by a whole host of luminaries, the likes of Barry McGee, ESOW, Tatsuo Takei, Yusuke Hanai, Taro Tamai and Joe Curren.
Always bringing fascinating content and beautifully put together Bueno! really do set the benchmark for surf photography and art books, there is definitely no other publisher to rival both the volume or quality of board art books that Bueno! churn out. As icing on the cake, and testament to the Japanese work ethic, Bueno!Books also run a gallery tucked away in an inconspicuous Sendagaya back street. Slope Gallery is definitely worth a visit if you ever find yourself in Tokyo!
[Slope Gallery from outside and in]
We wanted to shed a little light on one of our favourite publishers, so I put a few questions to Yumi Morimoto, one of the starting members...
How and when did you start Bueno! and what was the first book?
How did it all start…. The main three figures that make up Bueno!Books today are Satoru Uehira, a surfer who also has a printing company, Toshio Shiratani, also a surfer and graphic designer and me. Naturally we were surrounded by surfers and skaters.
Bueno! definitely wasn’t something we had planned for a long time, that’s for sure. In 2003 I was working as a freelance editor and art curator. All 3 of us, Satoru, Toshio and I, were involved in the making of what later became the first book from Bueno!Books. Aloha Journey by Taiji Matsuda. Taiji is a painter who moved to live, paint and surf on Tanegashima Island in the very south of Japan. He’s originally from Nara, a very historical and conservative city.
[work by painter and sculptor Taiji Matsuda]
We really enjoyed making Aloha Journey so soon after Satoru suggested we continue the publications and we thought it would be interesting if we could specialise in just board culture. No heady conceptual philosophy, just the good feeling from surfing and skating. Which is how Bueno!Books was named.
Is there an over riding philosophy or concept to Bueno! and Slope Gallery projects?
That being said, we do have a philosophy. Bueno!Books is complete focussed on publishing books on surf-and-skate-board-related culture and art. Board Culture Only. Sometimes people ask us, why make it so rigid? But it’s because we want people to know how special that can be… what those experiences do for people. Those people who regularly spend time in saltwater, catching the waves that are never the same or who know the speed and the wind of the snowy mountains or the cities, I believe they become a different species. By featuring artists who take their lifestyles from surfing or skating, many of them travelling to do so, we aim to introduce their unique style of art, very often an interpretation of how they feel humans relate to nature.
[Taisuke Yokoyama, Hi-Dutch & Tadayuki Kato from Bueno!'s Surf Art? Japan available here]
Slope Gallery opened 5 years after we started the publisher. It gives the artists we’re working with an opportunity to show the work in 3D and in a larger format than a book. It also gives us the chance to do things with artists not necessarily publishing books from us… we can experiment with group shows and so on.
[Nobuo Iseki installation at Slope Gallery in 2018]
Do you have a personal favourite book or project from Bueno!'s catalogue?
Favourite books? That is a difficult question to answer! Each book is unique and has its own story. I am thankful to each and every artist and their books inspire me in different ways. Although I seem to remember more from the earlier days, like how I was a bit scared of Jay Adams and what a relief it was getting permission from him for our book “Devil Dog”. And how my image of surfing changed when I worked with Joe Curren, a photographer and brother of the surfer Tom Curren. Joe’s work for his book “ONE” was all about surfing in cold water and he had no interest, he clearly told me, in warm tropical islands.
What's coming up for Bueno! in 2020?
For me the latest project is always my main concern. I didn’t imagine that we would be in this pandemic when 2020 started, so we are currently rescheduling everything as we don’t quite know how long it’ll last.
We were very much looking forward to doing a Bud Browne show this April at Slope Gallery. Bud Browne made 16 surf films from the 1950s -1970s and was the first to show them in theatres and is known to be the father of the surf films. Anna Trent Moore, the daughter of Big Wave Pioneer Buzzy Trent, is the curator of the Bud Browne Film Archives and was supposed to come to Japan and we were going to have film viewings and a photo show at the gallery. It was cancelled of course.
[Bud Browne film posters from SurfClassics.com]
The gallery has been closed since March. But even in a time like this, I think there is always something new and inspiring as long as you keep at it. When I was preparing the Bud Browne webpage on our website, I was exchanging emails with Anna and she wrote these reassuring words to me, “Surfing is like being touched by magic. Many of the old surfers that I have known lived long lives. Some into their nineties. And surfing was in their hearts and minds until the very end. Because once you’ve been touched by the magic of surfing, it will never leave you.”
All our books are bilingual, in English & Japanese, although not all of our website is in English yet... but we are working on that! So I hope you’ll keep checking us out!