Nobuo Okano, Book Repairman


Video & Multimedia

Give him your dog-eared, your tattered, your musty tomes yearning to breathe free, the shelf-worn refugees of your teeming library. He will smooth their pages and mend their binding. For he is Nobuo Okano, book repairman.

An episode of the Japanese series Shuri, Misemasu (or The Fascinating Repairmen—would that such programming arrived on these shores) documents his careful conversion of a battered, bruised English–Japanese dictionary to a state of just-published purity. (JAPANESE CRAFTSMEN STRIKE AGAIN, says one headline about his work, as if such people are invading our homes at night with bevel squares and handsaws.)

Aproned and bespectacled, in the flannel button-up that is the mark of a true handyman, Okano sets about his task. He scrapes the glue from the book’s binding. His attention to craft is impeccable. He glues loose pages onto new sheets of paper, cut to match the book’s trim size. With tweezers, a bit of water, and the world’s daintiest iron, he flattens the corners on all one thousand pages of the book. This process takes a mere four hours of his life. He slices a new edge for the book and glues what remains of its old cover onto a new leather binding.

And voilà: good as new, ready to enjoy a second life. In this case, the book’s original owner presented it to his daughter, who was about to enter college, and who I hope failed to mention that most kids just use Google Translate for that kind of thing these days.

Dan Piepenbring is the web editor of The Paris Review.