About Ukiyo

There appears to be different meanings of the Japanese word, Ukiyo. One attempt is living in the moment, another is floating world, or transient world, and the owner of the Ukiyo bookstore in Imphal, Manipur says it means something that gives you much joy. I’ll go by that. Because that is what Martin Thokchom is attempting to do at Ukiyo bookstore. When it turned one year, he arranged the Ukiyo literary festival where big names in the publishing world mingled with the happy readers. The response from outside the state was tremendous. Almost everyone wanted to be at the Ukiyo festival. Smart student volunteers were on hand to answer queries and to take care of things behind the scenes. It was all good, more than good for a first-time festival. 

I love Ukiyo. I might as well say it already. It is a bookstore and then again, it is so much more than just a bookstore. It is a way of life that Martin is teaching all of us. The Ukiyo way. Not everything is about making money, he says to me with the earnest look that is so characteristically Martin. That and the ready 31-year-old megawatt smile. No, not everything is about making money. There is more to life than that. Friendships that give without accounting for who is giving more. An openness that embraces life and all it has to offer. Martin’s energy is infectious; we are all swept along in it. A small example: his mother and aunt stood in for him when they volunteered to do warehouse duty and transport books for our event. This is what the Ukiyo life is about.

The wisdom of the phrase, not everything is about making money, is key not only for Ukiyo but for anyone, really. Doing something that gives happiness to everyone will end up even better than making money out of everyone. It’s a life philosophy to take home and ponder over and own.

There was a post-box standing just inside the store. Adorable. The bright red box is very much in use. Martin has taught college and school kids how to send a postcard to a friend by putting in the correct address, attaching stamps and posting it in the post-box that is conveniently found inside Ukiyo. When they first installed the post-box with the help of the post office, the student crowd that use the shop had no idea how to send a postcard. ‘Should it be put inside an envelope?’ they asked. It was up to Martin and his team to show them how to write a message to a friend, put the address and attach the right stamp before putting it inside the post-box. ‘My generation might be become the only one who remembers how to send a postcard,’ he rues. The post-box is his way of keeping a great tradition alive by passing on the knowledge to younger ones. 

Street cha. One of the many factors that makes Ukiyo memorable. Street cha is a steaming, fragrant cup of tea, made in the mini café section of the store. It does not, repeat, does not come out of a bag. It’s all part of the experience of homecoming – the rich flavour of the tea and the scrumptious homemade cookies that go with it. And monogrammed napkins with Street cha printed on them are provided. I brought mine back with me. A delightful souvenir.

The later it got, the cosier it became. In the evening light, the store looked definitely inviting and from the road outside, people would stroll in, and linger at the bookshelves, perusing titles or just hanging about. That is how you want a bookstore to be – welcoming and accommodating and happy to share of itself. 

It was with some reluctance that we finally closed shop and headed home. I am coming back, I promised myself. And I knew I would. After all, who would not like coming home to such a home?

Try it. After Mao gate, the roads greatly improve the further south it leads. Play some Van Morrison and watch houses whizzing past, people’s faces a blur, as half miles of green alternate with concrete monsters. At the end of the road another world awaits. Classics from the 18th and 19th century are lovingly arranged in a glass display case. Part of the décor is an old typewriter and a vintage dial-up telephone. Like stepping back in time while your feet are still planted in the present. No wonder people amble into the store and are reluctant to leave. 

That is what going home to Ukiyo is all about.