Monthly Archives: October 2010

Buoys, Bottles and Bargains…the Rainy Day Special at Kawagoe

There is nothing like the indecision of a rainy shrine sale day. Will the vendors be there? Is it worth going? This past Thursday was no exception. The eagerly awaited Kawagoe market falls on the 28th of each month and I skipped it last month as it was pouring out (and later heard that no one was there). We had planned to go this month, no matter what.  But as we readied ourselves to leave, it began to rain. Nonetheless, after stalling over yummy breakfast, we set out on the 1 hour drive.

Well, they say “good things come in small packages”.  I wish there was a similar adage for “great bargains come from rainy day shrine sales”. There were only about 20% of the vendors present, everything was covered in plastic tarps with only a few brave customers wandering around – mostly foreigners (the only ones foolish enough to be there). We jumped in and had the best day! Let me show you what I found…

First, this huge turquoise bottle originally used to hold alcohol of some kind. The dealer offered me his “rainy day special price” and I couldn’t resist.

I have long adored the interiors designed by Tom Scheerer, the king of the giant glass bottle. If you page through his portfolio or back issues of shelter magazines, there is not a single project that doesn’t include a gorgeous glass bottle in some way.

Often, the bottles have been converted into lamps.

I was so excited about my bottle, that I was unprepared for what I found next.  I had long admired these Japanese fishing floats in magazines, but never seen one for sale in Japan. I got the large aquamarine one to go with my giant bottle. It has its original net and is in great condition. I had thought they were asking a bit too much for it, but luckily the dealer who sold me the giant bottle came over and got involved.  He convinced them to give me a rainy day special price too!

Japanese glass fishing floats have been used by fishermen here for most of the last century. Floats continue to be in use today, but many have broken off from their nets and surf the Pacific Ocean, sometimes for decades. The floats follow the ocean currents and tend to wash up on shore in Alaska, the Pacific Northwest and islands throughout the region, especially after storms. There are devoted beachcombers who go out and hunt for these treasures, sometimes even flying to a remote area. Take a look at Glass Float Junkie’s blog for more history, information and great photos.

Modern day collectors love them for their decorative possibilities. Thom Filicia hangs three as an accent in a lake house.

Jeffrey Bilhuber has used two as pendants in his adorable Rose Cottage on Nantucket Island. They are like jewelry in the room!

Tom Scheerer has even managed to inspire one into a lamp.

The popular market place has picked up on the trend as well. Pottery Barn had a Japanese float lamp, which is no longer available, but can be found on eBay…

and currently has the giant bottles.

Japanese glass floats have inspired artists as well. Dale Chihuly, the world-renowned glass artist has a series called Niijima Floats.  Around 1990 he visited a glass school on the island and it reminded him of “the Japanese fishing floats, which [he] used to collect on the beach when [he] was a kid in Washington State on the Pacific Ocean.”  Chihuly’s floats can be giant – up to 40 inches in diameter – and brightly colored, but I found these sheer blue ones particularly beautiful.


I haven’t had a chance yet to clean mine up and look for markings. More details to follow, including where I plan on using my finds, but as many of you know, I am renovating a bathroom at my NJ beach house (hint, hint). Other bloggers have written about these floats and I recommend posts at Completely Coastal and Things that Inspire.

I am going to leave you with this most beautiful image. Maybelline Te of Frou La La took this photo of the loggia at a friend’s house in the Philippines just resplendent with hanging floats.


Image credits: 1 & 4. me, 2, 3 & 7. Tom Scheerer, 2. photo credit: Pieter Estersohn, 3 & 7. photo credit: Simon Upton, 5. Thom Filicia,  6. Jeffrey Bihuber in Architectural Digest, September 2003, photo credit: Peter Vanderwarker, 8 & 9. Pottery Barn, 10. Dale Chihuly, 11. Maybelline Te

The Magpie Gene…Vintage Kimono and Judyth van Amringe

I like living with my stuff. I feel safe when it’s around.
Judyth van Amringe

Some expats come abroad with nothing but a few suitcases and rent furniture for their apartments or buy everything new again. But we brought everything we owned, lock, stock and barrel, because I am in complete agreement with Judyth van Amringe. I like living with my stuff. And living in Tokyo with my things – gathered slowly and carefully over time –  makes me feel connected to the very fabric of my life when I am so far from home.

Fabric, it seems, is something I cannot resist. Once again, at the shrine sale this weekend, I bought another vintage kimono. I tell myself I don’t need another but their colors, their patterns and the feel of the fabric call out to me. It’s easy to give in as they are relatively inexpensive, costing all of 500-1000 yen ($5-$10). I imagine the projects, the throw pillows, and the dress-up possibilities, both for the imaginary play of my children and for myself. This weekend my friend C actually found a fabulous black lace happi coat (short kimono) at the market and she plans to wear it over a camisole and skinny jeans for a night out.

I really believe there is such a thing as a “magpie gene” and that the desire to collect is inborn in some of us. My younger daughter, who is all of 6 years old, has it for sure. She has dug up a collection of porcelain and pottery fragments from the dirt of all the parks around us in Tokyo and keeps boxes and boxes of them for some future use (Why the fragments are there is another question entirely).  Her eye is good enough that when she finds a piece of the Seto region porcelain I collect, she can pick it out to give to me to add to my collection.  This giant fragment took her a number of tries over a few days to dig up and we are thinking of using it as a doorstop.

Collecting, assembling and re-purposing are inherent to the magpie mentality. Reading Dominique Browning‘s blog Slow Love Life last night I stumbled across scarves made of vintage kimono by artist Judyth van Amringe. Van Amringe seems to be the master magpie – an artist working in many different mediums, switching gears throughout her life. And Dominique Browning herself (formerly editor-in-chief of the now defunct House & Garden) is re-purposing as she explores life in the slow lane. I am looking forward to reading her book Slow Love: How I Lost My Job, Put On My Pajamas & Found Happiness. The title alone is irresistible.

In making the scarves, Judyth combines different fabrics and colors and they are reversible. Sometimes she adds details like beads or embroidery. They sound as interesting as they look in the photos, but I do wish I could see the combination of fabrics more clearly.  This silk ikat positively glows – I’d love to know what she adds to it.

This one has embellishments, with a narrow obi jime (silk cord overbelt) and beads. It may even be a purse as she makes them too.

To my thinking, Judyth van Amringe’s apartment may very well be her “master work”, an accumulated montage of a life’s belongings distilled into a small space. The expression used to describe her place by The New York Times is “artfully crammed” and it is a good one.  Van Amringe brings nothing new in without knowing where it is going and how it will relate to everything already there. Her space feels serene, even though it is jam-packed with objects, most of which she has changed or improved in some way. 

To compensate for a standard boring bathroom in her rental, she layered a huge bookshelf, a hand carved coat stand, an upholstered slipper chair and real rugs. Oh, how I love real rugs in a bathroom, but that will have to wait for a future post.

It looks like a perfect spot for a little birdie to rest…

Photo credits: 1 & 2. me, 3 & 4. from Slow Love Life, 5 & 6. The New York Times, Photo: David Allee

Country Kitchens and Rice Crackers…a visit to Tomioka Hachimangu

Today I went to Tomioka Hachimangu shrine sale for the very first time.  Established in 1627, the shrine has burned and been rebuilt repeatedly over the centuries and is particularly famous for its connection with sumo wrestling. Held on all Sundays of the month except the 3rd Sunday, the market was outstanding today (the 4th Sunday) with well over 80 dealers. Repeat visits will confirm which days are best, as I recognized many dealers who go elsewhere on other weekends.  My guess is that the 4th Sunday may be the best one as there are few other nearby options. I did also meet a number of dealers unique to this market as well.

But today, even amidst all the wonderful Japanese antiques, what caught my eye over and over again were the vintage glass senbei (rice cracker) canisters. Occasionally you see one or two, but today they were everywhere in splendid and unusual variety. These were not the only ones I saw, but I tried to keep the photos to the best ones.

I had never seen a double stacked one before…What efficient use of counter space!

This shape was very rare, being squared off in the back to sit against the wall. The price reflected its scarcity!

Charming art deco styling on this one.

By far the best was this long narrow one. The metal cover is hinged for easy opening and it says “Cake Vessel” on the front. It would be perfect to hold spaghetti or bread sticks.

Modest upon first sight and taste, senbei are an integral part of Japanese food culture. On one hand, they are a basic snack kids love, while on the other hand, they can be sent as elegant gifts and souvenirs. They can be salty when dipped in soy sauce or speckled with nori (seaweed) or sweet when dipped in sugar or honey. There are still many traditional senbei shops scattered around in the nooks and crannies of Japan.  Some have modernized, but others, like Tamaiya in Shimokitazawa, still keep the crackers in glass canisters.

My favorite senbei is from Tanuki Senbei in Azabu Juban. A tanuki translates best as “badger” or “racoon” in English,  but is actually a mythical creature. A giant tanuki stands guard over the entranceway and their delicious crackers are baked in the shape of the animal. Supposedly, the Emperor orders his senbei from them!

Today’s market trip proves what I have been suspecting for a while. There is no doubt or surprise about it, I have country kitchens on my mind…Beadboard, weathered cabinets and butcher’s block, with rows of vintage canisters filled with staples lining the shelves.

A perfectly collated pantry…

Cuteness in a jar!

Tomioka Hachimangu is a few blocks from the Monzen Nakacho stop on the Toei Oedo line and the Tozai line. More details about the shrine sale can be found on the “Shrine Sale” tab at the top of the blog.

Image credits: 1-5. me, 6. via Tokyobling, 7. via Rekishi no Tabi, 8-10. all Country Living Magazine, 8. photo credit: Michael Luppino, 9. photo credit: Steve Gross & Sue Daley, 10. photo credit not listed.

Shop Talk…Akariya Kanarusha

I am often asked for suggestions on buying antiques in Tokyo, so this is the first in a series called “Shop Talk”. One of my favorite antique shops, Kanarusha in Fuchu (near the American School) is the perfect mix of a beautifully arranged store with a dusty but treasure filled backroom and attic, providing the best of both worlds.  There are items for the immediate gratification folks to take home on the spot and lots to dig through for those who love to make their own discoveries. To clear up a bit of confusion on the name, Akariya is the name of the parent company and also of their high-end shop in the Yoyogi area, while this store is actually called Kanarusha. Rarely do I stop by the more polished shop in Yoyogi, preferring instead the more casual warehouse-style store. Drop in and let Ohashi-san and his staff help you chose just the right piece for your home.

Inside is a treasure trove of objects…

Tansu of every style and region…

An unusual golden mizuya (kitchen) tansu…

In the back rooms, there are shelves filled with everything imaginable, including these ikebana (flower arranging) baskets…

These shelves have iron lanterns, inlaid hibachi (small charcoal heaters) and vintage milk glass fixtures…

Speaking of hibachi, they have this gorgeous imperial lacquer one…

They also have a number of beautiful byobu (screens) including this unusual two-panel made of fabric using a wax resist dye technique and adorned with embroidered details. I think William Morris would have loved this piece.

Here’s a close-up of the detail on the spider web and thistles…

Cranes are lucky and represent long life in Japanese art. This 1930s copper vase inlaid with silver cranes is signed by the artist.  Frankly, Art Deco pieces can be rarer than 19th century ones.

Ohashi-san’s pick? This extraordinary choba tansu (merchants chest) from Yonazawa Prefecture made of solid keyaki wood.  The gorgeous burl wood has its original finish in dreamy condition. Inside is a shelf and small compartments.

My pick? It has to go to this amazing Meiji period mizuya tansu from the Biwa Lake region near Kyoto.  It is super long – a full 105 inches – and the staff have only ever seen one other like it in 30 years of antique dealing.  I can just imagine it lining a long wall of a kitchen instead of cabinets. Talk about a room-making piece of furniture.

In addition to the items mentioned above, Akariya specializes in antique doors and ranma transom panels, which can be customzied and used in new construction (building a house anyone?)

A few more great things about Kanarusha…They have their own workshop for repairs and customizations and their restoration is always sympathetic and natural.  They are also happy to work with international customers over email with photos and they will ship around the world.

The big news is that Kanarusha is having its big annual Autumn Sale next weekend from Saturday, October 30 – Wednesday, November 3. Everything is 20-35% off the already reasonable prices.  The shop is open 10a.m. – 7p.m. (an hour later than usual).

The really big news is that Tokyo Jinja readers can start shopping at sale prices now!! Just stop in between now and Wednesday, October 27 (Kanarusha is closed for set up on Thursday and Friday) and mention the blog and you can have first pick before the big sale starts. You may have to wade through as things are not fully set up for the sale, but isn’t that the best kind of antique shopping anyway?

Interested in tansu? You might want to read my post from last month “What’s Cooking? Tansu in the Kitchen”.

Driving directions from Tokyo: Take Shuto #4 (Chuo Expressway) to the Chofu exit and head towards Fuchu after the toll as if going to ASIJ. Pass the turn at Ajinimoto Stadium and keep going straight on Route 20 for 2 km. There will be a rise in the road (bridge over the train tracks) and at the next light called Shiraitodai Police Box intersection (Family Mart is on the right hand corner) take a right. Kanarusha is immediately on your left. Parking is available.

Image credits: All courtesy of Kanarusha and taken either by me or Ohashi-san.

Akariya Kanarusha

Japanesque: The Japanese Print in the Era of Impressionism

As a quick follow-up to my Hanga 101 post, the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco is holding an exhibition of Japanese prints from 1700-1900 and their influence on the Impressionists.  The exhibition runs from October 16, 2010 – January 9, 2011 and looks to be extraordinary, with over 250 prints.

Examples include Hiroshige’s Gion Shrine in the Snow from the series Famous Places in Kyoto ca. 1833–1834 compared to Henri Riviere’s La Tour en construction, vue de Trocadero, from the book Les Trente-Six Vues de la Tour Eiffel, 1902.  Riviere’s calling the book “Thirty Six Views of the Eiffel Tower” is a direct nod to Hokusai’s classic ukiyo-e series, Thirty Six Views of Mt. Fuji.

Running concurrently is another exhibition entitled “Aspects of Mount Fuji in Japanese Illustrated Books” which includes illustrations from Hokusai’s series One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji.

Oh, how I wish I could go! (Robin, George and Betty, I expect a full report! ) And Lonny readers get 20% off if they use coupon code JLONNY. 

I’ll have to settle for the exhibition book

Image credits: 1. via October-November 2010 Lonny Magazine, 2. via Legion of Honor Museum website

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