I am always asked what the best thing is to buy at a shrine sale. Indigo textiles – shibori, boro, katazome? Porcelain – Imari, Kutani, Seto? Bamboo and wood – baskets, ikanbari vases, kashigata? The assumption is always that something quintessentially Japanese is the real deal, the real steal. But the truth can be quite different. Textiles are often very expensive and for porcelain you need to really understand what you are looking at. The bamboo and wood items are easy to come by and can almost become commodities. Personally, I think art is the best bargain at the market.

1000 yen is about 10 dollars, but as the yen doesn’t go as far, it feels like only a couple of bucks. I often go through the art stacks with an eye for anything charming – Japanese provenance is not necessary – and an ear for prices. Lately I’ve been lucky, finding works on paper and canvas for about 1000 yen. Many even come in just the right frames, or ones that can be painted or spruced up. Come take a quick tour with me through my latest discoveries…

A charming French watercolor in an aged gold frame just needed to be opened and cleaned and freshened up with a colored mat.


A typical modern Japanese woodblock print had a water damaged back and mat, and even a little water damage on the print, but nothing that showed when rematted.


It’s the dotted trees with just a suggestion of cherry blossoms that sold me on this one.


An acrylic on canvas with more charm than mastery but nice color.


Sweet daisies in the oval, always a nice shape variation for an art wall. My youngest daughter claimed this one immediately.


And this weekend’s find is my favorite. This oil painting of pansies was in a big ugly frame, but I took it out and love the casual look of just the canvas on the stretcher. (And psst, truthfully, it was a bit more than 1000 yen).


You’ve seen other shrine sale art finds of mine here and here (although the butterflies weren’t 1000 yen, yet certainly a bargain), but I am not the only one to find them.  Here are some great 1000 yen finds made by readers and friends…

A 1958 Oil of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, probably painted by a local returning from vacation – the signature is a Japanese name. I often come across European scenes, particularly London or Paris, painted in all kinds of styles.


I’ve gone out of my way to show fairly non-traditional items, but you can occasionally luck into some typical Japanese art such as ukiyo-e, scrolls and katagami for bargain prices. This huge shodo (Japanese calligraphy) painting was a steal at 1000 yen. It had quite a bit of water damage which was basically erased with a damp cloth and some dish soap at home. The dramatic kanji is hito or person.


To be honest, sometimes I can clean them up myself, but other times I invest a few more yen and have my local framer (he makes house calls!) do it.

I’d love to see and hear about your art bargains!