Japanese porcelain

Shrine Sale Stories…Treasures From My Trip To Tokyo

My long weekend in Tokyo was simply sublime. Days of friends and food and lots of shopping were just the restorative I needed. The weather didn’t cooperate, but it didn’t really matter. Kawagoe was a bit thin on the ground because of the threat of rain and unfortunately the next two days delivered the promised precipitation, although it didn’t keep us from the markets. It did however keep me from taking lots of photos, so most of the finds recorded are from the first day out. I also broke my own rule of “buy it when you see it” a few times, mulling over the weight and difficulty of transport, which meant I lost out on a few things, although as usual, there is a funny story attached to one of them.

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There were some things that didn’t get away – like these swirling blue and white dishes – and others that did – like these kutani lidded teacups – so beautifully painted they looked like brocade.

kutani lidded teacups

This very fine takamakura, complete with original buckwheat filled pillow went home with a friend.

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A search for a tansu was successful, yielding this lacquer beauty for a fraction of its retail price. Tansu at shrine sales are often in poor condition which is why they are a bargain, but this dealer had lovingly restored this piece.

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Brought home and placed in the entry it will be a workhorse, holding gloves and scarves and general entry clutter.

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Speaking of tansu in poor condition, I also popped in to the The National Art Center to view the Joint Graduation Exhibition of Art Universities. Not sure what the meaning of this installation of destroyed tansu by Shunsuke Nouchi is meant to represent, but I couldn’t resist including it. Student exhibits in Japan, as elsewhere, can be really fun, ranging from discoveries of major talent to down right awful. I can’t help but feel bad for these chests!

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Another friend and client scored really big, bringing home all kinds of treasures. The giant wooden gears – very Vincente Wolf - will be hung as a focal point on a bare wall. We got very lucky, finding three with just the right amount of variety in size, shape, color and detail. A vintage onbuhimo, better known as a baby carrier, has lovely indigo cloth woven into its straps. And a large lacquer carrying chest, billed as Edo period by its dealer, but not, is extremely decorative with its etched brass hardware.

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As for my haul, I had to keep reminding myself that I had to carry anything and everything I bought home. So I left behind an entire basket of small fishing floats and even some charming porcelain. I had to have the gray and white bowls – which were likely the more expected blue originally but now faded – because I knew they would look great with the dining table and they are that perfect not too big, not too small size. I picked up a few wooden pieces, a tray and some itomaki, including this unusual long one. A small hibachi with the great geometric asa-no-ha or hemp pattern was also a keeper. But as always, my eye and my wallet are equally lured by non-Japanese discoveries and I fell in love with these bright Turkish glasses and a cut glass jam pot. I’ve been having a bit of a glass fetish lately – wait, aren’t I always having some kind of glass fetish?

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The promised funny story is about the glasses, made for serving arabic tea, but I can imagine them holding dessert or even wine. I saw five of them, 3 pink and 2 purple, on a table at one of my favorite dealers at Kawagoe and passed them only because I decided there weren’t really enough to be useful and their fragility made them hard to transport. My mind kept returning to them over and over (those silver mounts!) as I wandered so I went back only to discover they were gone – massive bummer!

arabic turkish tea glasses

Imagine my surprise when later that evening I walked into the kitchen of the dear friend I was staying with for the week. Long my partner in crime and shrine sales, SHE had bought the glasses and they were now sitting on her kitchen counter. It was one of those moments of fierce purchase jealousy, but the truth was if I couldn’t have them, better she did than some stranger. Or at least that’s what I kept telling myself while contemplating going to the mat for them.

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The surprise continued when we saw the same dealer the next day and once again he had 5 of the glasses out on his table. It was a confusing moment of déjà vu, but we at least had the good sense to ask if he had more and it ended up he had an entire box! So all’s well that ends well and one day we have to have a massive party together and use them all!

Related Posts:
Shrine Sale Stories…Recent Treasures
Shrine Sale Scorcher…Vintage Mirrors on an Extremely Hot Day
Shrine Sale Stories…Vintage Matchboxes, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel and The 1948 London Olympics
Shrine Sale Stories…Yamamoto’s Steamer Trunk
Shrine Sale Stories…My French Moderne Bar Cart

Living Lavender Dreams

What does a girl do with unmade decisions hanging over her head? Sulk? Panic? Nope! Fantasy decorate is the answer!

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Ever since this time last year, I have been obsessed with designer May Daouk’s Beirut home, which was featured in Architectural Digest, stunningly photographed by Simon Watson. The luminescent lavender living room, chock-a-block with blue and white porcelain, comfy seating and that divine 19th century Oushak spoke eloquently to me. And those arched windows – those windows! – maybe I really need to go back and start with them. The fact that her home was in the Middle East didn’t particularly register with me at the time and only came to seem like an important point much later. While I am only showing the living room in this post, the entire space is fantastic so click here to see the slide show over at AD.  And please be sure to click on the photos themselves in this post to see the enlarged versions which truly show the spectacular details.

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I might not have imagined trying to apply the wonder of this space to my life before, even though it is my favorite color and holds so many favorite things. But it got me thinking…Many houses that I looked at in Doha had arched windows and large rectangular living spaces – granted not quite like this – but lovely nonetheless. So what in this photo don’t I already have? Neutral linen covered sofa? Check! A pair of velvet armchairs? Check? A big dark trestle table like the ones along the side of the room? Check! (That one is down in the garage for those of you wondering). Antique global textiles turned into pillows or throws? Check! Gobs and gobs of blue and white porcelain? Check! 19th century carpets? Check! (Although much smaller ones that could be laid over jute or seagrass perhaps). Could I be happy in Doha if I lived in a room like this? Somehow I think the answer to that is Yes!

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I’ve even got a pair of antique slipper chairs with a bullion fringe and their original coral pink velvet fabric – definitely in the same spirit as these. And you all know I’ve got a gorgeous blue & white garden stool – just got to get it there. Should I be sure to put an IKEA Rand black and white striped dhurrie in my shipment? No, because IKEA opened in Doha just a month or so ago. Check!

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Before you start scratching your head and thinking I am off my rocker, let me show you a few more inspiration examples, like this Alberto Pinto Moroccan fantasy from the late Domino magazine. Remember those pink chairs I just mentioned? And how divine is all that inlaid furniture? (More on that below). But the pièce de résistance has to be that armless settee upholstered a la suzani!

moroccan lavender Domino

Instead of blue & white, painted  and glazed earthenware is featured.  That would be a chance to start a whole new collection!

Moroccan lavender detail Domino

Perhaps a new collection isn’t the answer – after all I do love my porcelain. Maybe going a bit more formal – soft with a bit of whimsy actually – with the lavender and blue in the space would be lovely, just like at Aerin’s place?

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Tufted Chesterfield? Check! Queen Anne tea table? Check! (That one is in the garage too!)

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Katie Ridder gets the formal but whimsical combo down just right too.

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Another choice would be to use the fresh slate to steer off in a more modern direction. This is not my usual style but speaks to me nonetheless. The mix is outstanding! Orangey-toned tribal carpet? Check! Moroccan side table? Check!

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It seems as if the flea market gods are having their say as well. Speaking of Moroccan side tables, I found this one at the market last week and had to buy it. Trying to decide if it should go to the beach or if I should take it with me.

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Kinda seems like carrying coals to Newcastle, no?

And breaking news…In the time it took me to write this post I got a fresh email in my inbox with my elder daughter’s acceptance into school in Doha. Looks like the pendulum may be swinging that way. Hello lavender!

Related Posts:
Major Life Changes Ahead…Shall We Let the Architecture Decide?
Colors of the Rainbow…Blue and White Porcelain is Neutral
Lavender Love…John Saladino and Me

Image credits: 1, 3-4. Architectural Digest May 2012, photo credit: Simon Watson, 2. via Simon Watson, 5-6. Domino magazine, further credit unknown, 7. Aerin Lauder in Elle Decor July 2009, photo credit: Simon Upton, 8. Aerin Lauder in Vogue, via Habitually Chic, 9. Katie Ridder via Galbraith & Paul, 10. via Coco & Kelley, 11. me.

Takamakura…A Geisha’s Hard Night Sleep

“…a young apprentice geisha must learn a new way of sleeping after her hair is styled for the first time. She doesn’t use an ordinary pillow any longer, but a taka-makura-which I’ve mentioned before. It’s not so much a pillow as a cradle for the base of the neck. Most are padded with a bag of wheat chaff, but still they’re not much better than putting your neck on a stone.”
Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha

It doesn’t sound to me like a very comfortable way to pass the night, but sleeping on a takamakura (tall pillow) was instrumental in preserving the elaborate coiffures worn by geisha.

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These days, they make wonderful decorative collectibles, like this one tucked against the books in the side table of a room previously featured in my Provenance column on kasuri over at Cloth & Kind.

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The base is made of lacquered wood that is gently curved, to allow for some rocking movement while in use. A silk or cotton-covered pillow, filled with buckwheat hulls or chaff, crowns it and provides some limited comfort. Dark or orangey-red lacquer is most common and sometimes the pillows are made from interesting textiles, like in this case, covered with asa-no-ha (hemp leaf) pattern. And if you are thinking Kelly Wearstler’s Katana, now you know where she got her inspiration!

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A similar takamakura rests on the top shelf of a very large collection in a Westchester, NY bedroom. As you can see, most of the geisha pillows are either red or black and the finer ones have detailing in the lacquer. This collection also boasts a few wooden examples as well as some blue & white porcelain ones.

LJ geisha pillows

While many of the lacquer and cloth takamakura date from the 19th century, most of the porcelain ones commonly found are early to mid 20th century. The porcelain ones seem even less comfortable to me, although some are designed with special comfort features, like these two. The top one has small porcelain squares strung together almost like a hammock that allow for movement. The one with the kanji marking on top can accommodate hot water and/or medicines in its hollow cavity and the gaps in the top of the pillow let the steam or aroma rise. I’ve actually seen takamakura with pharmacy labels or stamps.

blue white porcelain geisha pillow

Regardless of their functionality, they are supremely decorative and look great mixed with books in shelves or on their own…

blue white porcelain pillow display

…or combined with other porcelain pieces like these jubako here in a Tokyo entryway…

cate geisha pillows

…or here in a cubbyhole in a girl’s bedroom in San Francisco.

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She should be happy they rest on a shelf and that she does not rest on one of them!

N.B. You’ll notice repeats in these photos, but it is not a styling trick. All of these takamakura belong to different people, it’s just that many models were produced on a large-scale. Hand painted ones tend to be older and more individual than the inban, or transferware, versions.

Vintage geisha photo, most probably by T. Enami via Geisha Moments Facebook page.  Thanks to everyone else who provided photos for this post.

Color Study…Kyoto in Instagrams

I just got back from two quick but wonderful days in Kyoto, traveling with two dear like-minded friends.  We were worried it would be bare in winter, but in the absence of cherry blossoms or fall foliage, Kyoto was a study in green.

Green moss in gardens…

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…and temples everywhere.

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We were utterly and completely captivated by our subway car which felt straight out of the 1940s.  Mint green walls and deeper green velvet upholstery…

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…and even the silvery fretwork on the vents below.  How long would this fabric last in New York City?

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Day two changed hues as we spent most of it exploring the Fushimi Inari shrine and its thousands upon thousand of orange torii gates, each donated by Japanese businesses.

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Walking through the roughly two miles of gates was an extraordinary experience and the jolt of color against the winter landscape was intense.

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Later in the day green and orange joined together in some fretwork at Kiyomizu-dera, perched majestically at the edge of the mountains.

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Good luck offerings were everywhere, from the traditional kitsune (fox) messengers a the Inari shrine…

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…to garlands of rainbow origami cranes.

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Our hotel was most conveniently located in Gion, right along Shinmonzen Street, the main antiques drag of Kyoto.  Imagine that?! As we shopped, our color palette turned to blue from all the porcelain we were seeing, particularly at a shop I believe is called Akando, run by a darling older couple…

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…the proprietor having his likeness on their adorable business card.

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My friend almost bought these amazing Nabeshima dishes, but when we did the math they were well over $400.

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The other shop we spent serious time in I recall from my last trip. R. Kita Old Imari & Kutani has been in its location for over 70 years. They had me at the sign alone.

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In the window was this amazing 19th century Seto porcelain ice bucket, clearly made for the export market. It was the only Seto piece to be had amidst all the Old Imari & Kutani and I really wanted it. Unfortunately, it was a cool 1000 bucks.

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In general all the porcelain and other antiques were extremely expensive. Prices were way higher than in Tokyo and way way way higher than at the shrine sales. That is exactly what I remembered from previous visits.

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So once again, I looked – in this case instagrammed – and didn’t really buy.

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We did better in the soft goods department and my friend Maja of Alegria Design bought some lovely pieces of indigo kasuri to make bolster pillows. I’ve got kasuri on the brain these days, and you’ll see why quite soon as the ASIJ Gala quilt is almost complete!

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I managed to pick up a very unusually colored plum piece of kasuri.  I am nothing if not predictable! And at a year and a half out, it is starting to seem as if I will never be getting my lampshades from the custom vendor I ordered them from, so perhaps I might use this in another attempt elsewhere or a DIY!

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Gold was also one of the colors of the trip, as you can see from this lucky sun shot in the late afternoon at Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavillion.  A piece of Kyoto advice – always go there late in the day so that the sun is setting in front of the building if you want the lighting to be just right.

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One hidden gem we hit was the house and garden Murin-an near Nanzen-ji. Built just before the turn of the century it had that wonderful Anglo-Japan mix that I adore. The wall murals painted in the sitting room were just divine and the garden was a perfect oasis of peace and quiet in the bustling city.

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The Hotel Mume where we stayed was charming, in particular the sudare canopied bed area.

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The vending machines were particularly creative in Kyoto – Cup of Noodles anyone?

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That reminded me of the really interesting exhibit currently running in the Frederick Harris Gallery at the Tokyo American Club. A riff on Hokusai’s Thirty-Six View of Mt. Fuji, Peter MacMillan’s witty prints are well worth a viewing. If you are in Tokyo, it runs until February 24. If you are not, more of them can be found in my Instagram stream.

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And finally to wind down, a bit of black and white. It is quite common for ordinary folk to go to Kyoto and rent kimono for the day along with hair and make-up services.  These girls were not geisha (or maiko and geiko as they are called in Kyoto) but instead just having fun. You’d think they would look better in color, but it took away from their expressions.

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And the most modern white of all? That streamlined shinkansen, pulling in to take us home.

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Object Obsession…Jubako Boxes

Seto jubako

An absolute favorite of mine, porcelain jubako, stacked tiered food boxes, are harder to come across than more standard porcelain shapes such as plates and bowls. That being true, it hasn’t kept me from accumulating quite a few and helping others do the same. I always refer to them as jubako, but it may be that the porcelain ones should be called danju, while the lacquer ones are officially jubako. Shrine sale dealers call them jubako, so for now I will use the terms interchangeably. Personally I’ve never put food in mine. Instead I like to use them for trinkets on night stands, spices in the kitchen and anywhere you need to stash some small valuables.

In my entryway they hold extra keys to the house and car, buttons and hooks that have fallen off jackets and other odds and ends. Mine are unusual in that they are square, much less common than round ones, and the larger one has lovely scrolled feet. The bright cobalt and densely pigmented karakusa (scrolling arabesque pattern) are typical of Seto porcelain, and although purchased at very different times, seem to have been painted by the same artist.  I have enough Seto ware these days that I can see the hand of distinct artists on certain pieces. As for the cloth dolls on the right, they have their own extraordinary tale to tell and will be featured in an upcoming post for Hinamatsuri or Girls Day.

Seto jubako

Over the years I have helped to put together numerous collections.  It seems once bitten by the jubako bug that one is never enough. They look wonderful grouped together or mixed in with other porcelain. It’s always important to vary shapes and heights as well as the density of pigment and painted motif. This collection of five hand painted Imari jubako has a lovely balance of stylized and naturalistic motifs.

Imari jubako

This collection is used in the bathroom to hold cotton balls, Q-tips, make-up, make-up brushes and jewelry. Again note the variety of height, shape and painting style. The three outer cases are inban, Japanese transferware, while the two center ones are painted in a naturalistic style.

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This trio represents three very different styles and eras and you can see those differences reflected clearly in the various shades of blue pigment.

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Here jubako are mixed with two geisha pillows, the porcelain neck rests used for preserving elaborate coiffures when lying down. I think there will have to be a post on those in the near future too.

jubako and geisha pillow

Blue and white jubako aren’t the only porcelain types out there.  I have a weakness for the prettily painted Kutani ones. This style of Kutani ware isn’t the densely pigmented and almost brocaded paint commonly associated with the best pieces from that region. (It occurs to me that I have never properly written about Kutani porcelain, so that will be added to my check list for spring.) Instead, they have a soft painterly naturalistic style.  The little sake cup warmer in the center makes a great votive candle holder.

kutani jubako

For all the thousands of ginger jars we see each month in the design press, I have almost never seen jubako featured, other than this one in John Anderson’s New York home.

jubako John Anderson

But recently I spied a lacquer one in this Vincente Wolf designed apartment on the January cover of AD – you can just see it on the table in the center of the room. While I am drawn to the porcelain jubako, the most common material they are made of is lacquer and examples of antique and new ones can be found everywhere.

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They are used for traditional osechi ryori (New Year’s food) which is served room temperature in the layered lacquered boxes. For more details on the food in this photo check out Savory Japan.

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The contents and the containers are things of beauty both!

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