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.


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.


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.


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

lacquer tansu

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!


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.


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?


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.

Turkish glasses

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

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.


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


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.


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.


The contents and the containers are things of beauty both!

What’s Cooking? Red Lacquer Jewel Box Kitchens

Since today is both Chinese New Year and Japanese Setsubun (Bean-Throwing Festival), I feel like a dose of red is in order. Coupled with requests for more Asian inspired kitchens, I have two sleek modern kitchens to show – both hinging on the color red – and both quite different from the rustic mizuya tansu (kitchen chests) I have shown in the past.

Designed by the architect Winthrop Faulkner for playwright Barbara McConagha, this first kitchen has many literal Japanese references and details. Inspired by Japanese jewelry cases, the red cabinets were custom-built and lacquered and traditional pull handles, like those found on tansu chests, were ordered from Japan. Upper storage is hidden behind shoji screens which can be lit from behind. Maple cabinetry and small shadow boxes are highlighted by painting their interiors black and filling them with ceramics. A witty touch is the classic farmhouse table – in this case painted black and sealed to look like lacquer.

Storage for extra books was squeezed in below the ceiling and a library ladder, designed to taper like a pair of chopsticks, was built for access.

This second kitchen in a historic 1915 Chicago building was renovated  by architect Lawrence Booth. It’s keystone is the bright red Aga stove, set for cooking worship in its own altar-like niche. The shiny finish looks almost like lacquer and its stalwart British shape could almost be a tansu base.

Again we see the contrast between the light maple cabinetry and the dark black honed granite with touches of stainless steel. There are also great details, like the flip down drawers hiding all the electrical outlets and disposal switches and the pot filling faucet at the stove.

The adjacent sitting area has cabinetry filled with Asian display items, including Chinese and Burmese lacquer pieces and a kimono box, an unusual glossy red ceramic garden stool and a richly colored Persian rug. And speaking of molded plywood the other day, how great is that Frank Gehry Ribbon chair? The contrast of textures, finishes and periods makes this space sing.

Definitely two kitchens that would keep any evil spirits at bay…

Image credits: 1 & 2. House & Garden, February 1998, 3-6. House & Garden, date unknown.

Shop Talk…Discovering Antique Treasures in Nishi-Ogikubo

While not quite on par with Dixie Highway, relaxed Nishi-Ogikubo in Tokyo’s western suburbs has a grouping of 60+ antique and vintage shops gathered near the train station. Situated along the Chuo line, Nishi-Ogikubo (nicknamed Nishiogi) was a counterculture hotbed in the 1960s, then receded from notice, only to become popular in recent years as the “slow life” movement has gained steam in Japan. It seems like just the kind of place one would find a collection of quirky and individualistic antique shops.

Conveniently, a free map of the stores is available right in front of the koban (police box) on the left side of the station right outside the North Exit. The map seems fairly current but things can change overnight, so think of it only as a basic guide. Most stores do not open before 12p.m., they all seem to have variable hit-or-miss opening days, and there is not much spoken English to be had, but it is a lovely way to while away an afternoon. Hopefully this post will help steer you in the direction of the best shops!

Organized into four zones, NE, NW, SE and SW on the map, I’ll say right off the bat that the South side of the station has much less to offer than the North side, and can be skipped entirely when pressed for time. The NW zone is by far the best for traditional antiques, so I will start the tour headed in that direction, counter-clockwise around the rough rectangle the walking tour makes.  The shops are numbered numerically on the listing pages, but do not always appear in numeric order on the map.

Actually the first few shops don’t even seem to be listed on the map. After peeking in grape, a small but charming vintage kimono shop with two other locations in the area, our first stop is not Japanese at all. Filled to the brim with lanterns, poufs, silvered mirrors and embroidered slippers, Morocco Marché is one-stop shopping for adding a bit of middle-eastern flair to your decor.

Weaving up and down the small side streets along the main road, we pass a few small shops, including Baby Doll (#60), which is not open, but full of antique and vintage toys and dolls. Moving back towards the main road we come to Les Yeux Noirs (#42), the unquestionable star of the tour, deserving its own individual post (coming tomorrow). Owner Haruko Hasegawa has one of the best eyes I have seen for choosing unusual and rare pieces of porcelain. We were very excited and spent a long time (and quite a bit of money) in her shop. If you are interested in porcelain, this is one of the main attractions and it is well worth the train ride for this store alone.

As we continue along the main road we pass mood (#45), full of groovy 60’s looking used goods. We try to stop into Quilt & Old Textiles (#44) way hidden in a back lane, but they are closed – perhaps to go to the Tokyo International Great Quilt Festival. At the turn in the main road, we come to Kido Airku (#59), a great mixed shop full of smaller tansu, porcelain, textiles and odd and ends. Unusual things there include vintage spool threads, great for using as plant stands or display props. A collection of old iron tea kettles looks great on these.

Some modern shibori dyed textiles.

One of the most interesting finds for me personally were wood blocks, used to print patterns on textiles. I have been scouring eBay for Indian wood blocks for a DIY project I am planning this summer, but hadn’t considered using Japanese ones.  Frankly, I hadn’t realized that in addition to all the stencils, tie-dying and resist techniques used here, that wood blocks are too.  Definitely something to look into more.

Numbers 48,49 and 54 were all the same named shop, Antiques Jikoh, with mainly used modern furniture. The branch at the #49 location was full of heavy oak Victorian and Arts & Crafts era furniture.

My friend H spotted a gorgeous blue and white porcelain “umbrella stand” that she loved there. I was so sorry to have to let her know it was actually a late 19th century urinal. Needless to say, she could not look past its original use.

The next two shops were eureka! moments for me. I have been searching for the perfect vintage milk glass ceiling fixture for the bathroom in the beach house, passing up many individual pieces at shrine sales. Imagine my delight at stumbling across the Teardrop Club (#53). I’ll be dragging my patient husband back there soon. If you too are interested, please note they are open 12-6 and not on Wednesday. More photos here and here.

Rakuda (#51) which means camel, also had numerous vintage light fixtures in addition to ranma (transom) panels, old doors, stained glass and cut glass…

Turning the corner right after Rakuda completes the NW zone. The tour continues east, crossing a small river. Other than the charming Le Midi (#37) full of imports from the South of France, not much else was open. Any visit to Nishi-Ogikubo comes with that risk.

Continuing to the next major intersection the tour turns right to head south back to the station. Most of the shops along this NE section seem to specialize in vintage clothing and used goods. Perhaps because we were getting hungry, they didn’t hold our attention. In the grand tradition of antiquing outside of Tokyo, we ate Indian food for lunch at Ganesha Ghar, right near #31 and the bridge over the river on the map. As would be expected, it was packed! And following shortly thereafter was Amy’s Bakeshop, which billed itself as “NY Style Sweets & Things”. Of course we had to stop!

If you arrive hungry, it might be easiest to head the opposite direction (clockwise from the station) and eat first as shops don’t open until lunch time or afterwards.

We skimmed the shops listed on the map on the South side, but many were closed, perhaps permanently. None stood out this visit but perhaps they merit a second chance.

Nishi-Ogikubo is very easy to get to and quite close to central Tokyo. It is only 16 minutes from Shinjuku and 18 minutes from Yoyogi on the Sobu Chuo line. Taking the Toei Oedo line from Azabu Juban and changing at Yoyogi took a total of 32 minutes. I’d love to hear from anyone who goes, especially if you discover a gem I haven’t mentioned. Happy hunting!

Shop Talk…Okura Oriental Art


For me, there are two perfect kinds of antique stores.  The first is a carefully curated small shop, while the second is a large unorganized warehouse that you have to search through.  Mizue Sasa’s Okura Oriental Art is the former and it is a jewel – my favorite in central Tokyo.  She and her husband Yasuhiro Shimizu are celebrating their 10th anniversary of owning Okura this year.

In addition to wonderful tansu and porcelain, Sasa-san has a great mix of hard to find items such as altar candlesticks…

antique maps of Tokyo and Japan, both framed and unframed…

ikebana baskets…

and lanterns.

She is also the only dealer I have found who carries traditional copper rain chains, which are the “gutters” of Japan. These are not antique, but they patinate quickly and easily. An amazing sayonara or housewarming gift!

Sasa-san’s pick? This Meiji period tai (sea bream) jizaikagi yokogi (decoration on hanging hearth pole) is a great piece of folk art. Used over a traditional irori (open sunken hearth) it held the kettle above the flame.

My current pick? This hard to find small size step tansu. Often they are very large and very deep and can be impractical if you don’t have the perfect space.

Sasa-san has a fully detailed on-line catalogue and a loyal customer base that visits often from around the world. She handles on-line sales easily, speaks English and ships just about anywhere. She also has a decorating site with staged rooms – you can purchase a whole look if you like or just browse for ideas. Sasa-san will also help her customers arrange their items and improve their decorating in their home. She is not afraid to tell clients to get rid of stuff (which is unusual here). She will also track down specific items for you – just give her dimensions or good descriptions.

I love the juxtaposition of the poured concrete wall with the tansu and the giant porcelain plate that she shows in the photo below. Sasa-san is interested in mixing antiques with modern furniture, a trend that is just getting off the ground here in Japan.

Here she stages vintage blue and white in the bathroom.

The shop is full of great gifts for the holidays!

Image credits: All shop photos taken by me, courtesy of Okura. Decorating photos by Mizue Sasa.

Okura Oriental Art

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