Night Shadows…Vintage Brass Karakusa Globe Lanterns


The items I get inquiries about all the time are my vintage Japanese filigree globe fixtures. The pierced brass scrolling arabesque pattern, known as karakusa, which appears everywhere in Japanese decorative arts, from porcelain to textiles and more, creates the most playful shadows on the ceilings and walls at night.

The largest of these globes that I have seen is this 18 inch diameter one now hanging in my Doha living room with its lovely high ceilings. It lived in a box in Tokyo as none of the rooms had ceilings high enough to accommodate it. That story can be found here.

doha living room

I’ve never been able to source the original maker and the fixtures themselves are unmarked but I would confidently date them to the post war period around 1950. Other dealers seem to make the same assumption, although I occasionally see them listed as 19th century or art deco, but that is incorrect. These modern fixtures take their cues from the ceremonial lanterns found at Japanese shrines and temples in terms of their pierced design work, but the round globes are a simplified modern form, quite different from those more ornate lantern shapes – often hexagonal or even octagonal. That said, I have sold a few hexagonal versions that take their cues more literally from the old shapes. No examples to show here as those lights are awaiting installation in clients’ homes, but I will share when they are ready. I don’t know if the globes were used as temple lamps or made for personal home use (I highly suspect the latter), but perhaps one of my readers will.

japanese temple lanterns

Over the last few years I have noticed them popping up all of a sudden on the internet, from Emily Henderson‘s LA shopping haul, where she found one identical to mine…

brass karakusa chandelier from emily henderson LA shopping

…and subsequently hung in the entry of her old house. I haven’t seen it anywhere in her new house so I am wondering what may have happened to it. You’ll notice that this globe is the same giant size as mine and she has had to semi-flush mount it, instead of hanging it from a chain, as the ceiling height is too low. It looks a bit awkward like that, don’t you think? Both of our fixtures have their original hanging cap and O-ring, but sometimes over the years those get lost.

emily henderson house brass karakusa fixture

Like me, Emily chose not to polish it much and kept the patina, unlike this highly shined one sold on Etsy. The seller used the horrible come-to-mean-anything-and-nothing terms ‘Hollywood Regency’ and ‘Moroccan Modern’ when this fixture is absolutely neither. You’ll notice this one still has its rice paper lining, unlike mine or Emily’s.

karakusa globe via a storied style

The fixture above seems to be a mid-size version (it’s listed as having a 14 inch diameter), but definitely made by the same maker. I’ve shown you my small size pair (9 inch diameter) that I found at a shrine sale before and now one hangs in our stairwell in Doha. You’ll notice how having the rice paper lining creates a completely different effect at night, casting no magical shadows but highlighting the detail of the pattern.

brass karakusa globe lantern pair resized

I can’t resist showing these two Katie Ridder rooms again either, as each uses a pierced brass globe to great effect in the bedroom. The one on the left has a floral pattern added to the scrolling vines.

Katie Ridder japanese pendant lamp in guest room ED0306 and girls room

There is a plethora of shapes and sizes available right now on 1st dibs, including this one from Downtown at Profiles identical to mine for a whopping $4200. They also have a midsize one available, and both have been fitted with triple bulbs as opposed to the usual single. Both are missing their original hanging caps and loops.

japanese brass globe lantern 1stdibs

Another 1stdibs dealer called Duo has a series of trios available (from $4200-$5800), including this 11.5 inch diameter group and this 9 inch diameter group. You’ll note they both have their original hanging caps and rings, although the latter are different in style. I find larger fixtures came with the more half-loop shaped style on the left and smaller fixtures have the upside down vee-shaped loop as on the right.

karakusa brass lamp trios

Duo also has this wild and unusual mismatched group, which includes a barrel-shaped fixture adorned with an imperial chrysanthemum and an egg-shaped one with ume (plum blossoms) in addition to the standard karakusa globe. I am fascinated that in the couple of days since I started writing this post and noticed these trios for sale, all three sets are on hold, so clearly a buyer is choosing between them or perhaps a designer is planning on using all of them for a commercial project.

trio of karakusa fixtures

Also worth looking at is this wacky three ball fixture with cracked ice and ume pattern here on Etsy, although it is sold. And if you are looking to buy a karakusa globe and your budget isn’t up for these prices, there is a lovely one available from Kodo Arts in Kyoto on Trocadero with its cap, hanging loop and rice paper intact for $1400. Or just drop me a comment or a note and I’ll add you to my waiting list 🙂

Related Posts:
Expat Decorating…Getting Lucky and Making Do
Katie Ridder, Eat Your Heart Out (Over My Latest Shrine Sale Find)

Shop Talk…Navigating the Stacks at Yamamoto Syoten

Some antique stores always have primo stock while others are of the hit-or-miss variety. Yamamoto Syoten, a neighborhood antiques shop in Yoyogi-Uehara is the latter. A few visits will yield nothing of interest, and then “kapow!” and you want to buy the whole place. I had been hearing about it from local friends for years, but not actually visited until these past weeks, when I went with friends who are leaving Japan this year and want to stock up on memories. The key to visiting such a shop is a discriminating eye to help you sort through the mixture of vintage, truly antique, not actually old and just plain junk. Japan is not the only country that abounds with shops like these – they can be found all over the world -and they make for some of the most fun shopping around.

One thing found in abundance at Yamamoto Syoten is tansu (Japanese chests). Stacked 3 high in some places in the shop and arranged in tight rows, it is difficult to get a good look at them. I was happy there were no aftershocks while we were in there because I worried they would topple over on us. In addition to large mizuya tansu (kitchen cupboards) and iron strap isho tansu (clothing chests), they also have a large selection of smaller decorative burlwood tansu from the 1930-1940s era. Prices are reasonable and condition is good, although perhaps not excellent. In addition they had lots of vintage lighting, wonderful bevel-edged framed mirrors, piles of porcelain hibachi and many other bits and bobs. The tight quarters made photos difficult, but you can get the flavor of the place from these.

Perhaps the best way to show you what can be found is to highlight my friend’s purchases. She came through and plucked the best pieces and that is the way it always works with stores like this. It will take a while for them to recharge, at least on items like the ones below, but remember, every customer has their own eye, so you may see your own jewels there.

Neither of the light fixtures show to advantage sitting around back in her house. The wooden one on the table cast a soft glow when lit, with patterns coming through the fretwork. The larger iron and glass chandelier will be perfect hanging in her breakfast nook back in Atlanta. And the ceramic geisha pillow (used to preserve elaborate coiffures) is a great conversation piece.

My friend also purchased a big mizuya tansu with some nice details, a rustic ladder on which she is planning to display her vintage quilt collection from India and two huge blue-green glass bottles like mine that she will have turned into lamps when she gets home. And of course there is the requisite glass fishing float too. Sometimes I wonder if I have accomplished anything with this blog other than to turn all of the Tokyo expat community fishing float crazy!

She bought two huge senbei (rice cracker) canisters as well which I forgot to photograph, but they looked much like the big rounded ones in this photo. And don’t forget, I got my fabulous and funky green lamp shade there too!

Finally Found…The Perfect Vintage Japanese Milk Glass Lamp

Finally, something accomplished and not just thought about! I have long admired the vintage milk glass lamps popular in Japan from the early part of the 20th century through the post-WW II era, with their peak of production and design from the 1920s-1940s.  While quite similar to their counterparts in America and Europe, the Japanese fixtures have extra details that you don’t find elsewhere, meant to approximate earlier lamps with metal mounts. The added charm of the Asian motifs make these glass lamps particularly collectible and as they are rarely seen outside of Japan, a unique addition to one’s decor.

I have a small open bottom fixture hanging in my guest room here in Tokyo as a reading lamp, since there is not really room for a proper night table. I would also like to find one for the ceiling in my newly renovated bathroom at our beach house in New Jersey, albeit much larger.

These open bottom hanging glass shades are the most common, adorned with metal, plastic or bamboo detailing…


or sometimes frosted insets, raised molded glass patterns or a combination of any and all of the above.

Less common, but still frequently seen are the closed variety, particularly this globular shape, often embellished with a hanging tassel.

Here’s another charming example.

A specialized dealer at the Antique Jamboree had an incredible collection of globe fixtures. There is a special summer Jamboree this year from July 22-24. See the “Shrine Sale” tab at the top of the blog for more details.

Even more spectacular and unusual were these porcelain sockets and fittings. I had occasionally seen the white ones, but never before the blue and white. They seem like the kind of perfect antique detail designer Michael Smith would add to an interior project.

In addition to fixtures that hang from cords, there are also some that have a stiff metal bar. A pair of these would look perfect hanging over a kitchen island.

I debated about buying this unusual long shaped fixture. It had a nautical feel that might have been right for the beach house bathroom, but seemed too long and narrow for the space.

I loved this pair of sconces but couldn’t think of a place to put them

I never did make it back to the fantastic shop The Teardrop Club…

…or Rakuda in Nishi-Ogikubo.

In the end, I decided the detailing on the fixtures was at odds with the simplicity of the bathroom. I also had the realization that the low ceiling might not accommodate a hanging fixture. Luckily, the glass globes can also have fixed ceiling mounts.  I thought about giving up and just buying a new fixture, but in my heart I wanted the vintage charm of an older fixture (even with the hassles of re-wiring) versus a sparkling brand new one from the excellent reproduction companies like Schoolhouse Electric Co. or even the mainstream home catalogs. The answer, I decided, was a simpler more “schoolhouse” shape with a ceiling mount.

So the winner came from Kanarusha Antiques. They had long been holding another glass shade for me, waiting on finding the proper vintage fittings. So often the glass globes are available, but not the lamp socket attachments, and I didn’t want to count on anything in the US actually being the proper size. I was never sure the other shade was perfect – it seemed too small and insignificant -so last Friday I stopped by and they had this beauty!  I dug through a crate of vintage socket fittings they had just received, found this well patinated metal ceiling fitting and married it to the shade. Perfect!

A dear friend sent me this photo of a tenugui she had purchased just before leaving Japan last year. Tenugui are thin cotton towels, usually a standard size, printed with absolutely anything and used for just about everything. They probably deserve a post of their own!  I had never seen this one and got a great laugh from it. She has framed it and some others for a unique art display. Make sure to note the discontinued Lee Jofa fabric covering the chairs that we tracked down from an old 2003 issue of House Beautiful.

The lamp photos were taken over the course of the year at numerous shrine sales and different antique shows, illustrating their high level of availabilty. Keep your eyes open!

Antique Teardrop

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

Tokyo Jinja

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