shrine sale

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

Tokyo Jinja…in Doha

doha corniche

So I have been here three weeks now and settling in fairly nicely. The house is getting unpacked, albeit more slowly than I might like. There is not an inch of hanging room left anywhere and three wardrobe boxes yet to unpack. Amazing that my much smaller Tokyo house had much better storage, isn’t it? The girls have found their way at school and both are happy – even the teenager has admitted (in front of me no less) that she is liking it here. My sweet husband is just so glad that we are all together again and brought me such joy today by surprising me with reversing the refrigerator and freezer doors so that they open the correct way. Such a small thing can make me happy, especially in these early days. And everyone said it couldn’t be done so trust him to make it happen!

The part that is taking longer is figuring out exactly how to start reinventing the Tokyo Jinja side of me – my blog, my business, my personal identity, so that I can grow but keep you all traveling with me. I’m not going to let go of the Japan side of things and if you pop over to the Shrine Sale/Antique Show Schedule, you’ll see that I have updated it. I’m timing this post so that all my devoted readers in Tokyo can wake up on Sunday morning to a fresh fall schedule. But as a shout-out to those readers – I can’t do it alone! I look forward to hearing from you about life at the sales, whether it be stories about favorite dealers, photos of finds or news on the ever-changing schedule front. You are now my eyes and ears and I am happy to spread the word. I’ve also updated the About Me page, which was long overdue.

On the shrine sale front I have to mention a few things, including what seems to be the closing of the beloved Oedo Antiques Market (more here, here and here) at the International Forum in Yurakacho at the end of 2013. Right now I don’t know if that is temporary or not and I will get back to you with the news as soon as possible. The smaller market in Yoyogi will still be taking place once a month on an irregular schedule and it is unclear to me whether all the dealers may flock there. Details in the new schedule, but let me know if you hear anything please!


Before I left Tokyo I had a few chances to visit one of the newest sales in central Tokyo, but never got around to writing about it. Mid-way along Kotto-dori a small and very decorative market has opened.

kotto dori market

It is mostly European and American vintage goods and collectibles, but sometimes you need a fix of those. You all know how I feel about vintage luggage…


…not as hot for the antler craze, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t.


So in many ways nothing has changed. I’ll continue to be out there at the forefront of the search for the antique, the handicraft, the artistic and the artisanal. Tokyo Jinja is a state of mind no matter where my body may reside and I hope you’ll stay with me along my journey.

Art…The Best Bargain at the Market

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!

Count Your Blessings…Abacus in the Home

I continue to find much inspiration in the small details from this photo, previously featured here and here. On the side table next to the lamp (and oh how gorgeous and divine is that lamp!) there is a small wooden soroban, better known in English as an abacus. A counting tool still common in Asia, even in the age of electronics, abaci (or abacuses, depending on who you talk to) are still sold and their use is taught in Japanese elementary school.


Abaci are not unique to Japan and actually were imported from China around 1600 and this one is actually Chinese (so it is really a suanpan). Originally, the upper part of the Japanese abacus had two “heavenly” beads and the lower part five “earth” beads just like this. Around 1850 it was improved and changed to 1 and 5 beads, and then again in 1891 changed to 1 and 4, which continues to be the common modern abacus used in Japan. Personally, I find these dates to be a little rigid and I don’t think they date pieces exactly, but rather roughly.


Hand colored late 19th-early 20th century photos confirm its use in transactions at all kinds of businesses. I couldn’t resist this kimono shop photo – just look at those amazing rolls of fabric!


Like I said, abaci were used in many countries, and while we are on old photos, here’s one of a young Russian abacus seller. You can see quite clearly the difference in their style – there is no separation of heavenly and earthly beads – and as a result the method of calculation.

russian abacus seller

So do I know how to use one? Of course not! But I think they make charming additions to vignettes in the home.

abacus vignette amanda wright via design sponge abacus vignette via belle brocante abacus vignette via pinterest

I see one peeking out from behind the lamp in this project by Lauren Liess.

lauren liess abacus

Even Pottery Barn and CB2 have jumped on the abacus bandwagon, although neither of these are still available.

abacus via FYNCT pottery barncb2 abacus

I run across abaci at the shrine sales quite frequently. I tend to look out for the older or more unusual ones as a general rule.

abacus at nogi shrine sale

I found a particularly giant one designed for classroom teaching or shop use at Kawagoe last spring. It was featured in the article by Lisa Jardine now on the CNN Travel website. The beads are bright yellow to make it easy to see at a distance.


In 9 years I have only seen a few of these huge ones, and never outside of Japan, except in this photo of Sibella Court’s Sydney shop The Society. Somehow I’m not surprised she managed to get her hands on one along with many other Japanese goodies.

giant abacus via an indian summer

So I just happened to stumble across two recently – how is that for luck?. You can get a sense of how big these really are by comparing them to the regular sized abacus propped up along the yellow one. It’s interesting that the beads on these teaching abaci stick where you move them to facilitate lessons.

abacus soroban

Tons of potential! I could see the yellow one in a kids room or den, but it is the wooden one which calls my name!

abacus soroban detail

What would you do with one?

My heart goes out to everyone in Boston today. I am counting my blessings and sending out love to all those affected.

Related Posts:
Tokyo Jinja on CNNgo Today
Takamakura…A Geisha’s Hard Night Sleep

Image credits: 1, 10, 13-14. taken by me, 2. via The Slide Rule Museum (gotta love that name!), 3. William Carrick via National Galleries of Scotland, 4. via Design Sponge, 5. via Belle Brocante, 6. via Pinterest, 7. via Pure Style Home, 8. via Pottery Barn, 9. via CB2, 11. Lisa Jardine for CNNgo, 12.The Society via An Indian Summer.

Instagram…Another Bandwagon I’m Getting On

Today was a crisp and very cold day at the Oedo market at the International Forum, but as usual there was lots to see and plenty to buy. I have been wanting to find a way to start sharing what I am seeing at the markets every week, but when there isn’t a theme or cohesive feeling about the merchandise I find it fairly boring to post about. I have been thinking that real-time photos of what I am buying, both for myself and for sale, might be more fun and more interesting for both me and for my readers. So as of today, my plans are to start instagramming (is that a verb yet?) while I am out and about at shrine sales and antique shows. So if you would like to keep up with me, you can follow me on Instagram on your mobile device here.

One of the fun parts of Instagram if you haven’t tried it is playing with the filters and the framing to add special effects to your photos. Typical me, I like all the filters that give an aged feel…


…and I am a sucker for those old-fashioned photo borders…


…or burned edges.


I already made a faux pas in editing this photo down so that it didn’t fit the Instagram format.  Won’t make that mistake again.


The photos have the perfect format for a blog post – a nice big square. There is also a very effective exposure button, used to fun effect here.


This art deco mirror glows like a jewel using one of the filters.


Kasuri kimonos seem lit from within.


As usual Oedo was full of European goods, these lace patterns being some of my favorites.


No lack of British goods either. This collection rivals any I’ve seen in English antique shops.


Couldn’t resist these door knockers – just for Steve at An Urban Cottage.


And you know you want it…If you see items you want to buy, just let me know via email.


I made a couple of wonderful scores for myself, including this handmade folksy heart chair. It has a beautiful grey-blue wash paint and is soooo much prettier than it looks in this photo – the only find of the day that the Instagram filters failed to enhance.


I know just where this sweet little baby is going to go…

beach house living room

I have also been finding the most irresistible and inexpensive art lately which deserves a post of its own. But this little oval print (nothing better than a few art pieces with circles or ovals to break up a lot of rectangles) is headed to my youngest daughter’s room at the beach…


…along with this chiyogami you may remember from here. She begged me to hold it back for her from the sale so I did.

chiyogami 5

Won’t they look so sweet in here?

miss p beach bedroom

I am going to try to add the Instagram button to my sidebar, probably right below the Pinterest one. But I am including the link here again, in case I am not successful.

Related Posts:
Like La Brocante…French Day at Oedo Antiques Fair
Paper for a Thousand Years…Vintage Chiyogami

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