Antiques for All

by Jun Igarashi
Antiques for AllFor serious collectors and sword tourists alike

The same rules apply to buying antiques in Japan as anywhere in the world, but there are some idiosyncrasies. Michael Dunn, a private seller to museums and collectors who has been in the industry here for nearly 40 years, said: “Auctioneers in Japan traditionally don’t offer money-back guarantees—so do your homework beforehand.”

Because higher prices are fetched in Hong Kong and elsewhere, foreign auction houses often source items from Japan and have first refusal.

Dealers say owners of major pieces here would rather wait, or bequeath the item, rather than sell cheaply as they are often wealthy.

Dunn, who lives in Izu, said auctioneers are more foreigner-friendly these days and some even use English, but others remain members only.

Some experts say Japanese will often pay more for a smaller piece that fits in their traditional home, meaning the larger items usually preferred by foreigners can be cheaper.

“Some shrewd or determined buyers prefer to hunt in shops during winter and summer when the weather puts off many people and dealers may be more welcoming and negotiable,” said Dunn, adding that village antique stores no longer proliferate so don’t waste time outside of Tokyo, Kyoto and Nara, or even Kamakura, Kanazawa and Osaka.

In Tokyo, Dunn advises serious collectors and top-end clients only to head for Nihonbashi’s renowned Setsu Gatodo store that sells ceramics, paintings and Shinto and Buddhist religious sculpture to museums worldwide. You will need an introduction to visit and the owner, who also speaks English, may invite you to his shop’s annual autumn exhibition if you have a genuine interest in Japanese art.

FujitoriFor Japanese, Chinese and Korean highquality pieces, try Mayuyama Ryusendo for art and Kochukyo Gallery for ceramics, while Uragami Sokyu-do specializes in Chinese ceramics, sculpture and archaeological items. These are very exclusive stores and not for browsers, so you will need to telephone for an appointment if you don’t have an introduction.

More down to earth is Japan Sword, which sells top-quality crafted blades and sword furniture, plus interesting samurai gear such as helmets, banners, armor and masks. Sokendo operates in Harajuku and at the Imperial Hotel Tokyo, where Atsushi Tomidokoro is the manager. “Swords are not so popular for Japanese, but are a well-known symbol of Japan around the world. We have many customers from the US and Europe, some of whom visit the country just to find swords.”

The Harajuku store will hold an exhibition of goods for sale from April 29 to May 5.

Near Shiba Park is Takahashi Heisando’s huge selection of antique art, including traditional hanging scrolls and folding screens. But it’s the Azabu area that has attracted a number of Japanese antique and fine art shops recently, such as Hasebeya, owned by a famous mingei (traditional crafts) expert who offers chests, ceramics, lacquer ware, screen paintings and sculptures.

Nearby London Gallery features ancient Buddhist and Shinto sculptures and other Japanese traditional art. Kotto-dori (antiques street), off Aoyama-dori, has more than 25 dealers such as Ko-Mingei Morita that sells antique folk arts. Kai Gallery stocks rare ceramic bottles and sake cups while Ikeda Fine Arts showcases archaeological objects, ceramics, scrolls and lacquer ware.

In the middle of Omotesando-dori, Fujitorii supplies the prime minister with gifts for foreign VIPs and has more than 60 years of experience with quality handcrafted and painted Japanese arts and crafts.

Setsu Gatodo
3-7-9 Nihonbashi, Chuo-ku
Nihonbashi station, Ginza, Tozai,
Asakusa lines

Mayuyama Ryusendo
2-5-9 Kyobashi, Chuo-ku
Kyobashi station, Ginza line and
Takaracho station, Asakusa line

Kochukyo Gallery
Hakuya-cho Bldg. 2F, 3-6-9 Nihonbashi,
Nihonbashi station, Ginza, Tozai,
Asakusa lines, and Tokyo station, JR line

Uragami Sokyu-do
Hakuya-cho Bldg. 3F, 3-6-9 Nihonbashi,
Nihonbashi, Ginza, Tozai, Asakusa lines,
and Tokyo station, JR line

Japan Sword
3-8-1 Toranomon, Minato-ku
Toranomon station, Ginza line

Imperial Hotel Main Bldg., B1F,
1-1-1,Uchisaiwaicho, Chiyoda-ku
Hibiya station, Chiyoda and Hibiya lines

1-7-7 Azabu-juban, Minato-ku
Azabu-juban, Oedo line

London Gallery
Umeda bldg., 3-20-14, Nishi-Azabu,
Roppongi station, Hibiya and Oedo lines

Ko-Mingei Morita
5-12-2, Minami Aoyama, Minato-ku
Omotesando station, Ginza, Chiyoda
and Hanzomon lines

Kai Gallery
6-12-2 Minami Aoyama, Minato-ku
Omotesando station, Ginza, Chiyoda
and Hanzomon lines

Ikeda Fine Arts
Jintsu Bldg 1F, 6-11-3 Minami Aoyama,
Omotesando station, Ginza, Chiyoda
and Hanzomon lines

6-1-10 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku
Omotesando station, Ginza, Chiyoda
and Hanzomon lines