Our recent trip to Japan found us in the most Southern part of Japan’s main island, spending our first days in Kumamoto city. Japan always has us returning because every region seems to have their unique cultural specialties, so even though there is a familiarity to some cities in Japan, it really does feel like a completely new experience when you go to a new region
Kumamoto Castle just so happened to be outside the doorsteps of our hotel. It has a special place in popular culture because of the epic Samurai movie Ran, directed by Akira Kurosawa in which soldiers attack the castle. It was the most expensive film ever to be made in Japan in that period.
The stone walls are very beautiful, and incredibly difficult to scale I’m sure.
The exterior is really beautiful, but it isn’t an old castle. Actually it was rebuilt in 1960, and the interior is now a museum.
The laying of Japan: parking lot, stone tower for spirits, bamboo, and office building.
Kumamon bear, the character for Kumamoto City.
We also visited the former home of author Lafcadio Koizumi who is famous for translating traditional Japanese folklore and ghost stories for a Western audience.
His home and garden were very beautiful.
American icon-ism in Japan.
We would be spending most of our visit with our friend Ai Hosokawa, who took us to an incredible coffee shop called Antiques-Coffee.
The owner is a famous Ikebana artist (pictured), curator of antiques, bee keeper and makes some incredible coffee which is served in lacquer-ware cups by famous wood artisan Ryuji Mitani.
Most of the antiques come from Japan, Korea and China. There are also beautiful floral arrangements to be found throughout the cafe.
These two Mei-Ping vases really caught my eye. The one on the left is ceramic and the other to our surprise is made from copper coated with lacquer-ware. We ended up taking that one home with us.
The antique glass vase also caught my eye, but I could only chose one piece for myself so early on in the trip.
For those of you that follow us on Instagram, you probably know we just got back from a short but sweet trip to Japan.
This was our first trip outside of the country in almost 2 years, so as you might expect we had our share of business meetings and visits with suppliers as well as artisans to interview for the book and also to secure some future exhibitions. Having said that, there were some really beautiful moments visiting our friends, meeting new ones, sharing meals and the reinvigorating inspiration that comes from traveling.
On our last day in Tokyo just before our flight left in the late afternoon we went with our friends Ian and Kimberly to one of their favorite Sunday antique markets. This was where all of the restraint we showed not buying things during the first portion of our trip had worn off and we had some yen left over in our pockets ready to be spent before we got on our flight.
It’s kind of embarrassing to say, but in all of our visits to Japan we never made a point to visit an open air antique market. We have been to a lot of antique shops, but we never really did enough research to find out where and when the markets were on. Luckily our friends formerly from Toronto, now living in Tokyo, had been to many of the markets around the city and took us to this one.
Needless to say, we walked away with some very nice work.
Although not specifically from this antique market, we found the Mei Ping vase above at Antique-Coffee located in Kumamoto.
I originally thought the vase was ceramic, but after picking it up I was shocked to find it weighed almost nothing. The vase is made from copper, and then finished with black urushi. It is from Korea and around 200 years old, the urushi has been slowly peeling away and underneath the exposed copper has turned a blue-green colour. The vase was originally used to fill with sake to be offered to the gods.
From here on these are all the antique market finds. This one I especially love because I knew absolutely nothing about it, even after I bought it I came back to ask some more information. It’s an old Korean copper or brass bowl, around 1000 years old. It seems we are naturally attracted to Korean work, some of the best metal and pottery we saw on our trip was from Korea. Now these pieces are even more significant since the government has banned Korean antiques from leaving Korea. If you go to a shop or market there and legitimately buy something, they will apparently confiscate it from you at the airport.
Copper has been a reoccurring material obsession for us.
From the same dealer where we bought the Korean bowl we also saw this small shrine, which is actually one used for traveling.
It is from the 1600s, and coated with a rich black Japanese lacquer.
What is really spectacular is when the doors are opened, beautiful gold leaf lined doors and back panel with three intricately carved figures are revealed. There has been some speculation about who these figures are, so if anyone knows anything about them please write us.
Another object we had no idea about, is this pair of wooden sticks on a rope. I just really liked the form, weight and shape especially where the rope was tied. Bringing them back home we found out these are knockers used during the Kabuki theater to get people to sit down and get ready for the show.
This is maybe more of a touristy thing, but I wanted to find a nice gong to hang on our wall. The problem was finding a really nice old copper one, not a new one made of brass or one made from iron. It also had to be simple. There were a couple of gongs at the market but this one was the nicest, and the sound is really nice.
These wooden molds to make Tea Ceremony sweets are beautiful and sculptural.
What made this mold special to us is its shape. There were a lot of other molds we saw, but none of them had a handle.
We loved how the carvings just peak out through the openings.
Red snapper is a special fish used to symbolize celebrations, crane and turtle are for long life and wisdom.
Another beautiful object that caught Juli’s eye was this antique watering can in copper. Its smaller scale makes it ideal for watering bonsai and other small plants.
The form is incredible.
Finally, always one to attempt to find a piece of artwork during our travels Juli found this lovely print of a dancer. In a way it has a Japanese quality, but is in fact, to our surprise made by a French print maker in the 1960s. It’s being framed now, so we’ll share another photo once it’s up on our wall.