Antique and vintage jewelry link Japan, Sweden


When a blonde woman wearing with great nonchalance a marvelous 200-year-old necklace walks up my drive with a friend, I can hardly believe my eyes. I have heard of but not met Daphne Fukushima for 15 years. Now it turns out that she is renting a tiny house in Koshigoe, near Enoshima, and dividing her time between Japan and her native Sweden.

“I’m trying to establish a business here, selling period jewelry. Now that the children are grown, I’m free to try and make something of my Japanese connection.”

Daphne was 16 when she saw the same pair of Beatles boots twice in one day. “The first time was in the bank. Then later, out dancing with a friend. My parents were in Finland; if I’d obeyed them — stayed home — I’d never have met Yoshio.”

Yoshio Fukushima was a Japanese law student hitchhiking around the world in 1968 and ’69. When the pretty blonde schoolgirl spoke to him in the disco (“I felt sorry for him, he looked so alone”) he found they had hardly a comprehensible word between them. But love knew no boundaries. For two years, while they concluded their studies, they made tapes for one another and posted them every Friday.

In 1971, Yoshio wrote Daphne’s parents a beautiful letter, thanking them for trusting him with their daughter and promising to look after her. (She carries a copy with her even today.) They married that Christmas, by which time he was working in the legal section of a Danish company.

“Our dream, though, was to have our own business. We began by importing buttons from Sweden. Then swapped to clogs.” Two domestic industries were protected at that time, rice and shoes — “a soldier can’t go to war with an empty stomach and no shoes!” So, cleverly, the couple brought in the uppers and the rubber soles separately and glued them together themselves. Soon there was a clog boom. . . . “We had a shop in Harajuku, were selling from Hokkaido to Kyushu.”

Next, log houses. It was Yoshio, Daphne says proudly, who asked the Japanese government to open the market for imported log houses from abroad. But as their family grew — Nana is now 27, Mimie 24 and Dan 22 — the couple became interested in safe toys and accessories for children. “We had a shop in Stockholm, Safety Zone. Everything was going so well.”

Sadly the happiness was short-lived. In 1987, Yoshio got sick. Cancer was diagnosed; treatment seemed successful. But in 1990, he regressed, dying the following year. “He moved us back to Sweden before passing away there in a hospice. I think he wanted to make sure that I wouldn’t have to cope alone.”

The sale of the shop assured Daphne of an immediate income. But the grief was enormous. “It was very hard, on the two younger children especially. There were many days when I just lay in bed, unable to move. I changed a lot, was very sad and depressed. And things got worse, not better.”

It began to feel like she should get points for funerals attended, she explains with brave black humor. “I lost 10 family members, one after the other. Most recently my brother from asthma, my sister (an accident) and earlier this year, my mother.”

As her mother lay dying, it became clear to Daphne that with money running out, a new phase was in the making. She sold the family apartment and went to work as a taxi driver. “I lasted six months . . . all those weird people!”

She had studied law up to the point of internship. “With young children I’d have found it impossible. There’s supposed to be equality in Sweden, but my age and lack of qualifications work against me. People think I’m tough but, believe me, I have to be.”

Wondering what to do, how to support herself, she was passing a pawn shop in a better part of Stockholm when she spotted some high-priced antique jewelry in the window. “I went in and spent my last $6,000 on an 18-carat-gold bracelet. That night I had a dream and Yoshio said: ‘Well done. That was the right thing to do.’ That was when I thought maybe I should try to sell it in Japan. The next day I went back and bought more.”

Because her children are in Paris, Barcelona and London, she had bought a house near an airport that handles cheap flights, and a tiny flat in the capital. Soon after moving, I met a woman who had specialized in antique jewelry for 30 years. In business with her daughter, she invited Daphne to join them at antique fairs to learn the trade. “Meeting so many collectors and sellers, I got a real feel for it.”

She made a trial run to Japan last December and found everyone very supportive. “Nobody thought I was mad. A local antique dealer in Enoshima was was especially helpful; he introduced me to Ginza Antique Mall. I was very much encouraged to go back to Sweden and buy more.”

She now has 31 pieces on sale at Ginza Antique Mall in Tokyo. “I have a shelf on the first floor under the name Scangold.” The most expensive item — diamonds and emeralds — is a 7 million yen necklace and bracelet set, dated 1900. The oldest piece — a beautiful moss-granite bracelet — is dated 1760.

As to the design around her neck, that is her showpiece and she wears it all the time. The style is called Pinchbeck, after Christopher Pinchbeck, who was a clockmaker who patented a metal made of zinc and copper that resembles gold. “To our parents’ generation it says fake, but nowadays pieces are much sought after. I’ll never part with this,” and she fingers the exquisitely detailed tasseled pendant on the end of long entwining chains.

This is the third trip Daphne has made to Japan this year. She will leave again on Dec. 3, and will be back again in spring, if not before. “I’m ready to put everything into this enterprise. It was Yoshio’s gift to me: my chance in Japan.”