When you see an antique, what catches your attention? Some people imagine the history or story behind it, perhaps there’s a bit of romance or mystery involved. Some people look at the object and see dollar signs, and some see a piece of art. Dedicated collectors often see all three.
Antiques can get people dreaming big for many different reasons. TV shows such as TV Tokyo’s “Kaiun! Nandemo Kanteidan” (“Good Fortune! The Team that Can Appraise Anything”) or “Antiques Roadshow,” which is broadcast in various countries such as Britain and the United States have made old collectables relatively familiar to the general public throughout the world — and surely, many have gone digging at home or to the nearby flea market to look for “hidden treasure.”
The largest antiques event of its kind, the Yokohama Kotto World fair (kotto meaning antique), which opens Friday and will be held throughout the weekend at Pacifico Yokohama in the city’s Minatomirai district. Held twice a year, the fair attracts everyone from beginners to collectors to Internet dealers.
According to organizer Tadayoshi Takehi, the event will feature about 200 shops from all over Japan to the indoor venue, bringing everything from dolls, kimono and chinaware to scroll screens and furniture.
“There is an old saying that when you buy antiques, you are not buying a ‘thing’ but that you are buying into the seller’s personable and trustworthy character. What that means is, the important thing is for you to find a specific seller you want to build a trusting relationship with,” Takehi says. “And at Kotto World, there will be something for everyone — you just have to find yourself the right seller.”
The fair will also provide free appraisals for those who want to see what their family treasures are worth, as well as a memorial service for dolls. The dolls will be collected at the fair and then carried to a shrine for their burial. A contribution fee for the shrine is necessary.
“Dolls are hard to get rid of, and most of the time, people have some sort of deep and personal story behind them, like the death of a child. So, we offer a service on behalf of such people and give them a sense of comfort,” Takehi says.
Takehi, 62, has been in the antique industry for more than 40 years, following his parents who were also in the business. Although he has everything from furniture and chinaware, to Western antiques and clothing, his specialty is Japanese dolls.
At his shop in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward, the room is filled with various figures from the Edo to Showa periods.
Japanese dolls are made of wood and painted with chalk, making them very fragile, unlike Western dolls, which are made of porcelain and therefore strong. All of Takehi’s dolls are safely stored in glass cases to protect them. No water, no light and no dryness, he explained.
“Japan is known as a doll kingdom and there are just so many different types of dolls here,” Takehi says. “They are so delicate and transient that it is moving to think about how these dolls have been taken care of so well for hundreds of years.”
Takehi clearly cares about each piece. But surprisingly, he insists that he is not personally attached to them and does not even really like dolls.
“In the industry, it is said that you shouldn’t fall in love with what you sell — because if you fall in love with your antiques, you won’t want to sell them,” he explains. “Some collectors who became sellers have a hard time letting their products go because their love is what got them started in the first place.”
TV variety shows featuring antique appraisals began about 20 years ago in Japan, and there was an antique boom for a while. On the program, there are usually several “appraisers” who closely examine the family treasures to estimate their value and then the numbers pop up on the big screen as participants exclaim in excitement or groan in disappointment.
Takehi himself has been on a show like this before and sometimes is asked to be an appraiser at local government-sponsored events. He explains that there is no official certificate for what he does, but the main difference between scholars and the so-called appraisers is the knowledge of market value of the antique pieces.
“And to be honest, the ‘appraisal’ prices will differ some depending on your objective — whether you are just evaluating its worth for someone who is not interested in selling, or looking to actually buy the piece,” Takehi says.
Although television has helped lower the threshold of the world of antiques, Takehi said that recently, the boom was dwindling down and was hoping to get people interested in antiques again. While some people who get hooked because of the TV shows may be eyeballing the monetary value of the items with hopes to strike it big, Takehi says it doesn’t matter because whatever the reason why a person gets interested in antiques in the first place, he or she will eventually find out how fascinating it is.
“The wonderful thing about antiques is that you can spend your life studying them because you never know what sort of item will surface. Antiques change with time, and things that are seen as invaluable today might someday become a treasure,” Takehi says.
Nowhere near Yokohama? Don’t worry, there are plenty of antique fairs happening across Japan.
Yamato Promenade Folk Art Antique Market (Nov. 15): This one-day event is a huge antique fair with more than 300 stores taking part. One of the main features is a kimono fashion show. www.yamato-kottouichi.jp
Oedo Antique Market (Nov. 16): The Tokyo International Forum holds a monthly antique market in the capital’s Marunouchi district. The event is popular for selling fancy antiques from around the world and has become one of the largest in Japan. www.t-i-forum.co.jp/event/antique
Shitenno Temple Daishikai / Taishikai (Nov. 21 and 22, Dec. 21 and 22): Built in 593 by Empress Suiko, Shitenno Temple holds monthly antique fairs with around 300 stores taking part. Most of the goods on offer are made in Japan, which is great if you’re looking for Showa Era goodies. www.shitennoji.or.jp
Kitano-Tenmangu Antique Market (Nov. 25 and Dec. 25): This Kyoto shrine holds markets on the 25th of each month, to mark the death of Sugawara no Michizane. In addition to the 300 antique stores, pickled vegetables, rice cakes and sugared red-beans are also sold. www.kitanotenmangu.or.jp
Kotto Antique Fair (Dec. 2 and 3): This festival, which features 230 stores, will take place at Saitama Super Arena. Vendors will be selling everything from folk arts to American vintage goods. The fair also runs on weekdays as opposed to the usual weekend events happening across the country. www7a.biglobe.ne.jp/antiquefair
Nagoya Antique Market (Dec. 5-7): For 20 years, this market has been the biggest of its kind in the Tokai area. With 220 stores taking part, antiques from Europe, traditional tea-sets and valuable lacquer wares are just a few of the treasures you can expect to find. www.nagoyakottousai.com
Yokohama Kotto World takes place at Pacifico Yokohama from Nov. 7 to 9. For more information, visit home.att.ne.jp/sigma/y-world/kottouworld/Home.html.