Go east across the Kamo River at the Shijo Ohashi bridge in Kyoto’s Higashiyama Ward, then turn north and walk down Nawate-dori for several blocks. A modest sign saying “Tessaido” marks a shop in the antique row on Furumonzen-dori. The establishment, which occupies a space of just 65 square meters, deals in Ko-Imari (Old Imari) porcelain ware, as well as kimono accessories like obidome (decorative obi fasteners) and kanzashi (hair ornaments). If you’re relatively new to antiquing, though, we especially recommend taking a look at mamezara like the ones showcased on this page.

Devotee of the small: A mamezara ('bean-sized plate') is displayed in an alcove.
Devotee of the small: A mamezara (‘bean-sized plate’) is displayed in an alcove.

Although there are no strict definitions, the term “mamezara” generally refers to flat dishes (-zara is from sara, which means “plate”) that are no larger than 10 centimeters in diameter (as a prefix, mame- means “bean-sized”; “mini-”). Without limitation as to their shape or design motif, these miniature plates reflect the personal sensibilities of their creators, as well as the tenor of the age in which they were made. They impart at times a bold flair, and at others a subtle elegance, to the tables and spaces they grace.

“They may be small, but they were made in exactly the same manner as larger pieces, and with every bit as much care. In fact, it must have been even more difficult to delineate the same kinds of figures and patterns in such a tiny space,” says Hiroko Kidoh of Tessaido.

To the cognoscenti, Kidoh is known as the ultimate “devotee of the small” — a sophisticate with an unbounded enthusiasm for diminutive antiques, as well as a deep interest in the long-ago artisans who created them. We asked her to show us some of her collection.

“What captivates me most are the sensibilities and skill of the craftsmen. I also love the delightful spirit of play that often show through. For example, these plates normally come 20 to a set, but I once ran across a set with a gourd motif where the 20th plate had an elephant and elephant driver instead. It was such a clever twist — drawing an animal as enormous as an elephant on this tiny little plate no bigger than one’s palm.”

Selections from Hiroko Kidoh’s mamezara plate collection at Tessaido.
Selections from Hiroko Kidoh’s mamezara plate collection at Tessaido.

Because they weren’t designed for any specific purpose, mamezara have always embodied an element of play. Today they’ve even been freed from their traditional role in food service, and are increasingly treated as works of art.

“Displaying one of my favorite mamezara in this alcove gives it a whole new atmosphere,” Kidoh comments. “The lush, leafy image of the daikon offers a sense of relaxation, and my customers can see what a delightful way this is to admire and enjoy mamezara.”

For more insight into Japan’s culture, arts and lifestyle, visit int.kateigaho.com.

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