Japanese antiques and collectibles are probably the most sought after in Asia today, with its fascinating and attention-to-detail handicrafts, artworks, fashion, culture and architecture. Collectors in the Western world seem to love everything related to Japan, be it their kimonos, Japanese swords, samurai warrior-related gifts, or, you’re right, sushi and sashimi! As a tourist and vintage collector and lover, here are some of the most popular antiques and collectibles that you can pick up while you are in Japan.
1. Japanese Samurai Swords
The popularity of Japanese Samurai swords such as the long katana, long and curvy tachi, the wakizashi, mostly stemmed from sword-making techniques and honorable tales about the Japanese samurais.
The most popular sword is the katana, because this is the sword that is often portrayed in movies, books and dramas. How then do you tell from which period a particular sword comes from? According to NBTHK Japan and Unique Japan, you can tell the age of a sword by examining its curvature (see diagram).
According to Collectors Weekly, the elements of sagemono, a system designed to compensate the kimono’s lack of pockets, are highly collectible items by Westerners. This includes everything from the inro boxes attached to obi sashes by cords to the netsuke, the intricately carved fasteners. Find out how to select vintage kimonos from this mini guide.
3. Japanese Scroll Paintings
Japanese scroll paintings that show tigers, their most famous mountain Mount Fuji, cherry blossoms, maples, birds, calligraphy, poems and Buddhas are very popular with collectors. Most commonly referred to as a kakemono, or a kakejiku, these scrolls are usually mounted with silk fabric edges on a flexible backing.
According to Collectors Weekly, Japanese scroll paintings from big names like Uemura Shoen and Yokoyama Taikan and painters of the Kano school command very high prices nowadays, but if you just want an antique and vintage scroll by unknown artists, you can get one for a few hundred dollars in Japan. Just look out for wear and tear, and stains.
Sometimes, collectors also purchase Japanese woodblock prints to complement their collection of scroll paintings.
4. Japanese Imari Porcelain
Japanese Imari porcelain is also another item that is highly sought after by collectors. The word ‘Imari’ refers to the trans-shipment port for Arita wares, which used to be made in the town of Arita, in northwestern Kyushu, Japan. Since then, Imari items have been made constantly there, till today.
Inspired from flamboyant Japanese textiles, Japanese Imari porcelain often features exotic landscapes, flowers, cranes, Japanese courtesans and animals.
5. Japanese Cloisonné
Victoria and Albert Museum defines cloisonné as a way of enamelling an object, in which fine wires are used to delineate the decorative areas (cloisons in French, hence cloisonné), into which enamel paste is then applied, after which it is fired and polished.
In Japan, cloisonné are found on items such as jewellery, sword fittings, some elements of architecture and pens. The better examples were produced in 1868 to 1912, as more Japanese artisans participated in international shows and events, and demand drastically increased worldwide.
There are many more Japanese collectibles and antique items that you can bring back to your home country, including Kokeshi dolls, Japanese tea sets, tansu chests, kendama toys, sensu fans, tenugui, or cotton hand towel and vintage chopsticks. You can check with your tour guide on where are the best places to shop for these items. Meanwhile, have lots of fun!
About the Author
Bei is a writer, content marketer and also the founder of Vxotic.com, a leading antiques and collectibles infozine in Asia, with a focus on vintage furniture, home decoration and art pieces. Check out her website for free information and e-guides that teaches beginners about antiques, and how to mix them with modern furnishings, or follow @vxotic on Instagram.
Cover image by M Cheung on Flickr.