1 For Mum & 1 For Me

From Danchi-Do, I brought back a book for mum and an old magazine for me.

A book I bought for mum…

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This book about French antiques & vintages, was written by Asabuki Tomiko (朝吹登美子) who was the first author to translate the works of French novelist, Françoise Sagan, famous for her book, “Bonjour Tristesse” (1954)…

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My mum loves travelling, especially to overseas.
However, her lower back had started to trouble her 7 years ago and at one stage the pain got so unbearable, she nearly gave up all hopes of boarding airplanes ever again.
But being always a little fighter, instead of popping pain-killer and taking up a more sedentary lifestyle, she started to walk in a shallow swimming pool in order to get fitter and strengthen the muscles to support her lower back. Under the watchful eye of her physician, she stuck to her exercise regimen day in day out for 6 years and eventually, her back was well enough for a long-haul flight. She proved herself by holidaying in NYC last October and was over the moon about her achievement.
By being given a book of European vintage and antique market, she would be even more motivated to be fitter and healthier, I thought…

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I’ve invited her to London this June, by the way. I can hardly wait to zoom around the city with her!

The magazine I bought for myself was Kurashi no Techo (暮しの手帖)…

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This magazine was first published in 1953 and had been well-known and trusted by consumers for having no advertiser to fund their publication.
It contained a number of interesting essays and articles for women, especially targeting housewives – like Good Housekeeping magazine with no ads.

The copy I brought home was the spring issue, 1971…

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The article was about how to use frozen vegetables…

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During the 70’s, the speed of westernisation in the Japanese lifestyle was accelerated and as the result, the way people cooked their everyday food had changed too. Eating in the western-style became fashionable and desirable…

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I showed the copy to Hubbie too when I was back in London. Some of the layouts and graphics were refreshingly modern. We were impressed…

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I really moan on about the disappearance of used bookshops in London. Where have they all gone? I miss them so much…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Danchi-Do @ Gondo

Oh dear, what a miserable weather we have been under in recent London. How much I miss a cold but sunny wintry sky of Nagano!!! It’s so depressing to find every morning that an endless blanket of texture-less grey sky spreading above us…
While antique shops in Nagano was a disappointingly minor affair, I was very happy to discover their used book trading was alive and kicking. Like the aforementioned vintage bookshop, Yureki-Shobo, unique used bookshops were spouting all over the city.

A used bookshop, Danchi-Do, was located in the middle of the Gondo arcade…

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This place used to be a fruit seller…

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The shop was filled with used magazines and books but also with some unexpected objects…

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A shallow conical object hung on the upper left was a braided straw hat and a stick with inscription propped against the wall was a cane. They were traditionally carried by a pilgrim travelling from a temple to temple.
And a pile of the boxes on the right were cigar boxes! It was ¥300 each.

Some books were bundled-up and on top of them, there were old suitcases. And above them, I found two masks and a cluster of dolls in the box…

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Those masks were of Ebisu (恵比寿) – the Japanese god of fishermen, luck, and workingmen, as well as the guardian of the health of small children. Their smiling face is infectious, don’t you agree? A small blue chair was a typical swivel chair found in any Japanese children’s room.
The shop floor resembled someone’s attic stuffed with all sorts of bygone items.

A tray of toys…

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Toy cars, ¥300 each…

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Comparing with Yureki-Shobo, books were displayed in rather a haphazard manner. However, it increased a sense of treasure hunting…

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From the ceiling, charts and theatre posters were hung…

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The shop also dealt with framed artworks too…

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In spite of being a cold afternoon, locals were showing keen interest in what Danchi-Do offered…

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People were flicking through pages of old magazines, studying covers of books and stroking spines of the books with their finger tips. A good supply of nostalgic books would be a perfect antidote for Nagano’s long & cold winter. I bought a book for my mum and a magazine for me and headed home, carefully treading over icy pavement…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Antiques In Nagano

When it comes to vintage-hunting, I must admit London is much better than Nagano. Weekly vintage markets in & around London are teeming with people and a craze for anything vintage & antique is palpable. Apart from the actual markets, more than a few TV programmes related to bygone times and artefacts are on-aired on a daily basis whereby it indicates how much the Brits are into all things vintage & antique.
In Japan, however, that level of enthusiasm towards Japanese antique is non-existent. As the reflection of the fact, there are only a few vintage shops around the Zenkō-ji compound.

I came across this shop a few blocks away from the temple entrance…

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The shop front was inconspicuous and looked rather private. The items on display consisted of ceramic plates, dishes, cups, pitchers as well as old dolls and roof tiles (瓦).
By the entrance, there was a bargain basket…

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They were priced as ¥1,000, approximately £6.00.
The basket was stuffed with wooden bowls, a champagne cooler(?), a metal horse and some tools.

Then, I found this shop which seemed to be specialised in vintage ceramics a few minutes walk away…

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The plate on the upper right looks like a delft blue plate, don’t you think? And I loved a Persian blue glassware in front of it….

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It would not be strictly true to say that the Japanese are not interested in antiques. A few years ago, I visited the Sunbury Antiques Market at Kempton Park and encountered a few coach-loads of Japanese housewives shopping for European vintage kitchen ware and chests. They do like vintage as long as their origins are western. I suppose it is related to the fact that the majority of contemporary Japanese houses are built and decorated in a western style, and non-eastern vintages fit better to it. Also a lack of variety in Japanese vintage in general keeps its audience number very small.

Next door to the antique shop, I found lots of cats…

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If some of them ever manage to survive the passing of time, they may be cherished as “Kawaii” vintages? I sincerely hope so.

By the way, there is a really fun weekly TV programme featuring antiques in Japan. The show is called “Nandemo Kanteidan” (何でも鑑定団) – The Troop of Appraisers.
Participants bring their treasures to a live show and experts appraise them on spot. It sounds like the BBC’s popular “Antique Roadshow”, doesn’t it? Non, non, NON. On the stage with the venue full of gleeful audiences, each participant presents his /her (most of them are men) treasure, recounts the item’s history (how it comes to their possession) and estimates a monetary value of the item.
Then, the experts who sit on the tiered seating on the stage examine the item and give it their evaluation. The treasures the participants bring are worthless more often than not. And it is a kind of guilty pleasure to see how they fall flat on their face.
I am sure there are a plenty of fake and rubbish brought to be appraised in the BBC show too. Why don’t they show the moment when the expert says “Ohhhh, I am so sorry to tell you”? Wouldn’t it be more entertaining, don’t you agree?

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Buddha Of Fire

The last afternoon of 2013 was spent at the temple, walking off my mum’s hearty lunch.
A celebratory sign was up on the San-mon (山門)…

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Gasho (賀正) means “New Year Celebration”, by the way.
After walking through the San-mon, on my left was Chouzu-ya (手水舎)…

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A water-filled basin, called chōzubachi, are used by worshipers for washing their left hands, right hands, mouth and finally the handle of the water ladle to purify themselves before approaching the main hall.
Next to the water ablution pavilion, there was a statue of Buddha called Enmei-jizo (延命地蔵)…

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This statue was erected by voluntary donations gathered from all over Japan in the early 18th century.
The jizo is also known as Yaoya Oahichi no Nure-botoke (八百屋お七のぬれ仏). It is alleged that the statue was dedicated for the repose of the soul of Yaoya Oshichi – Greengrocer Oshichi, a daughter of the greengrocer Tarobei in Edo in the 17th century. She started a fire in order to be reunited with the man she had a crush on – her tale goes like this. She met this guy who she fell in love with at the temple where her family evacuated during a fire in her neighbourhood. After the fire was put out, everyone went home and she lost touch with him. So infatuated she was, she decided to set a fire to her parent’s house so she could see him again at the temple. She did carried out arson and as the result she was burned at the stake. The story became the subject of plays and her love story became a legend.

Oh well, a puppy love with a lethal consequence. Love should hot but shouldn’t burn down a town…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Decorating New Year…

Finally, my body clock is tuned in to the UK time!
I am no longer waking up at odd hours and feeling like a zombie in the afternoon. But how do cabin crews on international flight cope with this jet lag business, I have no idea. It must be tough on their system…

Prior to New Year’s Day, I was walking around Zenkō-ji almost on a daily basis. Last time I was here was in the early spring of 2012. Anyone who observes contemporary Japan closely will agree with me that during two years, a lot can happen in this island, even in a relatively quiet place like Nagano. Some old shops go out of business while new enterprises take roots or new buildings emerge while old ones get demolished and make way for parking lots, etc…
Still fresh from the excitement of arriving at Nagano, I armed myself with layers of thermals & a brand new iPod Touch, and set out to investigate what change the past two years had brought to around Zenkō-ji…

Contrary to my expectation – I thought the town must be buzzing with preparation for New Year celebration, most of the shops were on holiday already…

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Each shop front with a polite holiday notice was adorned with a colourful New Year’s decoration.

The most prominent decoration of the Japanese New Year has to be a kadomatsu (門松) – gate pine…

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This “face” of the Japanese New Year is made from three large bamboo shoots in different length and they are bound with a straw mat a woven straw rope. My photo shows only one but it is to be placed in pairs, representing male and female, in front of houses or business premises. Their are invitation to ancestral spirits or toshigami (deity), who will bring a bountiful harvest for farmers, prosperity to business and bestow the ancestors’ blessing on everyone. As soon as highly commercial Japanese Christmas season is over, Santas, trees, cherubs, and poinsettia are replaced by traditional New Year’s decorations. They are on display until around the 15th January. Once the period is over, spent decorations are donated to local shrines or temples and burnt in huge bonfires called Dondo-yaki (どんど焼き), for the purpose of releasing gods to heaven.

The east meets the west. A sign for a cream cake stands next to a kadomatsu…

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Similar to a typical tradition of ikebana (Japanese flower arrangement), the different height of each bamboo shoot represents heaven, humanity, and earth. And bamboo is renowned for its fast growth – the shoot grows more than 5 ft high in a few days, symbolises vitality and vigour.

Pine is also a typical material to be used for New Year decorations…

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Evergreen plant pine is believed to house deity.

Another popular plant around the New Year period is Nanten (南天) – Nandina domestica aka. Heavenly Bamboo…

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Old-fashioned postbox in Nanten-red…

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Men were busy preparing roadside pines for a heavy snowfall…

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Nagano’s short afternoon sun was setting and I decided to head home for a hot cup of tea with mum…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

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