Japanese antiques 11-8-08

I guess there are certain things that inform that one is getting older. I had one such thing yesterday as I attended the antique dealer’s auction I go to in Nara once a month. Lots of dusty things and people.

I am mostly interested in the ceramics at this auction. 5 hours of bidding and looking at lots later I had had my fill. Lots of Shoki Imari, Ko Imari, Kakiemon, tea bowls, etc. The people and the way they do their calculations are very interesting. What calculation is it that decides this lot can’t be bought for 1,000 yen more? It is something I haven’t figured out.

The first time I attended the auction I had the distinct feeling I was entering a world where the territorial rules of dogs had more to offer me in the way of understanding what was going on than the world I had just left. I am the only foreigner that is a member of the group. I also have the good fortune of being sponsored by, as my wife calls him, the “Don” of the group, 86 year old Mr. Kawase. Mr. Kawase started the group 30 some-odd years ago. Through the initial rough years that included running off some mafioso types trying to fence their wares  it is now set up more as a company, less as a family run business.  It is only possible to join if one has a group of 5 guarantors that will take up the slack if you fail to pay for what you buy.  It is a world unto itself. Antique dealers have a memory that put elephants to shame. They seemingly remember individual pieces, prices paid, by whom, when, etc., for years.  I haven’t felt confident enough to venture beyond the “outer” ring of chairs. There are 3 rings of chairs. The outer, middle and the inner half circle of pillows on the floor. One can bid from anywhere but the outer ring seems safest for now. The pieces are circled, clock wise, cradled in rush baskets in front of the pillows as they make their way to the front where they are they auctioned off in an atmosphere of joking and bonhomie. When the next piece is up it is lifted from the basket and put on the low table. The “auctioneer” then, if it is a ceramic piece, slams it down alarmingly hard  on the wooden table and exclaims what it is, usually along with a joke or two. When I first saw the handling of the ceramics I was shocked which turned to anger which has disolved into a kind of amused distraction.  I have concluded the slamming is to ascertain that the piece isn’t in fact broken?! I am waiting for one of them to be broken by the treatment. The piece is then, guided by the owner who sits to the left rear of the auctioneer, opened with a minimum bid. Those who say the Japanese are a friendly polite crowd haven’t been to one of these auctions. Following the opening bid is a scene that is repeated throughout the country in department stores whenever a sale opens up and the battalions of middle aged folks show their best elbowing forms.  The owner isn’t bound to let the piece go if they don’t get the price they want. There are three words, one of which will be spoken and which will determine if the sale price is too low, not enough or will go through no matter the price.

It is an educational and interesting day in my monthly calender.

The dealers are probably 40% women. There are a lot of “someone’s” daughter or son that don’t really fit into the equation, i.e., they don’t bid, they look attentively at the proceedings, and are generally too young to be their companions wife or son but too old to be their children.  Lets just say the crowd is as interesting as the things being auctioned.


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2 Responses to “Japanese antiques 11-8-08”

  1. Dean Kelly Says:


    Thank you for sharing the auction process with us where you are located. Going to auctions for the first time are always a little disconcerting but I would imagine when you are the only non-Japanese it could be very much so. It sounds like a wonderful opportunity to see some nice pieces and pick up some great pieces for resell.


    • togeii Says:

      Hello Dean,
      Yes, it is a little intimidating each time to open my mouth for the first bid. After that it is more difficult to stop bidding.

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