Kyoto’s Shinmonzendori・新門前道り (Art & Antiques Street)

I’d been down quiet, narrow Shinmonzen-dori (“dori” ・道り means “street”) many times many years ago.  I had to have been.  As a college exchange student in Hirakata, just a half-hour or so down the Keihan rail line from Kyoto, I spent more than a few Saturday’s wandering Kyoto’s narrower streets. But, frankly, I don’t have a specific recollection of Shinmonzen-dori (or its parallel street, Furumonzen- dori), not until 2001 and 2002…

My friend’s, Hayashi-san’s shop, on Shinmonzen-dori. 2007


Shinmonzen-dori’s situated in a quiet part of Kyoto’s famed geisha and tea house district, Gion, provides the most high-end concentration of medium- and high-end art and antiquities in Japan’s ancient capital. Its shops and galleries offer centuries-old porcelain ware, scrolls, cabinetry and chests (tansu), and byoubu (screens).  Some shops specialize in only one area of art or antiquities, and others offer brick-a-brak from netsuke to oni-gawara to lamps to 19th and 20th Century snuff bottles (See image below.  Note the JFK snuff bottle that’s sat in the same shop window for years, at least since 2002.  It will be the perfect “find” for someone, someday).


Snuff Bottles. Shinmonzen-dori shop window. 2003.


   The shop owners, and their various personalities, are something to behold, too.  My friend Hayashi-san, a 4th Generation Kyoto art and antiquities dealer is soft-spoken and self-effacing.  He has an incredibly dry wit.  I know of at least one of his pieces, a small Imari plate dating back to the late 16oo’s, on display at the Birmingham Museum of Art.*  There’s Komai-san, the pearl dealer (<-links to photo of shop front)  who has a kind, impish way about him.  Be careful:  he rarely lets on that he speaks English until he’s already heard what you’re looking for and what your budget is!  But he’s very helpful and honest.  Kaji-san, a purveyor of (mostly) Meiji Era porcelain plates and bowls, and byobu, is effervescent and outgoing.  Yagi’s Antiques is incredibly cluttered and somewhat dusty.  Not many “high end” finds in here but one feels like one’s stumbled into a Japanese attic, circa 1925.  There’s one woman I and my former spouse dubbed “The Dragon Lady.”  I won’t name her.  I will say, though, that shop/gallery does, indeed, offer many, many museum quality pieces for the eye.  Most all of which she considers, “Charming.”  Her very favorite word in English and pretty much the only one she seems to know.  Well, that and “very.”  As in when you look at this bowl set, or that bronze incense burner, or the other small sea-chest, she’ll often sidle up to you and say, “Charrrruummming.”  Bless her heart.

  I mentioned the former spouse.  We had a business for a few years.  Antiquities from Japan and, in the very last stage of our partnership (in all senses of the word) some contemporary Korean art.  We bought some retail, but learned not to buy a lot and mostly made our purchases for U.S. resale at either flea markets like at To-ji Temple, or at auctions (that “not just anyone” could get into).  It was mostly very fun while it lasted.

  Shinmonzen- and Furumonzen-dori (which run east-west) lie between Higashioji-dori and Hanamikoji-dori.  And any shopkeeper in Gion (the heart of which is bisected by San-jo Street) can direct the first-time visitor how to navigate the few blocks north, through the picturesque and recently-restored Shinmachi area, to Shinmonzen-dori (we’re talking a 5 minute walk, tops).

The Shirakawa River (stream) passing under Shirakawa-dori. 2004.


Shinmonzen-dori Shop Window. Imari Triple “nesting bowls” featuring Dutch traders. Mid-Edo Period.


Still Life. Shinmonzen-dori. 2002.


Heron wading in the Shirakawa. Shinmonzen-dori. 2002


Still Life 2. Shinmonzen-dori. 2002.


Mirror-Mirror. Along Shinmonzen-dori. 2003.


 *Two plates I purchased are on display there, too.  Though, unique, they don’t have the age or pedigree of Hayashi-san’s Shoki-Imari plate.  I brokered (gratis, thankyouverymuch) the purchase of a scroll that’s part of the collection, too.

  1. Such a nice virtual excursion — domoarigato! 🙂

      • letsjapan
      • January 11th, 2012

      Thank *you* for visiting, Origa-san!

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