As with many historical cities, Kyoto is laden with old things. If one sees a temple or a shrine in every street, one also finds almost as many antique shops and antiquarian bookshops in Kyoto. For centuries beautiful things were made, collected, adored, passed on. The Japanese people have a fetish for all things made. Even for the smallest, the most ordinary thing, the Japanese craftsmen put their utmost care in its creation. Every thing, down to the smallest part, every single detail is perfectly done, and follows an aesthetic that is almost as strict as their disciplined conduct. Things made are cherished, and they take great pains to keep them from harm, and make even more beautiful containers for each of these items. In this history of material culture, it is not surprising that the Japanese love “zakka" (many things, miscellaneous things), “komono" (small things) and “komonoire" (container for small things), while antique shops and antiquarian bookshops along shopping arcades, crowds in a flea market are just ordinary glimpses of everyday Kyoto.
Occasionally one encounters an antique shop while one is walking about Kyoto. Not those that sell expensive fine art pieces, but those curiosity shops where they sell all things weird and odd. Children’s books from the early Showa period, postcards, stamps, empty match boxes, plastic dolls and toys, clothings and accessories from who knows where, handbags and trunks, head pieces and masks that look like Halloween costume, SM apparatus, elementary school desks and chairs, sign board of a forgotten shop…… all kinds of rubbish that, not for at least another hundred years until they find a new master or be eventually acquired by a museum. Till the time comes these things are being kept with care in this time forsaken space.
Bookshops are quintessential in this university city, and antiquarian bookshops especially. Sliding open the wooden door of any old bookshop along main streets and quiet alleys, next to walls of orderly or disorderly books, one always finds a stack of antiquarian bookshop map for 100 yen per copy. If not collecting antiquarian books, one can also get cheap secondhand new books from the chain bookshop Book-Off, where a decent paperback copy costs as low as 100 yen. There are usually enough variety to choose from, and mostly clean and neat. Imagine getting the whole set of Soseki Natsume’s novels at 1,000 yen.
Every week, inside temples and shrines there are huge antique and craft markets. Wandering amidst hundreds of stalls, submerged in the sea of old things, from this endless seascape of fine and cheap antique kimono, collectible or export ceramics, every kind of house ware and furniture, books and records, unverified old prints and paintings, nostalgic toys and useless trinkets, I gradually learn about the various histories and stories of this city through this surfeiting material culture. While the big shopping malls and chain stores in Shijo Kawaramachi keep promoting new products, the people of Kyoto cling to their old things, and in their regular antique shops and markets, the lives of beautiful things are prolonged in a dignified way, which undoubtedly to me is the most beautiful thing in this entire old thing enterprise.