Monday, February 21, 2011

From the Land of the Rising Sun.


A sleepy 'salaryman' on the platform of the Tokyo metro line. Worn out from a day of thrifting, perhaps?


























I’ve always said that aside from ridiculously low prices, the appeal of secondhand shopping is salvaging cultural artifacts. Vintage, kitsch, ephemera, oddities…all of the items that could fall into these categories are marked by a time, a place, a person who was the previous owner…and perhaps a story.

The biggest chapter in the story of my life so far took place some five years ago. I was in my final semesters of college life and decided it was time for a change. I was so close to graduating. I had finished earning my minor accreditations, was working toward my final core classes for my major and was looking for one last hurrah before tossing the graduation cap in the air. So I applied for a study abroad opportunity in the summer semester. And lo and behold I was accepted and spent six amazing weeks living, studying and writing a column in Tokyo, Japan.

Ever since, I’ve been looking to relive the experience, to recapture it in some small way. And this is probably the reason I jump at the opportunity to snatch up all things Japanese when thrifting or trotting through flea markets. Books, art, toys, decor…everything! I love collecting cultural artifacts from this culture that is not my own, but one I adopted if only for a short time.

Japan Group 1

These are just a few of my favorite Japanese thrifted finds. I’m not quite sure how to describe this little wooden doll. He’s not a Kokeshi. But he’s great, and I love his little hat. That jar to his right is about the size of a jar of baby food. The design of the image and the slope of the lid reminds me of Japanese architecture.

While these three reads are more or less children’s books, I consider myself to have a childlike wonder and awe when it comes to Japan. Besides, the stories in Tales of Old Japan (1966) and Lafcadio Hearn’s Japanese Fairy Tales (1953) are filled with magic, nature and at times complete and utter dread.


In addition to taking a class on foreign journalism and Japanese contemporary culture, I actually based much of my academic study in Tokyo on the subject of Japanese horror cinema And Hearn’s Kwaidan: Stories of Studies of Strange Things was of great service. If you are interested in Japanese culture, folklore or horror, give it a read and you will not be disappointed.

Lastly, the book at the bottom of the pile was a thrifted gift from my best friend. And how fitting since Tokyo Friends (2006) is the most lovely little children’s book. It serves as a very basic, introductory level Japanese-English dictionary. Featuring a few Japanese and American children, the book teaches both definitions and cultural exchange in everyday life. And again, it’s adorable. Love it.


I took hundreds of photos while in Japan. Of nature. Of architecture. Of adults. Children. Students. Friends. Strangers. And I love looking back at them. Sometimes I need to look…to remind myself that it wasn’t all some incredibly lucid dream.

JapaneseFamily Resized

Remember this picture from the Collections page? This portrait of adults, children, strangers marked by a time and a place…of a culture that is not my own… was truly an amazing flea market find and one of my personal favorites.

It’s beautiful. And that little girl front and center? She reminds me of this little girl I photographed on my very first day in Japan.

Japanese Baby

She was too cute, wandering around the Shinto shrine we were visiting. Not knowing enough Japanese to properly ask her parents permission for her photograph I excused myself with a sumimasen, called her kawaii and pointed to my camera. Her mother and father were all too happy getting her to pose for me. I love that little smile and the positioning of her hands and her hair blowing in the wind. It was magical.

I desperately want to go back to Japan, even live there extensively. Maybe some day I will. But until then I have my photographs to look through, my dolls and decor to surround myself with and my fairy tales, both lived and imagined, all about the Land of the Rising Sun.

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6 comments:

dogsmom said...

What a delightful post. That little girl sure is a cutie. If only we could recapture those wonderful days with stuff we collect.

Jackie said...

Honestly, I nearly cried after taking that picture! The parents were so sweet and surprisingly understanding of my very basic Japanese. And that little girl was just adorable! Everytime I find something Japanese to fall in love with from the thrift, I do relive it. ::Sigh:: I want to go back!

photogal said...

I understand how you feel about Japan. We were fortunate to visit our son there 2 years ago. It was my first time, but my husband had been there twice before for work. I absolutely fell in love with the people, the culture, the temples; it was incredibly beautiful. Wish I could visit again. We too, took many pictures, and I kept every scrap of paper that came my way. Hey, I like your blog. Count me in as a follower.

Jackie said...

Hey there, thank you for the follow! I always loved Japan, the language (what little I know), the culture, the architecture, art, food and the people. Everyone was so incredibly friendly and helpful, it was amazing. I never thought I'd have a chance to experience anything like it in my lifetime. And I'm glad I chose Japan as my study abroad destination, over England (my second choice). I figured I'd have more opportunities to see England. When would I ever get to go to see the bright lights of Tokyo!? Just...amazing!

Van said...

I too am a big Japan culture freak and collector- I have the Japan and Friends book and ripped out the illustrations of western/Japanese lunch comparisons to neatly frame with origami paper and hang in the kitchen. I want the other two books in the picture, too!

Hopefully the thrift gods will bring them to me....along with more amazing goods from Japan.

Jackie said...

That's a cute idea, Van. I just love flipping through the book and looking at the illustrations. I love the little details, like Hello Kitty and Totoro in the background. So cute!