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Antiques Kinoedo: The Romance of Japanese Antiques

My dad has been antiquing for years, specializing in buying and selling Japan-made goods. I went behind the scenes to learn about his business.

My dad started Antiques Kinoedo as a side business while working an office job in 2000. Starting off as a passion collector, he soon moved into the world of buying and selling different varieties of collectibles, with a focus on Japanese antiques (mainly Noritake-branded items) that he sells back, or “returns” to folks in Japan–kind of like a homecoming.

As far as I can remember, my dad has always had a room filled with antiques. Top to bottom shelves, floor space–you name it and it’s beenfilled with the antiques he’s collected over the years.

A small section of my dad's collectibles.

I’ve personally never been really interested in antiques, to be honest. But you’ll find my dad out in Pasadena, Long Beach, Old Torrance, etc. on Sundays, sometimes even making trips to Portland or Sacramento to look for the perfect items.

I’ve watched my dad long enough to know that owning a small business is no easy task. It’s a one-man operation (minus my mom’s accounting arm coming in sometimes) so he’s doing everything from going out to antique fairs and buying the items to taking photos and carefully shipping them off to customers.

I asked him a few questions to see what running a small business like his is like.

(The interview was in Japanese but I’ve translated it into English.)

Why did you start Kinoedo?

I’ve always been interested in vintage items, like wearing thrifted clothing back in Japan. This was much later, but I found out that my grandpa would hold antique fairs in the second story of his house as an auctioneer, hosting antique fairs to professionals, so I think it may be some genes that play a part.

I’ve always liked antiques, but the start of it was that I was one day wandering around the City of Orange, looking around the shops there when I went into a store that had a cup and saucer that caught my eye, and it had the words, “Noritake” on the bottom. There wasn’t much to the internet back then, but I did the best research I could at the time, and I found out that Noritake was a brand that’s been exported out from Japan to the states for over 100 years.

From there I started becoming a collector, but your mom started to complain so I started to see if I can sell it. There were few auction selling sites back then, but it surprisingly did well.

なぜ季乃恵堂を始めることに?

昔は古着とか着て、ビンテージものが好きだった。後からわかったのが自分のおじいちゃんも自分の家の2階でプロ相手に骨董市を主催していたから「あー、やっぱ血なのか」って思ったね。

元々アンティークが好きで、City of Orangeをふらふらしていた時に、Noritakeって書いてあったcup and saucerを見つけたのが最初。インターネットが出始めで情報もあまりなかったけど調べたら日本製で100年以上も前から輸出していると知ったのがきっかけかな。コレクターになったけどママに文句言われ、オークションサイトで出品し始めたら意外と売れるってことがわかってそれから。

A snippet of how my dad prepares his items for the auction sites.

What interests you about antiques so much?

Originally, it was the fact that, as a Japanese living in the U.S., knowing that there were items that were being exported out of Japan for Americans to use over 100 years ago. These items were all hand painted; human labor was cheaper than machine made items back then, opposite of now, so that was fascinating too. At first it was just the looks of it, but then I got into the history of the relationship between Japan and the U.S. Japan was poor back then, compared to the U.S. and of course compared to now, but to think that they were making these dinner plate sets and such that catered to a Western audience, when the makers themselves had no use of it, their marketing skills was amazing.

During the Meiji era, Japanese people came to New York and opened a shop that focused on Japanese goods, like fans, pottery, Japanese dolls, and that’s the starting point of Noritake apparently. They realized there that “Made in Japan” goods sold well, and they studied the culture and trend in the U.S. and Europe, and brought back that information to Japan, and that’s how these Japan-made tableware became a thing. Now that it’s been over 100 years since these wares came overseas, I find joy in returning these back to Japan.

アンティークの魅力とは?

アメリカに住む日本人として100年以上も前の日本の物がアメリカに輸入されていたことが驚きで、工業商品じゃなく、手で一つ一つ描かれたものがすごいって思った。そこから色んなところに興味が向き、日本とアメリカとの歴史が学び始め高菜。その頃日本は今と比べたら貧乏だったけどアメリカ向けのディナーセットなどマーケティングをしていたのがその当時はすごいと思ったね。

明治時代に日本から渡った人らがニューヨークで日本のお店を(扇子、骨董、日本人形など)オープンして、それがNoritakeの元になったらしいんだけど、日本製の物は売れるってことがわかってその情報を日本の本社に持って帰ってそこから売り出していったみたい。日本でその当時はディナーセットとかは使わないのにアメリカやヨーロッパの文化とか勉強して、その当時にしたらすごいアイディアだったと思う。

100年を経てアメリカに来たものを日本に返すという楽しさを感じて今でもやっている。

What’s some of the most interesting things you’ve found?

During World War II, having enemy country items was frowned upon in the U.S. But people still liked the items itself and wanted to keep them. So sometimes I find items that have the words like “Made in Japan” or “Noritake” chiseled off. I’ve also found plates and such that have come out of Japanese ships that were sunk by the U.S. during the war.

見つけた骨董の中で一番面白い物は?

第二次世界大戦、日本の物を持ちたいけど敵国のものを持っていたくないっていうことでMade in JapanやNoritakeという字を削ったりしたりしたものがあるのは何回か見つけたことがあるね。日本とアメリカの行き来の際にアメリカ軍に沈められた船の中から出てきた食器とかもたまに出てきたりするのが面白いかな。

What’s the appeal of selling antiques?

All things with shape will someday break and fall apart. But obviously somethings are still around. Things that years ago someone else loved, and maybe they sold it, or the owner passed away, but that item went to the next person, and the next, and it’s a culture that’s passed on.

I’m now no longer just a collector, but a buyer and seller, but I love being able to add value to something that may have been just thrown out eventually had I not picked it up.

There’s a lot of things that are being replaced with technology or things like A.I., but antique buying and selling isn’t something that’s replaceable with that right now. It still requires a human hand, human sight, and just not able to do it with a computer, so I find it fulfilling that I’m able to do something like that. A lot of things are mass produced now with machines, but because the items I work with are handcrafted and one of a kind, that gives it value on its own and I don’t have competition like I would with a mass-produced item.

アンティークの魅力は何?

古い物が必ずいつか壊れて無くなるけど、でもその中でも古いものは未だにあるから、誰かが大事にしてたものが人から人に渡る文化が伝承されていくのが魅力かな。それと自分は昔はコレクターだったけど今は捨てられている物かもしれないものにバリューを与え、違う人に渡していけるのが有意義だと思う。

今の時代A Iやら技術が進んでいって、前は人しかできなかったようなことが今ではパソコン一台が変わりになっちゃうけど、アンティークはそれが不可能。人の目、人の手がどうしても必要な仕事だからやりがいがある。今の製品とは違い、一品しかないから価値があり面白い。量産品だったら競争相手があるけどアンティークはそれがない。

What’s something that you see changing in the future in the antique  business?

I think brick and mortar antique shops will decrease in numbers but things like antique fairs and online antique sales will always be a thing. There’s always going to be people who like and are interested in antiques, and I don’t see that interest ever dying down, so I think the antique business in general is strong.

アンティーク業界はどう変わっていくと思う?

アンティークの店は閉まっていくけどオンラインとかアンティークの市みたいなのは増えると思うな。いつの時代でもアンティーク好きは必ずいるし、いなくなるとは考えられないからアンティーク業界は強いと思う。

Article featured in this issue:
April 2022
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