The history of Japan’s ceramics stretches all the way back to the Neolithic period. Throughout the centuries, technologies like the anagama kiln and potter’s wheel made their way to Japan via China and Korea and were incorporated into the Japanese style. Perhaps the most typically Japanese form of ceramics are the utensils used in the art of the tea ceremony. Employing pottery crafted by hand rather than on a potter’s wheel, tea ceremonies run on the notion of wabi-sabi, embracing the uniqueness in the utensils’ imperfections. Also embracing uniqueness in ceramics is Yufuku, a gallery located in Aoyama. Founded in 1993, Yufuku displays contemporary ceramics, metalwork, glass and lacquerware from Japan and abroad that are ‘often devoid of functionality, and stand alone for art’s sake’. Recent exhibitions have included porcelain by Yoko Imada, wood-fired stoneware by Kosei Masudaya and stoneware by Keizo Sugitani. Yufuku also frequently takes the show on the road, participating in art fairs in cities like London, Singapore and New York. So if that nice piece of stoneware is a bit too heavy to lug home, you can just wait for them to come to you.
Tokyo is a veritable paradise for photography fans, with literally dozens of galleries and bookstores across the city displaying and stocking works by Daido Moriyama, Nobuyoshi Araki, Shomei Tomatsu and other Japanese greats. It’s almost impossible to choose one shop to recommend, but we eventually settled on Komiyama Shoten, a Jimbocho bookstore that Japanese photography expert John Sypal calls ‘four floors of incredibleness’. Komiyama stocks photobooks by all the giants of Japanese photography as well as plenty of Western photography. Primarily but not exclusively a photo shop, Komiyama also carries books on fashion, design, Japanese history and art. Things get progressively rarer and more expensive as you ascend up to Komiyama’s top floor. If you’re in the market for a pricey birthday gift, the ¥216,000 original copy of Daido Moriyama’s Farewell Photography will do nicely.
Of course, Japanese art ain’t all ancient woodblock prints and ceramics. Tokyo’s jam-packed with modern artists working across more media than one can count. Set up last year, Walls Tokyo (above) is one of Tokyo’s newest shops for discovering and purchasing modern art from Japan and abroad. Founded with the idea of bringing art closer to people, Walls Tokyo attempts to sell art at a price first-time buyers can afford. With guest curation from notables like Party founder Masashi Kawamura and FTC’s Kent Uyehara, Walls Tokyo’s collection contains works by Western artists like Banksy, Warhol and Damien Hirst plus Japanese artists like Yayoi Kusama, Takashi Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara. Aside from maintaining a well-stocked and highly searchable online catalogue, Walls also has a physical gallery a short walk from Hakusan Station.
While Walls deals exclusively in things you can hang on your, erm, wall, Gallery 360° (above) displays work by contemporary artists dealing in all three dimensions. Located just outside Omotesando Station, Gallery 360° has been in business since 1982 and has hosted exhibitions by artists like Sasaki, who draws lines representing heartbeats, pop artist Suzy Amakane, and Yoko Ono (perhaps you’ve heard of her). In addition to gallerying, the shop stocks prints, books and posters and other items from Japanese and Western artists.
Long considered the lowest of the low-brow, anime and manga are finally getting their due as proper art forms. Part of that recognition is due to young, high-brow artists who’ve grown up devouring anime and incorporated it into their works. You can get your hands on some of this anime-inspired art at Taco Ché. Located in none other than the Nakano Broadway shopping mall, a weird and wonderful mecca of Japanese subculture, Taco Ché is a store devoted to underground art, books and posters, most of which are self-published, rare or limited run. Not content to just sell art, Taco Ché frequently crams exhibitions into its limited space, hosting exhibitions and autograph sessions by artists like the depraved, ukiyo-e-inspired Toshio Saeki, the mannequin-obsessed Eimi, and the bold, neon-colored anime stylings of Mirai.
Literally meaning ‘pictures of the floating world’, ukiyo-e became especially popular in the Edo period (1603-1868), when a rising merchant class found themselves able to afford art for the first time. Though some of the most iconic ukiyo-e depict landscapes, ghosts and Kabuki actors, not all ukiyo-e were so high-minded: there’s even a sexually explicit subgenre called shunga. Whatever type of ukiyo-e you’re on the hunt for, check out Hara Shobo, just outside Jimbocho Station. In business for over 80 years, Hara Shobo carries a wide stock of ukiyo-e prints that range from landscapes to kimono-clad women to sumo wrestlers. Prices run a wide range, too, from as low as ¥8,000 up to ¥300,000, depending on the artist and subject. If you’re on a real budget, pick up their catalogue: printed in full colour, it’s almost like the real thing. Almost.