Monday, 15 March 2010

Wood Block Prints & Antique Books

Until a year ago, there was a two-storey secondhand bookshop in the Center-Gai shopping arcade in Sannomiya that carried a large range of ukiyoe (wood block prints) at various prices and in various conditions. I went there often to buy presents for people’s birthdays and used to enjoy poring through the ukiyoe looking for just the right one. They make ideal gifts, because are light to carry overseas—though you do need to be careful not to crush them. (Go to a 100-yen shop and buy a tube.) Since then I have searched in vain for other shops that carry old ukiyoe in Sannomiya, but to no avail. The area behind Daiei supermarket—to the west of JR Sannomiya Stn—used to have many secondhand bookshops hidden in the warren of streets, but the earthquake put most of them out of business and those that survived eventually closed down.

So, where do you go to buy original ukiyoe replicas? (Good luck in finding an original original.) By original I mean one that has not come off the printing press, but one authentically cut from a block. Before the age of the printing press, making replicas and selling them was big business—the only way to own your own Hokusai to adorn your wall. Some have been handed down a few generations and have found their way to the secondhand shops.

If you are visiting Kobe, then you will probably be passing through Osaka, or even sightseeing there. Inevitably, you will pass through the Umeda area—JR Osaka Stn, Hankyu Umeda Stn, Hanshin Umeda Stn, and Subway Umeda, Higashi-umeda and Nishi-umeda Stns. Here, you will find a few shops that will save your feet.

Under the Hankyu tracks to the north of Umeda—behind Kiddyland—is Kappa Yokocho Furushonomachi (Kappa* Alley Antique Book Market). Not only will you find secondhand bookshops here, but also shops that specialise in musical scores, musical instruments and antique (and not-so-antique) Japanese art. I have found some great pieces here, especially in the shop beside the music shop (shown on the right). The prices of some of the old books and paintings may surprise you, but if you are interested in Japanese art, this is a good place to spend a couple of hours while your travel companions are shopping in the modern meccas of Kiddyland and LOFT.

Once you get to Umeda, ask people where Kiddyland is. If you find someone who does not know, then they are from out of town. Once you get to Kiddyland (which is below ground), keep heading above ground under the Hankyu train tracks. Another landmark to watch out for is D•D House. If you find that, then Kappa Yokocho is directly opposite under the train tracks. Likewise, if you find NU•chayamachi, it is just across the street from the main entrance.

Business Hours:
11 a.m. ~ 8 p.m. (The restaurants are open until 11 p.m.)
Closed: 3rd Wednesday in February, April, June, September and November.

* You will see a green frog-like creature in the entrance. This is the legendary Japanese creature, the kappa.

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