Lose yourself in a galaxy of tiny treasures

In Sanjo, Kyoto’s antique art district, on Furumonzen-dori, there is a shop called Tessaido. The entrance is narrow, but as soon as you step into the shop, your eyes are captivated by the dazzling colors, and you’re overwhelmed by the piles of countless tiny dishes known as mamezara. The space is mainly filled with mamezara and soba choku [diminutive cup-shaped vessels often used for noodle dipping sauces], types of ceramic vessels known as koimari, most of which are said to date from the second half of the Edo period. [These are precious (and pricey) treasures from the past.] The store has recently undergone reconstruction, resulting in improved clarity and presentation of mamezara, making them even more appealing. The product display is notably different from that of antique dealers, who usually exhibit with an air of great importance.

The owner, Yuko Takamichi, is known for her collections of mamezara, jewelry and decorative paper envelopes, but it seems to me that she is particularly sensitive to the universe contained within these tiny items, as well as the changing seasons and the skill and heart of those who created them. I’ve known this shop for about twenty years, but every time I come to Kyoto, I want to drop in, even if for only a short time. The splendid pandemonium of mamezara all lined up in this tiny shop of 20 tsubo [710 sq. ft. / 66 sq. m.], lures me here to shop.

Personally, I like tea bowls, sake cups, or soba choku and small dishes that feature the octopus arabesque patterns and the akadama yoraku patterns, which combine the red jade design with the yoraku pattern, a popular ornament among ancient Indian nobles. I often find myself unconsciously searching for pieces that feature these specific patterns. Japanese ceramics were made for everyday life, and unlike those in China with their delicate and complex patterns, made for the purpose of presenting to the emperor, in these you can imagine the craftspeople, facing overwhelming quantities of products made for daily use, devotedly painting the patterns. That is, the intricate patterns are crafted with expert precision through countless repetitions of the artisan's skilled movements, resulting in their stunning beauty.

Small plates or mamezara have been used to hold soy sauce.
Soy sauce is the heart of Japanese cuisine. You don’t pour a large quantity of soy sauce on your food; you transfer an appropriate amount from the soy sauce dispenser into a small dish, and use it carefully and respectfully from there, so as not to have any left over. Japanese cuisine relies heavily on soy sauce, prompting artisans to pour their diligence and skill into small dishes. The beauty of the kinrande style [literally “gold brocade”] and akae [red glaze] and the precision of the arabesque patterns are perfectly captured on dishes of this size. The arrays of endless lines of small plates seem to stretch out forever, like an ocean.

The display shelves are laid out to fill every gap, except where people circulate through the shop. According to Ms.Takamichi, this is done to prevent porcelain from falling on top of each other in case of earthquakes, but to the searching eye, it’s quite a stimulating space. You can find the pattern you like just by seeing one part of the plate, and discovering the piece you’re looking for as you wander this space, indexed, as it were, by these glimpses of patterns, is really delightful. And even admiring the pieces without buying anything gives you a different kind of excitement than visiting a museum.

Diagonally across from the shop is a gallery owned by Ms. Takamichi’s son, Toshiyuki. It’s a scrupulously arranged, cozy space with a courtyard, which cannot be fully detailed here. In the gallery’s restrained and minimal space, I was able to see a very interesting collection of ceramics and porcelain from both ancient and modern times as well as calligraphic works by Zen priests. I enjoyed a luxurious experience listening to Mr. Takamichi's talk while savoring tea served in different vessels. It felt like a presentation of the profundity of Kyoto itself.



Motomachi, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture