Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Vanishing Kimono

Today I finally received the Ichiroya newsletter. I was beginning to worry that something might have happened to the Wadas, some disaster that prevented the weekly newsletter that I love so much from going out on Sunday morning as per usual. No disaster though, just a technical glitch, and the newsletter arrived safe and sound in my inbox.

This week, Ichiro-san touched on a topic that I have been thinking about for some time. About a year ago, it occurred to me: even if Japan is "kimono-land" the supply of antique and vintage kimono is certainly finite. I've only been collecting for about 3.5 years, and already I can see the number of "quality" pieces available (to me) is becoming less and less, nevermind modern kimono. At the same time, prices are going up. All the pseudo-Japanese movies and interest in anime have brought more new bidders to this formerly small collecting niche and they're not going away after one win. As happened with me, once you buy one, you can't stop there. It becomes an obsession.

Case in point: a couple of weeks ago I was bidding on a particularly nice shibori haori from the Taisho period. It had great colors, bright aquamarine on a field of equally bright magenta. The pattern was a tabane arrow design in a fairly large kanoko shibori. The repeat was spaced just right and it was in excellent condition. I haven't seen a good shibori piece like that come up for some time. I estimated about $60-70, but it went for almost $150! Bidding was fierce. I can see that if I am to compete for the better items, I'm will need to adjust my estimates up, WAY UP. And that's just for the comparatively crappy items that end up on ebay. The really pristine pieces are completely unattainable and they'll only increase in price as time goes by. $2000-3000 today is $5000 tomorrow.

I have wondered for a long time if this state of affairs hadn't occurred to the Wadas, who have based their entire business on antique and vintage textiles. Well, sure enough, Ichiro-san was describing how they have to attend twice the number of auctions these days to keep a decent stock on hand. Even the ubudashiya (wholesale kimono buyers who sell at the auctions) are having difficulty locating really fine items to bring to the regional auctions. All this week Ichiroya has featured non-textile items, like wooden bobbins, lacquer and pottery. Yamatoku has been especially affected by the vanishing kimono phenomenon; almost all of their stock these days isn't much older than the 1970s.

In the last year or so I've become much more selective. I've seen thousands of kimono from all time periods. I've seen just about every style and motif out there and am getting fairly educated on the symbolism inherent in the motifs. I've gotten pretty good at dating a kimono by gauging it's construction and design, and I'm less forgiving of stains and holes (at least when it comes to shelling out the bucks for it). So as I've gotten more picky, the supply of good vintage textiles is growing smaller, and so now I find myself in a higher price range without even knowing it.

All this has left me with a vague sense of panic, especially since my self-imposed ban from ebay. Should I watch the (now) relatively inexpensive pieces pass me by, or should I do whatever I can to grab them, lest I pay even more in the future? I used to tell myself, "there will always be more kimono, I can forego this one...." but in the face of rising prices and dwindling supplies...can that really be true? Also, there are some financial goals I should attend to, like buying a house and actually visiting Japan. Ugh! I'm so torn!


Blogger Satoai said...

Ditto. I need a month in Japan during a Temple flea market with a giant suitcase for the return trip.

December 26, 2006 12:57 AM  

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