• Japan In Focus

Tokyo Antique Shop Brimming With Days of Yore Atmosphere

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Junichiro Inamoto and his wife Yoko recreate a typical apron worn by a woman working at a cafe in the Taisho era (1912-1926) in a semibasement room resembling a dance hall.

Beckoned by a sign on Asakusa Rokku Street that read “Favorites for mobo and moga,” I passed through a narrow road and found myself surrounded by the retro atmosphere of the Taisho era (1912-1926). “Mobo moga” was how the youth of that era was often referred to, a shortening of “modern boys” and “modern girls,” who were excited to wear the latest fashions of the time. Tokyo Hotarudo in Taito Ward, Tokyo, is an antique shop that mainly handles items from that era.

A static-laden broadcast from a radio greeted me as I opened the glass door. The shop uses the Taisho era radio as a speaker, which receives sounds wirelessly from a computer. “We can create a future by merging the old with new technologies,” said shop owner Junichiro Inamoto, 51.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Lamps that create a warm atmosphere welcome customers.

The shop is housed in an old building that is a former dormitory for employees of an eatery that catered to the common people. Inamoto and his wife, Yoko, 56, refurbished the building by paving the floor with bricks and plastering the walls, and then opened the shop in 2008. The shop is full of traditional Japanese clothes and accessories of yesteryear, which include a rotary dial telephone and a pedal sewing machine. I, who was born in the Heisei era (1989-2019), had never seen many of these items before.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Colorful kimono from the Taisho and early Showa eras

One such item was a kori kaban, a traditional Japanese wicker trunk suitcase. Kori refers to a basket to keep clothes and such. Craftsmen in the Taisho era made the traditional item into the shape of a trunk, which was popular in those days. “The kori kaban suitcase is not just a simple imitation of a Western product. Japanese people demonstrated their creativity and merged Western and Japanese items, which I think makes them more attractive,” Inamoto said.

Not only do the couple buy items at markets, but they also negotiate with individual owners. “An antique shop is essentially the last stop in the life of a product. We want to keep these items for the future along with the memories of their owners,” Inamoto added.

Down in the semibasement that resembles a dance hall, a huge stained-glass panel caught my eye. It was once used at a Yukaku red-light district, according to the shop. The couple regularly holds get-togethers such as dance gatherings so that customers not only have contact with a retro culture but also experience it.

As society has gone through changes through the Taisho, Showa, Heisei and Reiwa eras, Inamoto and his wife are trying to pass the wishes and excitement of people living in those times on to the future. As I listened to Inamoto, I felt that working at an antique shop was somewhat like working as a reporter. With this feeling in my heart, my brief “time travel” came to an end.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
An organ from the Showa era (1926-1989) was collected by Inamoto from the late owner’s wife and then repaired. Customers are allowed to play it.

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Tokyo Hotarudo

Address: 1-41-8, Asakusa, Taito Ward, Tokyo

Access: A two-minute walk from Asakusa Station on the Tsukuba Express Line.

Memo: Open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. The shop leases their products for two weeks at 30% of their respective prices.