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Browsing in a Bargain Hunterís Paradise

By: Mike Liem

Date Posted: 2000-12-08

There are lots ďout-of-the-wayĒ spots on Okinawa that may take a bit of time and effort on your part to get to, but are well worth the effort. Yama No Sato An most definitely qualifies as one such attraction.

Yama No Sato An is an antiques and kimono boutique like no other of its kind. It is the brainchild and creation of Koei and Sachie Chinen, who wanted to provide antiques enthusiasts on Okinawa with a means of indulging in their pastime without spending a lot of money. Their goal is to make collecting antiques fun, enjoyable and affordable. To that end they travel extensively throughout Japan, gathering goods from antiques auctions to take back to their shops. The owners began building Yama No Sato An about thirteen years ago. The retail business has been operating for over five years and the owners are still making plans to expand and improve the facilities.

Located on a hilltop in Nakijin, near the port town of Motobu, Yama No Sato An commands a spectacular view of its lush surroundings. The old-style traditional Japanese buildings that make up the emporium are in themselves a sight to behold. Statues of Japanese storybook and mythical characters and other items of artifact are strewn about the grounds in rather random but tasteful fashion. I could easily spend a lazy afternoon walking about and enjoying the great view. But those who frequent Yama No Sato An know that it is first and foremost a bargain hunterís paradise.

The main store of Yama No Sato An houses a wide array of antique china and lacquerware. The offering ranges from small and dishes bundled in sets to elaborate plates and bowls. The price range is equally diverse. Some are priced like flea market items, while others are more appropriately tagged for fine antiques. The cheaper items are usually displayed unwashed and most show signs of wear and tear. But just because an item is cheaply marked doesnít mean it hasnít any value. A Meiji-style bowl with very slight imperfections, for example, can be had for less than 1000 yen.

By contrast the more expensive dishes look as if they had spent the better part of their service sitting in china cabinets. Some are in such perfect condition that they could easily be displayed in a fine chinaware showroom. Many of the large serving plates and bowls that I saw were in the 3000 yen price range, which even to an uninformed browser like myself seemed quite reasonable.

Outside the main store thereís a sort of basement outlet full of more chinaware and pottery craft. Dishes and tableware are displayed on a big wooden table, while the shelves on the walls are covered with masks and statues. The open layout of the showroom leaves some of the items exposed to the elements, it isnít difficult to visualize what a little bit of elbow grease would yield once you get home with that bowl or saucer youíre holding in your hands.

Yama No Sato An also specializes in inexpensive simple kimonos. What little I know about kimonos is limited to having seen their outrageous price tags at upscale department stores. But those with a penchant for kimonos or fabrics at rock-bottom prices, including one customer I saw last weekend who went away carrying a huge basket of used kimonos, know that Yama No Sato An is nothing short of a bargain heaven. The kimono shop carries kimonos on racks and in cubbyhole shelves. But the real deal is the huge assortment of kimonos piled on a bench outside the shop. At •200 apiece, Iím told this is the only place where one could pick up used kimonos at such rock-bottom price.

Yama No Sato An receives a new shipment of goods on the fifteenth of every month, so your search could always turn up new finds on your next visit. And when you want to take a break from shopping, you can relax with a cup of coffee and enjoy the view from the coffee shop.

Yama No Sato An may be remote by urban standards, but it isnít a well-kept secret by any means. The store has a regular clientele of American customers, some of whom are long-time patrons. If you want to experience antiques shopping in a truly unique environment, Yama No Sato An is well worth a visit.

To get to Yama No Sato An, take Route 58 north towards Nago. Continue past Nago until you get to Route 84, and turn left on Route 84 toward Izumi. Stay on Route 84 until you get to the turn-off to Route 115. Turn right on Route 115 toward Nakijin castle. Yama No Sato An will be on the right-hand side on Route 115 before Nakijin castle.

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