An American Picker in Japan

We took a drive to Togochi in Yamagata-gun, Hiroshima. It is an old country town that used to be a booming center 50 years ago. We were told that the Hondoori area had been filled with people, shops and pubs back then, including 2 movie theaters! They were putting in the Kabe line linking Kake with Sandankyo completing it in 1970, just 3 years before I came to Japan! This is what the old main thoroughfare looks like now.


Mr. Yoshihiro drove me there. We took the mountain road through Yuki Onsen, turning off at the road for Tsutsuga Village. On the way, we stopped to get a picture of this huge gingko tree, which is over 250 years old. The protrusions that hang down from the trunk are sometimes called “chichi” (tits) as they look like a cow’s udder. This tree is designated as a natural heritage site of Hiroshima Prefecture.


筒賀のイチョウ (beside  Otose Shrine)





Gingko Leaves on the gigantic tree!

On to Togochi Town! Yoshihiro-san had told me about an 88 year-old woman who was having a “going-out-of-business” sale at her shop, everything half-price. The items were old and dusty, and things we don’t see today. Unfortunately this shop was closed today. So we went to Komoto Shoten”instead, the very last shop on the road.


The sign used to say 河本酒店(Komoto sakaten)

I wasn’t disappointed! Most of the shelves were bare but I found 3 chawan mushi cups I wanted. I had no idea if bargaining was appropriate but I said out-loud, ” I like these cups but they are a little too expensive for me.” The owner offered to mark them down, and finally made them half of hte original price.

Pickers 001

Today’s treasures!

I ended up getting some interesting items. My picking partner, Yoshihiro-san also bought an old-fashioned razor and shaving brush. I found a very “Showa era” aluminum kid’s lunch box, an unusual sake pitcher and the cups.

We went to another shop down the street which was basically a hardware store that also sold miscellaneous housewares. That’s where I found this cool knife and bought it for just ¥100 (about $1.00!) All new items. Here I am with owner Yoshimoto-san. She was very nice on her prices for us. I don’t think she is used  to having customers negotiate the price, but she gave us some amazing deals. I recall that at one point she said, “Well, I’ll be having a “going-out-of-business” sale myself before long.”


It was noon and we were hungry so stopped at an old Okonomiyaki shop, run by this very young-looking octogenarian, Ayako. She told us she has been there for 30 years, previously having run a coffee shop. She was really nice to us and seemed to think I was a celebrity, saying “I’ll never forget this day!” Ha Ha !

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Ayako in front of the Yamane Okonomiyaki Shop


I was very satisfied. I like her old sign outside that says “Akinai-chu”, an old phrase that meant “open for business!”

She is the one who told us that this was such a lively place back in the late sixties when construction on the railway was going on.

I am thrilled to see these places and wondered how they still hang on. At the same time, I realize they will disappear in just a matter of years.

That makes me very sad. I hope I can visit more of these shops in the countryside before they are gone forever.


Komoto-san talks to a customer

Mostly empty shelves at Komoto Shoten