One of the features of Imabari is its arcades and commercial district arranged in a regular grid. Many of the buildings are old, and they speak of the city’s past vigor. Sadly, lots of them are now shuttered and in disrepair due to the slump in shipbuilding. Nonetheless, others are still thriving, and working hard to offer valuable products at good prices. Among these streets, there’s a great deal of old-time architectural charm from the Showa period and earlier, and many of the owners have gone to considerable effort to green the front of their property with potted plants and climbing flowers. It’s fun to wander through the grid of streets, dropping into shops that take your fancy.
One shop that took my fancy stands on a street corner marked by a beautiful weeping willow that provides a lively contrast with the black and white building behind it. This is the Gofukuten Sugataya and Gallery Kazahaya, a shop selling kimono and associated goods. Besides the kimono, there are fabrics, socks, slippers, handkerchiefs, postcards, accessories, basketry and many other items, all beautiful and all displayed beautifully too. In general, the prices are surprisingly affordable.
Not so the geta wooden sandals however. These are works of art in themselves, and the prices are commensurately high – 22,000 yen for the fanciest type, the same price as a good pair of leather shoes. Ehime has a number of geta craftsmen, and their work is often featured in newspapers and magazines. The Sugataya geta display includes one such article from a newspaper. If I were to buy these, I’d feel it was a pity to wear them. Instead, they’d look great displayed on a wall.
I asked the young lady serving in the shop if they get many foreign visitors. She told me that a bus tour used to bring people in the past, but the tours had now stopped. She also pointed out that the shop is a little off the beaten track, being a few blocks away from the main shopping arcade. This is a shame because Sugataya is well worth a visit and is easy to get to, if you know where it is. It’s a great place to see traditional Japanese design and to buy gifts, souvenirs, and art objects.
The Gallery Kazahaya on the second floor has occasional exhibitions of ceramics, kimono and hina ningyo – dolls dressed in the clothing of Japan’s ancient aristocracy.