It is easy to forget you are in one of the world’s busiest cities during a visit to Space Oguraya, a tiny arts and crafts gallery opposite a serene Buddhist temple on one of Yanaka’s many picturesque, winding streets. At first glance, with its black walls and rusting corrugated iron tower, the gallery looks a little uninviting. But persevere through the door and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the homely, rickety entrance hall full of paintings that lies on the other side. Often the gallery owner, Takao Itoh, will be there greeting visitors, asking you to remove your shoes and replace them with a pair of quaint floral slippers provided in a basket in the hall.
Many of the works on display are by Itoh-san’s mother, Toshi Itoh. Hanging in the entrance is an atmospheric winter’s day view of the temple gate opposite. Itoh-san told me that his mother painted it while looking out of the upstairs window in the gallery. The tiny dog that is just visible was the temple’s guard dog, barking loudly at passers-by but never venturing beyond the line of the gate.
Other paintings at Space Oguraya are by Japanese and foreign artists, and there are often small displays of origami and other Japanese crafts. The exhibitions change with the seasons although there are always some of Toshi Itoh’s works on display. There’s also a well-stocked shop where you can pick up prints and postcards of some of the gallery’s holdings.
While you’re in the area it’s worth crossing the road to have a closer look at the temple opposite; it’s inspiring in its peacefulness. Also, spend some time just wandering around the tiny streets to see what other surprises might be there – more temples than you can count and several other small art galleries, such as SCAI The Bathhouse, quietly wait to welcome the visitor who prefers their sites off the beaten track.
For me it’s not the art, although interesting, that keeps me returning to Space Oguraya; it’s the feeling of the place. In the wooden walls and creaking floorboards, in the experience of shuffling around in slippers, and in Itoh-san’s stories, there is a little bit of Yanaka magic just waiting to be discovered.