The booming Chinese economy has launched a global treasure hunt by Chinese antique collectors eager to reclaim cultural assets lost over the centuries and the search is leading many searching for the best preserved artifacts and most lucrative deals to Japan.
At a time when cash-strapped Japanese collectors are cutting down on big antique buys, Chinese groups are snatching up long-lost treasures, once presented as gifts to Japanese nobles. Meanwhile, Japanese tour guides are cashing in on the booming trade by organizing antique auction tours for Chinese eager to buy.
On a recent Monday night, the Antique Mall in Tokyo's ritzy Ginza district looked like the site of a scavenger hunt hours before a Chinese auction was set to begin. Dozens of collectors filed into the smoke-filled room armed with magnifying glasses in one hand, a flash light in the other. Each trolled through display cases, carefully examining vases, statues, and scrolls before taking a seat in anticipation of bidding.
"Our expanding economy has helped drive the antique market," said Chang, an antique dealer from Shanghai who refused to give his full name, saying full disclosure would affect the prices his antiques sold for. "Artwork is really starting to become lucrative in China again."