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Tales for Sale

A consignment store where every item has a story

Author Robert Michael Poole Illustration Luci Gutiérrez

dispatches3TOKYO – “How’s my photo?” chirps a young woman holding up a Polaroid selfie to her friend. They are huddled in an aisle at a basement consignment shop on Tokyo’s tree-lined avenue Omotesando, surrounded by clothes, furniture and sundry knick-knacks, preparing a vintage handbag for display.

“Cute!” the friend replies. “I think you can sell the bag for much more with that smile pinned on it.”

Pass the Baton—the second outlet from “retail visionary” Masamichi Toyama—provides an odd spin on the trade of second-hand goods. Each of the items on sale comes with a snapshot of its former owner, along with a personal note relating the item’s history. Buyers, in turn, are able to write back to the seller, thereby completing the loop.

Many of the items here come from notable figures in art or design, and some repeat sellers have attracted followings. In one cabinet, alongside bejeweled handbags and threadbare teddy bears, there’s a men’s Versace shirt, once the property of Chie Yamamoto, an editor at the popular women’s magazine Anan. “I had some showpiece suede pants and a matching scarf,” she has written on the item. “I needed to coordinate the look, and this was a truly great fit.” Such items don’t stay on the shelves for long.

Often, though, customers seem less interested in the objects being sold than their stories—or what the shop’s owner describes as “the unique history behind things.” One man shopping here today calls it “a museum.” That description would please Toyama, who views Pass the Baton less as a commercial enterprise than as a cultural institution, a kind of shifting, collective memoir.

“Shall I tell the story of my Paris trip?” asks the young woman selling the bag.

“Yes!” says her friend, laughing. “And of the boy who bought it for you!”

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