“It is kind of a junk shop”: Matlock’s gem of hidden histories

John outside JJ's Junk and Gems, MatlockJohn outside JJ's Junk and Gems, Matlock
John outside JJ's Junk and Gems, Matlock
“What’s the story behind it? That’s what intrigues me sometimes.”

John Kobayashi runs a shop of intrigue for sure. Over the bridge in Matlock sits JJ’s Junk and Gems, a second-hand shop that bridges the past. Things loved and passed on, from the ordinary everyday to the outright quirky odd, each item carrying its own story.

“Yeah, it’s like a museum,” says John with a smile. “And quite often, if I have something and I don’t know what it is, if you leave it out somebody will tell you. And I sell to trade as well as public, so when other dealers come in I’ll ask them, and if they don’t know then I’ll leave it on the counter and wait for a member of the public to tell me.”

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“We had that yesterday, in fact. It was like a brass float, and it had some graduations on it. Thankfully it had a maker’s stamp on it. And I managed to find out what it was.”

John inspecting a pocket-watchJohn inspecting a pocket-watch
John inspecting a pocket-watch

John pauses, his excitement visible. “It was for testing the salinity of water on steam ships. So they could work out how much heat would be required to make it boil, because obviously, the more salt the higher the boiling temperature to create the steam to make the ship go. It must be a hundred years old!”

When asked what the weirdest thing John’s had in the shop, he laughs, points to himself. “Apart from me?”

“We had a bakelite telephone, but on it there was button, and it just said ‘secret line’ on it. That was quite interesting. Don’t know if it was from a government building, or military.”

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And how would John describe his shop? Is it an antique shop?

One of the many rooms inside JJ's Junk and Gems, MatlockOne of the many rooms inside JJ's Junk and Gems, Matlock
One of the many rooms inside JJ's Junk and Gems, Matlock

“We don’t just limit ourselves to antiques. It is kind of a junk shop. But it’s anything and everything. Antiques, collectables, memorabilia. Some electricals, vinyl records, clothing. Jewellery, Lego, collectable cars. Furniture, ceramics, glassware.”

John pauses, grins. “People do come in and say ‘Is there anything you haven’t got?’ I always say ‘Well, we’re not licensed to sell alcohol, firearms, or livestock, but apart from that…’”

Within a short time of talking to John, it’s clear he has a genuine passion for his shop’s weird and wonderful odds and sods. John tells of how the roots of this began back when he worked at a recycling centre.

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“My house was like a hoarder’s house, except I had no attachment to anything, and everything was for sale. There was a little corridor into the lounge that you could get through, a corridor to the fire, and like a safe distance around the fire, and a gap between the sofa and the TV. The sofa was covered in stuff, the seat next to me, and obviously I was single at the time, no kids. Now I’ve got kids and a girlfriend. I can’t live like that.”

Upstairs at JJ's Junk and Gems, MatlockUpstairs at JJ's Junk and Gems, Matlock
Upstairs at JJ's Junk and Gems, Matlock

John laughs as he tells this. And as the chat goes on, yet another quirky find is discovered: John’s family background.

“I was born in the north-east in Middlesbrough. That’s where Grandad ran away from home to. He ran away from Japan and ended up settling in Middlesbrough. I was going through some stuff and in one of the boxes there was a letter and it was addressed to Grandma. So I started reading it… ‘Dear Caroline…’ and the handwriting was that really old Victorian, very neat, really stylish handwriting, but the English wasn’t… great.”

“And I thought ‘I wonder who it’s from?’ And I flipped to the back and it was from Grandad. It was a love letter before they got married. By the sounds of it he was lodging with her parents, as other Japanese sailors did.”

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When offered a time machine, John’s instinct for ‘what’s the story behind it?’ certainly steers the ship.

Inside JJ's Junk and Gems, MatlockInside JJ's Junk and Gems, Matlock
Inside JJ's Junk and Gems, Matlock

“Unfortunately my grandfather died when I was quite young, but it would be quite interesting to see what his early life was like in Japan.”

And if John could stock any item from history? John pauses, looks up to the ceiling, a ceiling covered in old LP sleeves, smirks.

“It would have to be the Ark of the Covenant, but not for sale… from watching Raiders of the Lost Ark as a child. Yeah, that with a big ticket on it saying ‘not for sale’. Definitely not if you have a German accent.”

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The conversation stops as an elderly man comes in the shop, searching for old war medals. John, of course, has a cabinet full.

“For a lot of people it’s a real trip down memory lane,” says John. “We regularly get customers coming in and saying ‘Oh, my grandad had that… When we used to go round to our grandma’s she used to have one of them…’”

“Or, slightly saddening for people of my age, that the toys you used to have as kids are now considered to be vintage or retro or antique…” John adds, laughing. “But yeah, it’s nice like that, when people see things from their childhood.”

John Kobayashi at JJ's Junk and Gems, MatlockJohn Kobayashi at JJ's Junk and Gems, Matlock
John Kobayashi at JJ's Junk and Gems, Matlock

The more John tells, it becomes clear the things in his shop that bridge to times past, can also construct a story in the now.

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“We had a couple come in that work with people with dementia. So they collect old things and old music because it can be very helpful for people with dementia. Remembering old things and touching them and seeing them. Hearing old songs can trigger memories, and very often their memory of the past is better than what’s going on currently.”

And looking back on himself, what has life taught John?

“Smile, because it’s free. You feel better, and people around you feel better. And try and do everything with love. Don’t work hard, work with love. Yeah, that’ll be about it.”

JJ’s Junk and Gems: a shop of stories.