Just go with your instinct! A guide to the flea markets

Kyoto’s World Heritage listed To-ji Temple transformed into a place for commoners

Once a month, the atmosphere of the world heritage listed To-ji Temple completely changes. The 21st of each month is the day for “Kobo-san”, which is a flea market run to honor the anniversary of the death of To-ji Temple’s founder, the Kobo-Daishi Kukai. Just for this day, Japan’s tallest five storied pagoda and other national treasures such as the Kondo where the three Yakushi Buddhas are enshrined are relegated to being mere side shows. From the Kobo-san market opening at the break of dawn to the close at sunset, the grounds of the temple transform into a bustling commoner’s town. The Kobo-san market, which has run continuously for 700 years, is visited by around 200,000 people each time! Within that are even regular visitors who come from Tokyo via Shinkansen.

On the 21st of the month, when you walk here from the nearest station, the first things you will see are the tree sellers lined along the temple walls. Even at 7 am which is quite early, there is already a large crowd taking a quick look at the trees while on their way into the gates. The true nature of Kobo-san is that it is an antique shop occupying the entire temple grounds. Established practice is that the morning is for finding treasures, so that is why it’s always so busy in the morning.

From stalls selling mountains of kimono and obi belts on a blue plastic sheet on the ground, to others that sell plates and ornaments on tables, or even loads of tools and stationery packed into wooden boxes, there are many types of shops, but there are even more types of things on sale. Of course there’s a lot of trash among the treasure, but finding your own treasure out of that is the real charm of the flea market. However, there are between 1,200 and 1,300 stalls, so looking at each stall one by one will eat up your time in an instant. Take a quick look first, and check if there are any stalls that have the kind of things you want to look at more closely. Then you can start looking for your own treasure.

The bridal garments on the right in the foreground start from 2000 yen.

The Kobo-san market is also popular for being filled with many kinds of kimono that fit the Kyoto image. Within the market, the area with the best reputation for finding these is the Northern gate (Kitasoumon) area. There are not only expensive floral patterned long sleeved kimono fit for princesses, but also a wealth of kimono that look fun to try on and others to be used as material for remaking garments available at reasonable prices. Within that, there are also kimono and obi belts available for just a few hundred yen. From a vivid peony patterned garment, it might be fun to cut out just a single flower and use it as a tapestry or table centerpiece. This might be a good idea to help make memories of your trip that will last forever.

To-ji Temple

Address:1 Kujo-cho, Minami-ku, Kyoto-city, Kyoto
Access:15 minutes’ walk from the Hachijo Exit of JR Kyoto Station, or 10 minutes’ walk from Kintetsu To-ji Station

To-ji Temple Kobo-san Market

Telephone:0774-31-5550 (To-ji Temple Stall Management Committee)
Opening dates:The 21st of every month
Opening hours:From sunrise to sunset

God and Buddha occasionally get up early too: Tokyo’s Tomioka Hachimangu Shrine and Takahata Fudo

At Tokyo Koto-ward’s Tomioka Hachimangu shrine, which is famous for its lively festival where spectators throw water on the people carrying portable mikoshi shrines, four Sundays a month a market is held there. Though many flea markets open only once a month, having more opening days gives this market an advantage. While strolling around downtown Tokyo, why not give the flea market a try?

Traditional dolls start from 300 yen.

At the Tomioka Hachimangu market, in addition to the standard flea market offerings such as Imari porcelain, kimono, toys, traditional household goods and wooden furniture, and carpenter tool, it specially features a wealth of enthusiast goods such as picture postcards of 19th century female customs and rare nostalgic corporate novelty goods. There are only around 120 stalls which isn’t a lot in terms of scale, but that means you can take your time to look around. Like the Kobo-san market, each stall has its own qualification, and all the people running the stores are pros that have their own shops. There are even stall owners around who can explain to you in English all about valuable Imari porcelain.

There are many bargain bins where “Everything is 100 yen each”.

At Takahata Fudo Temple, which is said to have been built 1,100 years ago, they have the Gozare market, another of Tokyo’s popular flea markets located 30 minutes away from Shinjuku by limited express train. This market, which opens on the 3rd Sunday of each month, is full of lots of little stores not just along the main approach to the shrine, but also behind buildings and down side streets. There are even stalls comprised simply of small bowls lined up on mats spread across stone stairs. The “Gozare” part of the market’s name means “as long as it’s old then anything goes.” In addition to antique ceramics, kimono and old hanging clocks, there are also many items on offer that even Japanese people have no idea what they might be used for. However, there’s no need to be picky over how you might use it in the future. After all, for the things you like, you’ll want to employ your own personal ideas.

If you get tired from the crowds which can be similar to New Year’s levels, take a rest at a teahouse. The wind that comes across the lush green footpaths that exhibit the changes in nature from season to season will gently leave a warm glow on your cheeks.

Tomioka Hachimangu Shrine

Address:1-20-3, Tomioka, Koto-ku, Tokyo
Access:3 minutes walk from Monzen-nakacho station on the Tozai Subway Line, or 6 minutes walk from Monzen-nakacho station on the Toei Oedo Subway Line.

Tomioka Hachimangu Antique Market

Opening dates:The 1st (Excluding January), 2nd, 4th and 5th Sundays of each month. *However if the day falls on the 15th or 28th of the month, the market will be closed.
Opening hours:From sunrise to sunset

Takahata Fudo (Takahata Fudoson Kongo-ji )

Address:733, Takahata, Hino-city, Tokyo
Telephone:042-591-0032 (Switchboard)
Access:5 minutes’ walk from Takahata-fudo Station on the Keio Line or the Tama Monorail line

Takahata Fudo Gozare Market

Opening Dates:The 3rd Sunday of every month
Opening Times:7:00 – 16:00

A seasonal tradition to enjoy with your intuition and courage: Tokyo’s Setagaya Boro Market and the Oedo Antique Market.

Although the majority of flea markets that run in temples and shrines have its origins centered around villages and businesses, there are also markets that were developed by towns as a regional event. A good example of this is Setagaya ward’s Setagaya Boro Market in Tokyo, which has 400 years of history. Though its name comes from the word “Boro” (used rags), it prospered as a marketplace for used clothes in the past. Nowadays, in addition to antiques and miscellaneous daily goods, there are also things like musical instruments and used games for sale. Bargaining is acceptable, so if you find something that takes your fancy, trying to haggle with just your courage, facial expressions and gestures may also be a good experience. There are also generous stores that may give you something a little extra as a souvenir for your travels if you buy something there.

Another of Setagaya Boro Market’s famous goods is Daikan Mochi, which is a filling dessert snack made from freshly made rice cake with red beans and kinako (soy flour) on top. While Daikan Mochi is so popular that people come to the market just to eat it and it’s also great as a source of energy, depending on the time of day there may be really long queues for it. There are other food stalls selling ramen and other food, so consider how much time you have before making a decision.

Though antiques tend to have a rustic feeling, there is also a flea market held in a modern building which could not be further from this image. Held in the courtyard of the Tokyo International Forum near Tokyo Station is the Oedo Antique Market. It runs on the 3rd Sunday of every month. There are also many European antiques on sale such as beautiful western dolls with blue eyes, exquisitely crafted opera bags and antique jewelry. However, due to building renovations, for a short period of time the market will not be held at the Tokyo International Forum from December 2013 to March 2014. There are also many fans that are eagerly looking forward to its reopening.

Setagaya Boro Market

Address:Boroichi-dori, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo
Telephone:03-3429-1829 (Setagaya Boro Market Preservation Committee)
Access:Right near Setagaya-Kamimachi station on the Tokyu Setagaya Line
Opening dates:December 15th and 16th, January 15th and 16th every year
Opening Hours:9:00 – 20:00

Oedo Antique Market

Address:3-5-1, Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo Tokyo International Forum Ground Level (1F) Courtyard
Telephone:03-6407-6011 (Oedo Antique Market Planning Committee)
Access:1 minute walk from JR Yurakucho Station, or 5 minutes’ walk from JR Tokyo Station
Opening dates:The 1st and 3rd Sunday of every month (Due to renovations the market is closed until March 2014)
Opening hours:9:00 – 16:00