Besides temples, shrines, gardens and history that goes back centuries in Kyoto, flea markets are also a nice addition which should not be missed! There are, typically undated information on the best flea markets in Japan, so, here, I have just listed two which is a Kyoto’s MUST SEE!
- On 21st of each month, the popular Kobo-san flea market is at one of Kyoto’s most historic of temples, the To-ji Temple (East Temple) which is also a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. It is a five-storey pagoda, 57 metres high (187 feet), which was founded in 796 but due to lightning strike, was rebuilt in the Edo period by Tokugawa Iemitsu (1600). The market is called ‘Kobo-san’ to honour the Buddhist priest, Kukai, who brought Shingon Buddhism to Japan and founded the temple in 796. After his death on 21st March 835, he was honoured with “Kobo-Daishi” title.
On this one-day each month, the Temple itself becomes a secondary stage whereas the grounds of the Temple, turns into an enormous and liveliest market area, bustling with tourists and locals in search of antiques and good bargains. There is an incredible variety here and you can find pretty much anything that you might be looking for. The market opens at sunrise and as the sun begins to set, you will note the stalls start to pack-up and prices fall to a dramatic low! There are over 1000 stalls where you can find beautiful vintage and cultural products such as second-hand kimonos, shoes, hats, hand-fans, ceramics, chopsticks, books and prints. I bought a few kimonos for 500 Yen each, not just for use but to use the fabric for other creative ideas such as handbags or purses or just turn it into a modern garment but with an exquisite vintage fabric. Exquisite! These kimonos were of top quality fabric and was well worth the money! You can pick some up for even 300 Yen! Just keep looking and you will find the stall 😊. This is also one of the very few markets where you can negotiate and bargain over the products.
The kobo-san flea market is not just about bargain-hunting, but it is also a great opportunity to experience the variety of Japanese street food on offer here, from yakitori (grilled meat on skewers), takoyaki or the Hiroshima style okonomiyaki. Takoyaki, though it is not one of my favourites, you must try it at least once! It is a Japanese snack, which is ball-shaped dough, made with wheat flour batter and cooked in special moulded pan. It is filled with pieces of octopus, pickled ginger and onions but you can hardly taste the ginger or the onions. It is topped with takoyaki sauce (similar to Worcestershire sauce) and Japanese mayonnaise, sprinkled with aonori or green laver (an edible green seaweed) and sometimes, shavings of dried bonito. If you are feeling a little more peckish, try the okonomiyaki. It is a Japanese-style savoury pancake, topped with layers of cabbage, meat, noodles and a choice of octopus or fish, with lots of okonomiyaki sauce (a combination of ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, oyster sauce, sugar or honey).
You can easily get lost here, amongst the huge crowd, the enormous market area, in the maze of the stalls and find it difficult to re-trace your steps, so you will have to give yourself plenty of time to explore this market. Mornings are best if you want choices and are looking for specific items such as antiques or silk kimonos. If you are looking for a bargain, after 3 pm would be best as the sellers will reduce the prices to get rid of their stock. I visited the market at about 10:00 and it was already beginning to pick-up the crowd but was still pleasant. However, by midday, it was really crowded and queues were building up around the food stalls.
The Toji Temple is situated in Minami-ku, easily accessible via the modern Kyoto Station, a 15-minute walk southwest through the Omiya and Kujo Street intersection. However, this walk is not really that interesting as there is not much to see except busy streets. If you don’t fancy the walk, the nearest station, which I used, is the Toji Station, on the Kintetsu Kyoto Line, and it takes about 5-minutes. You can see the pagoda from the street outside the Toji Station.
Entry to the market and the grounds are free but there is a small charge if you are planning on visiting the pagoda and the surrounding buildings.
- The other flea market that should not be missed is the Tenjin-san market at the Kitano Tenmangu-shrine which is held on 25th of each month. Here too, there are well over 1000 stalls, in and around the shrine. There are rare ornaments, silk kimonos and yukatas for a bargain, plants, pottery and antiques. There is a huge selection of street food stalls for every taste-bud! The aroma of the yakisoba just draws you…which is mouth-wateringly delicious, cooked right in front of you. The market is open from the break of dawn till late, 9 pm, but has early closing hours in the winter.
The Kitano Tenmangu Shrine was built in 947 AD in honour of Sugawara no Michizane, who was unfairly exiled by the political rivals of his time. He was a scholar and a politician during 794 AD to 1185 AD which represents the middle Heian period. Sugawara no Michizane was incredibly talented. He read poems at the age of 5 and wrote Chinese poems at the age of 11. Shrines were built to appease him, and he became known as the “god of academics.” He led the popular “Tenjin faith” throughout Japan. The Kitano Tenmangu is the main shrine and the origin of the faith, and there are 12,000 shrines that are dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane. The Kitano Tenmangu shrine is popular amongst students during exam time and during school trips.
What makes this flea market unique and will be well-worth your visit is the mixture of stalls within the traditional shrine setting. The grounds are large and there are many buildings such as the main shrine which is situated behind the worship hall (this is where the deity is enshrined). The worship hall is connected by the “Ishi-no-Ma-Hall. In addition, there are the Sanko-mon Gate and the Ro-mon Gate. So, when you get tired of the bustling crowd and need some space and quiet, you can just wander off to the calmness of the shrine and the gardens, or to enjoy your meal.
The Kitano Tenmangu shrine can be accessed directly by Kyoto City Bus numbers 50 and 101 from Kyoto Station. It is about 30 minutes ride and costs 230 Yen. There is a quicker route – take the Karasuma Subway Line to Imadegawa Station and then take the bus number 102 or 203. In either case, get off at the Kitano Tenmangumae bus-stop.
Admission is Free.