Japan is well known for its temple and shrine flea markets, and Kyoto boasts two that draw crowds from around the country: one at Toji Temple, in south Kyoto, and the other Kita no Tenmangu, in northern Kyoto. The market at Toji is called Kobo-san by locals, which refers to the monk who founded the Kobo sect of Buddhism. It is held on the 21st of every month, on the grounds of Toji. Shoppers in the know arrive very early and bargain hard. Four days later, on the 25th, "Tenjin-san" is held at Kita no Tenmangu Shrine.
Though they are both pilgrimages, and take place on religious grounds, the overall feel at both is that of a lively outdoor market. At both, antiques, clothing, statues, fabric, kimono, and fresh vegetables are for sale at booths set up early in the morning by vendors who often come long distances to sell their wares. Ceramics such as tea bowls and pots are also widely available. Pictured above left are good luck charms--mainly for driving and luck on university exams--that are sold at Kita no Tenmangu.
Tenjin-san is west of Nishijin, Kyoto's traditional weaving district, and hard by a small geisha district: Kami Shichiken. The poster at right is an advertisement for a geisha dance performance that took place at the main performance hall in this district.
The markets date back many centuries, and in addition to food and clothes and antiques they also feature games for children. There is, for example, the goldfish scoop: with a flimsy net children attempt to scoop up goldfish, which if successful they can take home. There are other card and shooting games that will be familiar to anyone who has been to an American carnival. The vendors at the games are usually young, and in many cases borderline yakuza. Count your change.
Crowds are worst when the weather is good, after 10 am, and at year's end. The smart shoppers will arrive by 6 am to pick through the best goods.
Take the Kintetsu Railway local train one stop from Kyoto Station to Toji Station. Walk two blocks west. (Tel: 075 691 3325)
Kita no Tenmangu Shrine:
Take the 59 bus from Shijo or Sanjo in downtown Kyoto.
Take the Keifuku Railways train to Kita no Hakubaicho, walk two blocks along Imadegawa Dori. (Tel: 075 461 0005)
Chionji flea market is on a much smaller scale than Toji and Kita no Tenmangu, specializing in hand-made crafts. Chionji market is held on the 15th of each month, and it is often easy to get a space on the morning of the market. The market is on the north east corner of Hyakumanben near Kyoto University.
Buses #17, #201, #206. (Tel: 075 781 9171/075 961 0005 to register)
Books and DVDs on Japan
Guide To Kyoto
Book Hotels and Hostels in Kyoto