Flea Market Thrills

As a born and bred New Englander, I come easily to the flea market bug.  The thrill of the hunt, the opportunity to learn a little history, and the satisfaction of a good deal, all join forces to raise my adrenalin and put me in high spirits.  There’s also some pleasure of imagining that there just might be a treasure  waiting for me to uncover at the next booth.  It’s what keeps me going usually far longer than common sense would dictate.

I  love a good flea market.  Kyoto scores highly in fulfilling that desire; there are at least two monthly shrine markets that always hit the mark.  Also, since the markets seem a bit exotic to the Western eye, it’s intriguing.  There are food vendors, plants, some temples or shrines to explore, lots of vintage textiles, some ceramics, some collectibles, some shmatas(look it up), some crafts, etc. etc.

Sunday was Tenjin San, always on the 25th of the month. It was oppressively hot, and with my somewhat impatient, but not yet balky, husband joining me, we moved through the aisles pretty quickly.  No spectacular finds, but still lots of goodies  to check out along the way.  There was even a performing monkey, which I found archaic and unpleasant, yet fascinating despite my disapproval.

Some of the hundreds, thousands? of vintage textiles for sale are staggering in their beauty.  Most are quite ordinary, if you can ever call a kimono ordinary, but when you hit a standout because of pattern and color, it’s like running into a sublime Monet or dazzling Kandinsky. Ok, I’m exaggerating just a bit, but you get my drift!  My mind always spins for a few minutes when I hit a patch of vintage kimono, but then I calm myself down and admire them for the moment, knowing  if I brought one home, I wouldn’t know what to do with it and would never have the heart to cut it up.  Rather than a source of pleasure, it could easily become an object triggering guilt that I’d put away on a high shelf.

kimono pattern

IMG_4945A kid in a candy store.  All at just her height.

Boy lost in thought.

More textiles.

KImono sold by the bag full!
Pokemon’s friend
Autumn leaves and grape vine for autumn kimono

So, if you’re hanging out in Kyoto on the 21st or 25th of the month without much to do, get thee to a flea market for a day of discovery, and just plain fun.

silk kimono sleeve

One Man’s Trash?


I thought I’d missed the major Kyoto flea markets this month, but I got lucky when I noted in my trusty Kyoto Guide that there was a smaller market yesterday at the Toji Temple.  It suited me well, because it was much quieter, with only stalls of antiques. No need to have to walk by all the food booths, the crush of other shoppers and the ready-made crafts.

Ok, a lot of it, was not truly antique, but it was old stuff. Some less sensitive souls might go so far as to declare it junk.  Although my husband has tried to break me of the browsing habit, I continue to like stuff.  Not ANY stuff, but some stuff that carries with it some whimsy, some beauty, or a whiff of nostalgia.  img_8151

I think most of the high-end stuff in Japan now goes to galleries, collectors or auctions.  But, the fun of the hunt for me, is not to find something precious, but something representing another time that might have been very common in its day, but is now, not often seen. I like wondering which hild must have thought this bike was the best.


I have gotten more selective over the years. I like to think, a lot more selective, but that’s probably in my eyes only.  When I first began coming to Japan, just about everything caught my eye.  Now, I can usually tell in a quick glance, whether or not it’s of interest to me.


I was surprised to see the first evidence of leaves changing color at this temple complex.  A few regal old gingkos were turning gold.  The sky was a moody grey and people were pretty bundled up. It was a fine morning just to lollygaggle along, from one dealer to the next.  There were the usual piles of dozens of used kimonos and obis.  There were piles of scraps of kimono fabric, that had been disassembled, because the whole kimono could no longer be worn.  However,  all parts that can be reused are saved and respected.


Mottainai is a Japanese concept that points out the shame of waste.  If I understand it correctly, it arises because of the Shinto belief that objects, both animate and inanimate, have souls that should not be disregarded.  I think, when I’m attracted to an old object, that its soul has caught my attention!

I knew immediately when I saw this little draw full of tiny old wooden dolls, that I was there to rescue them and bring them home.  Don’t they look happy to be appreciated again??!!


Mottainai attempts to communicate the inherent value in a thing and encourage using objects fully or all the way to the end of their lifespan. Leave no grain of rice in your bowl; if a toy breaks, repair it; and take good care of everything.

I promise.