When in Kyoto, it is highly recommended to visit the various shrines and temples which boast unique charm and are usually located in scenic locations. However, besides visiting these sacred places of interest, you may not know that there are many temporary flea markets held in these places. They offer an interesting array of things to buy and see, especially handmade goods of Kyoto.
If you haven’t yet had the chance to do some shopping in a religious place like a temple or shrine, read on to find out about the top 3 flea markets taking place on the grounds of Kyoto’s famous temples and shrines. You can see for yourself their charm and beauty, and maybe buy some unique gifts or souvenirs!
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First of all, let’s visit To-ji (東寺) which is a Buddhist temple of the Shingon sect, located in the Minami Ward of Kyoto. This temple is the only remaining relic from the Heian Era when Kyoto was the capital, and it was also regarded as the national temple. To date, it has been around for about 1,200 years and was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994.
The Kobo-ichi (弘法市) which literally means a market to spread Buddhist teachings, is held within the grounds of To-ji on the 21st of each month. The locals refer to this market affectionately as “Kobo-san” (弘法さん).
Actually, the market used to be an annual event which took place on 21st March every year i.e. the date when the temple’s founder Kukai passed away. This was considered to be the Ennichi (縁日) which means the day when people in the world could establish a connection to the Buddha. It was only from the year 1239 that the market became a monthly event.
On such days when the temple grounds were filled with people, there would be many merchants setting up stalls selling tea to the crowds. By the Edo era, other types of stalls such as those selling gardening-related items and medicine gradually appeared thus adding variety and vibrancy to the market.
In the present day, the market’s link to the Ennichi is probably not as significant as before. However, the Kobo-ichi which is held from 5 am to 4 pm (actual operation hours depends on the season, weather and individual stallholders), continues to enjoy immense popularity with about 1,200 to 1,300 stalls taking part, which attracts around 200,000 visitors each time.
One unique characteristic of the Kobo-ichi is that there is a high proportion of stallholders who actually have other shops elsewhere, which differs from most other such markets where the stallholders tend to sell their works periodically and exclusively at these markets. Due to the huge number of stalls, you will be able to find a variety of handmade goods such as household items and art pieces by young creators, antique stalls and many food and drink choices!
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Next up is the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine (北野天満宮) which was built more than 1,000 years ago in the year 947 by the emperor at that time. The shrine was in honor of Sugawara no Michizane (菅原道真), who was a scholar and politician during the Heian period and was the first person in Japanese history to be enshrined as an actual deity.
Although there are around 12,000 shrines in Japan which are dedicated to Sugawara, the Kitano Tenmangu remains the main shrine and the origin of the Tenjin faith. Sugawara, who was known for his academic talent, became a revered figure for those seeking excellence in their abilities or success in examinations.
The Tenjin-ichi (天神市) which is referred to as “Tenjin-san” (天神さん) by the locals, is held on the 25th of each month which coincides with the birthday and death anniversary of Sugawara. As many as 1,000 stores are set up for the market which runs from 6 am to 4 pm on the grounds of the shrine.
Besides being known as the best place to find antiques and retro furniture, there are many stalls featuring handmade crafts, products, and traditional desserts which means that all visitors will be able to find something which interests them.
If you happen to be there on 25 December, you will see a lot of New Year-related items and necessities featured at the market, which takes on a very different festive feel when compared to the rest of the year.
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Last but not least, let’s visit Hyakumanben Chion-ji (百万遍知恩寺) which is a Jodo-shu sect temple of Japanese Buddhism. The name originated in 1331 when Kyoto was hit by a serious plague. The abbot of Chion-ji held a service to recite the sutra Namu-Amida-Butsu, and apparently did this recital one million times in a week!
Please note that there is another temple in Kyoto with a similar name, ‘Chionin (知恩院)’, which is located in the Higashiyama Ward of the city. However, the temple of interest here is actually located opposite the campus of Kyoto University in Sakyo Ward.
The Tezukuri-ichi (手づくり市), or Handmade Market, which is referred to as “Hyakumanben-san” (百万遍さん) by the locals, is the smallest and the newest among these featured markets as it was first setup in 1986 as a place for amateurs to showcase their crafts.
For those looking for unique and interesting handmade goods, this market is held on the 15th of each month and includes between 350 and 450 stores setup on the temple grounds. It opens from 9 am to 4 pm and attracts as many as 10,000 visitors each month. It also has a strict rule that only handmade products can be sold there. For those interested in learning some art and craft skills, there are also workshops in this market so you can pick up some skills from the experts while also choosing from an array of unique items to buy!
How about planning your itinerary in Kyoto to include these interesting temple and shrine markets? You might just find something which will make your day and also get to experience a lively and bustling atmosphere on the grounds of these usually quiet religious places in Kyoto!