To-ji (東寺) Temple Flea Market ・ Updated

=  First posted June 2010.   To-ji’s Flea Market is held on the 21st of every month.  =

To-ji temple covers many leafy, beautiful acres, busting with ancient halls and other buildings in South Central Kyoto.  It figures importantly into my life and Japan experience.  I first immersed myself in the To-ji Flea Market scene in the autumn of 1984 when I was 21 years old.  I went again and again over the years.  On September 21, 2001, I took my then-wife to the Flea Market and both of our lives changed dramatically as a result of that visit. . .  More, much more, on that in Part III of my book, Dancing Over Kyoto. In 2008 I took a group of U.S. college history students, Japanese History Students, to To-ji’s Flea Market.  It blew their minds.  Please read on.

Note:  Photos below from May 2008, going back to 2003 and 2002.

Approaching To-jis Southern Entrance from the west.

I first experienced To-ji as an undergrad, an exchange student, back in the 1980s, when I went a couple of different times to its 21st-of-every-month flea market.  Bursting with people, food (yakitoriokonomiyakitakoyakioden, yakisoba, taiyaki – with either custard or azuki bean filling — etc., etc.), treasures, junk, memorabilia, used kimono, knives, scrolls, incense, brass, wood, stoneware, sights and smells the like of which is unparalleled anywhere in Japan.  That’s no exaggeration: the monthly To-ji flea market is the largest in Japan.  Since those first couple of occasions I’ve been back again and again, in ’90, ’91, ’01 and many times since.  Two years ago, in May (May 21st, in fact) 2008, I took a group of UAB (University of Alabama-Birmingham) students to To-ji and, by all accounts, they had a good time.

A small fraction of the crowd on Flea Mkt day. May 21, 2008. (also called “Kobo-san”).

To-ji goes back to the year 786, when it was founded two years after Emperor Shomu moved his court from the even more ancient capital of Nara to Kyoto — then called “Heian-kyo.  Some of its images and relics date back almost as far.  Its iconic, 5-story pagoda is the tallest in Japan, some 180 feet high.  Its founder was the celebrated Tantric (Shingon) Buddhist priest Kobo Daishi.  To-ji’s flea market is thus affectionately known to and referred by locals simply as “Kobo-san.”

A former acquaintance checking the porcelain. To-ji. 2003.

And this under the food tents, To-ji in May 2002.

And this under the food tents, To-ji in May 2002.

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1 of 88 Prayers. Toji Temple. May 21, 2008.

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Local Ladies at “Choir Practice.” To-ji.

To-ji Market Hours: generally, dawn to dusk.  As with any flea market or variant thereof, better deals can be done in the late afternoon when the dealers are looking for cash-flow and desirous of diminishing their pack-up and loading time.  This is a general rule of thumb, but, of course, not a “hard and fast” rule. Oh, and Caveat emptor.

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The Knife Man. To-ji. 2008.

SIMPLE WALKING DIRECTIONS FROM KYOTO STATION TO TO-JI TEMPLE:

     1.  From Kyoto Station exit out of the Shinkansen (“Bullet Train”) Central Entrance. This is on the South Side of Kyoto Station. If you’re on the side that exits out to Kyoto Tower, then you’re on the North Side and need to go back up the stairs (or escalator) to the 2nd Floor Pedestrian Walkway and walk back over to the opposite side, go down the steps and keep walking straight towards the (South) exit. You’ll pass the Kintetsu Railway (inside) Central Entrance on your right just before you walk out of Kyoto Station.  

     2.  After you get all the way out of Kyoto Station take a right and follow the sidewalk which runs along Hachijo-dori ・八条道り(Hachijo Street), keep going straight, leaving Kyoto Station receding behind you on your right. About two or so city blocks after Kyoto Station’s behind you, you’ll cross a major intersection, where Hachijo-dori crosses Aburanokoji-dori. Keep going straight.

     3.  About 3 blocks after crossing the big intersection (remember, you haven’t turned and you’re still on Hachijo-dori), you’ll come to another largish intersection, where Hachijo-dori meets Omiya-dori・大宮道り. Turn left onto Omiya-dori (you’re almost there).

     4.  Walk just a few blocks down Omiya-dori and you’ll see To-ji Temple on your right. You can either go into the first entrance you come to, on your right, or — as I recommend — walk to the end of the street and take a right on Kujo-dori, keeping To-ji on your right hand side as you walk down the sidewalk. Now you’re walking along To-ji’s southern (main entrance) side and you’ll be among throngs of people. After a couple hundred yards you’ll arrive at the Southern Large/Main Gate (Nandaimon) and you can enter there.

Total Time from Exiting Kyoto Station to the Main Gate: 15 minutes+/-.

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    • JaxDem
    • June 24th, 2010

    Shopping…ah mah favorite pastime. :D

    In the photo of the crowd it appears the shoppers are dressed far better than what you would find from our flea markets. Perhaps it is just Florida where every day is dress down day. And many of the ladies wear hats it seems.
    The pagoda that is 180 ft., when was that built? Does it date as far back as To-ji?

    Your images, beautiful as always, capture a beautiful blue skied spring day.

    • letsjapan
    • June 24th, 2010

    They do dress better in Japan, as a rule. Absolutely. The pagoda has been built three times, if I recall correctly. The first two times it was destroyed by fire. This latest, newest one was built in 1644. It’s odd how the “new” thing in Japan, at least when talking about temple buildings, will often date back to the 17th, 16th, or 15th century.

    I write this at 6:50 a.m. Central Time on 24 June. I plan to have my newest story, “Auction” up by 9:00 a.m. or so. Again, To-ji figures into it somewhat prominently.

    All the best and thanks always for stopping by and, also, letting others know –

    R

    • Sandy
    • March 26th, 2012

    May overseas visitors selling their own products in the flea market? How can we apply?

      • letsjapan
      • March 26th, 2012

      Dear Sandy,

      I’ve never seen it. My first visits to To-ji were in 1984. My last one was about 4 years ago (with many, many visits in between). I may have overlooked a foreigner (who would be an expat in Japan, not somebody flying over to Japan) with a booth, but I sort of doubt it. I’ll be happy to be corrected. The first step would be to hire (or, if a friend would volunteer, then great) a Japanese speaker to contact To-ji Temple (it has a website with contact information) and make general inquiries.

      In fact, THE first step would be to visit it on the 21st of this or that month and get a “feel” for it.

      Good luck.

      R.

  1. August 24th, 2010
  2. November 10th, 2010

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