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.
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 (yakitori, okonomiyaki, takoyaki, oden, 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.
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.”
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.
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+/-.