Kyoto Markets are a nice addition to an itinerary of temples, shrines and gardens which should not be missed. There are, typically undated information on the best flea markets in Japan, so, here, I have just listed two which are Kyoto’s MUST GO! Must SEE! and A Must BUY! experience. These are Kobo-san flea market at Toji Temple and Tenjin-san Market at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine.
1 | Kobo-san flea market at Toji Temple, Kyoto Markets
You will find one of the popular Kyoto Markets on 21st of each month. This popular one is called Kobo-san flea market which is at one of Kyoto’s most historic of temples, the To-ji Temple (East Temple). Toji Temple is also a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. It is a five-storey pagoda, 57 metres high (187 feet), which was founded in 796 but due to lightning strike, was rebuilt in the Edo period by Tokugawa Iemitsu (1600).
The market is called ‘Kobo-san’ to honour the Buddhist priest, Kukai, who brought Shingon Buddhism to Japan and founded the temple in 796. After his death on 21st March 835, he was honoured with “Kobo-Daishi” title.
1.1 | A bustling Kyoto Market from dawn to dusk
On this one-day each month, the Temple itself becomes a secondary stage. The grounds of the Temple, turns into an enormous and liveliest market area, bustling with tourists and locals in search of antiques and good bargains. There is an incredible variety here and you can find pretty much anything that you might be looking for. The market opens at sunrise and as the sun begins to set, you will note the stalls start to pack-up and prices fall to a dramatic low!
1.2 | Kimonos are a bargain at Kobo-san Market, Kyoto
There are over 1000 stalls where you can find beautiful vintage and cultural products such as second-hand kimonos, shoes, hats, hand-fans, ceramics, chopsticks, books and prints. I bought a few kimonos for 500 Yen each, not just for use but to use the fabric for other creative ideas such as handbags or purses. These kimonos are exquisite vintage fabric and can be used to create modern garments. Modern garments with an exquisite vintage fabric would be lovely, I think. Would you agree?
These kimonos were of top quality fabric and was well worth the money! There were some for even 300 Yen! Just keep looking and you will find the stall 😊.
This is also one of the very few markets where you can negotiate and bargain over the products.
1.3 | Street food at Kobo-san Market, Kyoto Markets
The Kobo-san flea market is not just about bargain-hunting. It is also a great opportunity to experience the variety of Japanese street food on offer here, from yakitori (grilled meat on skewers), takoyaki or the Hiroshima style okonomiyaki.
If you are feel like having something substantial, you could try the okonomiyaki. It is a Japanese-style savoury pancake, topped with layers of cabbage, meat, noodles and a choice of octopus or fish, with lots of okonomiyaki sauce (a combination of ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, oyster sauce, sugar or honey).
You can read more about Hiroshima style Okonomiyaki on a previous blog I wrote by clicking the link: Hiroshima’s Soul Food – Okonomiyaki and Oysters
Takoyaki is a popular Japanese snack. It is ball-shaped, made of wheat flour batter and cooked in special moulded pan.
These dough balls are filled with pieces of octopus, pickled ginger and onions but you can hardly taste the ginger or the onions. It is topped with takoyaki sauce (similar to Worcestershire sauce) and Japanese mayonnaise, sprinkled with aonori or green laver (an edible green seaweed) and sometimes, shavings of dried bonito.
I must admit that takoyaki is not one of my favourite of Japanese food. People differ in taste, therefore I suggest that you try it at least once!
1.4 | Travel tips and Useful information on Kobo-san Market, Kyoto Markets
Give yourself plenty of time to explore.
Give yourself plenty of time to explore. You can easily get lost here, amongst the huge crowd. The enormous market area is like a maze and on occasions navigating around the stalls and re-tracing your steps may be a little challenging. So, give yourself plenty of time to get lost here and experience the authentic market atmosphere.
Mornings are best for choices
Mornings are best if you want choices and are looking for specific items such as antiques or silk kimonos. If you are looking for a bargain, after 3 pm would be best as the sellers will reduce the prices to get rid of their stock. I visited the market at about 10:00 and it was already beginning to pick-up the crowd but was still pleasant. However, by midday, it was really crowded and queues were building up around the food stalls.
Tip: If you are looking for a bargain, try after 3 pm where sellers reduce their prices to at least half so they can reduce their stock.
1.5 | Getting to Kobo-san Market
Kobo-san Market is within the grounds of Toji Temple. Toji Temple is situated in Minami-ku, There are couple of ways to get here.
i) Kobo-san Market is easily accessible via the modern Kyoto Station, a 15-minute walk southwest through the Omiya and Kujo Street intersection. Be warned, this walk is not really that interesting as there is not much to see except busy streets amidst heavy traffic. 15-minutes is quite a long walk, if you think about it.
If you don’t fancy the walk, the nearest station, which I used, is the Toji Station.
Toji Station is on the Kintetsu Kyoto Line. It takes about 5-minutes to reach Toji Temple/Kobo-san Market. You can see the pagoda from the street outside the Toji Station.
1.6 | Access
Entry to the market and the grounds are free but there is a small charge if you are planning on visiting the pagoda and the surrounding buildings.
1.7 | Conclusion on Kobo-san Market, Kyoto Market
Despite the crowd, Kobo-san Market is a place for antiques, trinkets and good value kimonos. There are other selections of traditional garments and hand woven pieces of material which you can purchase too. In addition, there are a great selection of street food for you to taste. For an authentic Japanese traditional market, I would recommend that you visit the Kobo-san market.
My second of the two Kyoto Markets which you should not miss is the Tenjin-san Market at the Kitano Tenmangu-Shrine.
2. Tenjin-san Market at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, Kyoto Markets
The Tenjin-san market at the Kitano Tenmangu-shrine is held on 25th of each month. There are well over 1000 stalls, in and around the shrine. There are rare ornaments, silk kimonos and yukatas for a bargain, plants, pottery and antiques.
There is a huge selection of street food stalls for every taste-bud! The aroma of the yakisoba just draws you…which is mouth-wateringly delicious, cooked right in front of you.
The market is open from the break of dawn till late, 9 pm, but has early closing hours in the winter.
2.1 | Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, Kyoto
The Kitano Tenmangu Shrine was built in 947 AD in honour of Sugawara no Michizane, who was unfairly exiled by the political rivals of his time. He was a scholar and a politician during 794 AD to 1185 AD which represents the middle Heian period.
Sugawara no Michizane
Sugawara no Michizane was incredibly talented. He read poems at the age of 5 and wrote Chinese poems at the age of 11. Shrines were built to appease him, and he became known as the “god of academics.” He led the popular “Tenjin faith” throughout Japan. The Kitano Tenmangu is the main shrine and the origin of the faith, and there are 12,000 shrines that are dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane.
The Kitano Tenmangu shrine is popular amongst students during exam time and during school trips.
2.2 | Tenjin-San Market, Kyoto Markets
What makes this flea market unique and will be well-worth your visit is the mixture of stalls within the traditional shrine setting. The grounds are large and there are many buildings such as the main shrine which is situated behind the worship hall (this is where the deity is enshrined). The worship hall is connected by the Ishi-no-Ma-Hall which one can visit.
In addition, there are the Sanko-mon Gate and the Ro-mon Gate. So, when you get tired of the bustling crowd and need some space and quiet, you can just wander off to the calmness of the shrine and the gardens, or to enjoy your meal.
Tenjin-san market at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine sits within a large beautifully landscaped gardens. It is peaceful, quiet – an area of total zen from the bustling crowds just a few hundred feet away.
2.3 | Travel tips and Useful information on Tenjin-san Market, Kyoto Markets
Getting to The Tenjin-san Market at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine
The Tenjin-san Market at Kitano Tenmangu shrine can be accessed directly by Kyoto City Bus numbers 50 and 101 from Kyoto Station. It is about 30 minutes ride and costs 230 Yen.
There is a quicker route – take the Karasuma Subway Line to Imadegawa Station and then take the bus number 102 or 203.
In either case, get off at the Kitano Tenmangumae bus-stop.
Admission is Free.
2.4 | My Conclusion on Tenjin-san Market, Kyoto Markets
Tenjin-san Market is a popular market visited by both tourists and local, especially by students as they pray for wisdom and academic success in observing the Tenjin faith.
I was pleasantly surprised when I visited here. The architectural design was exceptional and the many lanterns just caught my attention. In addition, I watched a show performed by the students of the Shinto faith who sang and danced depicting an ancient story. Unfortunately, I did not understand the story and photography was not allowed. I enjoyed it and it was Free.
If you are considering a visit to a market with a difference, then visit Tenjin-san market, where you will not only what the market offers but also architectural delight and a closer look at Shinto practices.
3 | Ways to experience the cultural city of Kyoto.
If you are looking for some ideas on places to visit, Get Your Guide has some excellent value for money tours. Please click on the link below and have a browse. These ideas can help you plan your next visit to Japan.
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January 2020, Update.