Category Archives: flea markets

Shimogamo book fair

Poster advertisement for the Shimogamo used book fair, KyotoIt’s pouring rain today and will probably continue all weekend. Staying safe and dry at home could easily end in cabin fever by Sunday night, except for one little thing — I went to the annual Shimogamo book fair a few weeks ago.

Unlike the monthly fleamarkets at Kitano and Toji, the Shimogamo book fair occurs but once a year. Used book dealers from all over Japan, set up booths in the garden of Shimogamo Shrine for a book-lovers’ festival that goes on for four days. And to a book maven such as myself, it is a treasure trove of delight.

So on this rainy weekend, I can curl up with my treasures very much like the child in the festival flyer shown at right.

Shimogamo shrine, KyotoShimogamo is a Shinto shrine located about 5 minutes from my house by bicycle. It dates back to the 17th century and is a world heritage site. Shimogamo Shrine was built within the Tadasu no Mori,”the forest of truth.” And despite the encroaching urbanism of modern Kyoto, a portion of this forest is preserved within the temple garden, some of the trees being marked as particularly sacred by a wrapping of straw rope. According to legend, all lies will be exposed in this forest.

Used book fair at Shimogamo shrine, KyotoThe particularly rainy summer we had this year made the garden a lush green contrasted sharply by the vermillion Torii gates that mark the transition from the profane world into the sacred space of the garden.

And once inside, there beneath the canopy of trees in the forest of truth was all the books that book lover could ever love.
Old jazz LPs at the used book fair at Shimogamo shrine, Kyoto Collections of magazines that span the last half century, books on every topic imaginable. Whether you are a music fan, a sports fan, a car enthusiast, history buff, or poetry lover, you will find a treasure waiting there to feed your soul.

Of course, there are also a few other bits of soul food, like the vintage LPs for the jazz aficionado at left. Overall a nice lot of cool and hot jazz. Great opportunities to add some vintage jazz to your collection.

Vintage patterns at the used book fair at Shimogamo shrine, Kyoto
And among my personal favorites, there are sometimes a few vintage patterns from the 40s and 50s — in Japanese, of course.

Last year I was able to buy a collection of kimono style books from the Taisho period (circa 1910). Kimono style books contain line drawings of various kimono styles available from a certain kimono dealer. Since all kimono are made to order, the customer and dealer would discuss the drawing shown in the style book as a starting point for the order. The line drawings are uncolored since color would be one of the choices to be discussed, but the motifs to be dyed or woven into the kimono are clearly shown in the drawing. Old style books are a great resource for designers, so it was my hope to find yet another collection this year.

A young book-lover at the used book fair at Shimogamo shrine, Kyoto Still you never know what you may find and wandering around, perusing the choices is part of the fun.

Definitely, that’s a sentiment shared by my eager little friend at right. You’re never too young to begin a love affair with books. It was fun to see one so little enjoy himself that much. He and his mother eventually left with quite an armload containing books for each of them.

My own purchases from the used book fair at Shimogamo shrine, Kyoto And me? What did I buy? Well, I didn’t find that vendor with all the wonderful old style books again — maybe he decided not to come this year. But I was thrilled to find a catalog to a wonderful museum show I had seen 4 years ago. I had always kicked myself for not buying a catalog at the time, but now 4 years later I found it! And another fabulous book on kimono of the roaring 20s.

But my pièce de résistance was a large six-volume set entitled Japanese Design in Art and that should keep me inspired — at least until next year’s fair!

visiting a kimono warehouse

Today was a glorious day in Kyoto. One of those gorgeous days when you feel spring turning into summer. We’ve had lots of rain this spring, which has turned everything lush and vibrant green, but today was warm and the sky was blue, making you feel summer on its way. And on a beautiful day like today, I had the chance to visit the warehouse of a vingage kimono dealer. I confess I didn’t know quite what to expect, but I did feel it would be a privileged peek into an inner sanctum of fabulous fabrics.
stacks of vintage obi
So it was kind of surprising to find the barren walls, metal rung shelving brimming with vintage obi and burgeoning plastic bags, sometimes spilling their colorful contents across the floor. And just stacks and stacks of fabrics everywhere.
racks of vintage kimono
Unlike the flea markets, where vendors try to catch the eye of passing shoppers, this was purely warehousing with only narrow passages between the piles and bundles. If there was an order to this chaos, it was known only to the owner, as he confidently moved through his storehouse, pulling out a variety of items for me to swoon over. He seemed so amused as I oo-oohed and awed with each new offering. Although the years I have spent in Kyoto has allowed me to become a somewhat jaded veteran flea-market shopper, the sheer quantity of beauty packed into such a small space overwhelmed even me.

Pictured below is an embroidered wedding kimono.

kimono embroidery Click on the image for a closer look at the embroidered details.

I confess that within 30 or 40 minutes, I had spent every last dime in my pocket and on the ride home, my poor bike wobbled under the heavy load of my purchases. It was a glorious day.


chion-ji flea market With more than 1600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines in Kyoto, it’s no surprise that Kitano is not the only shrine to host a monthly flea market in its garden. Each of the markets has its own character. While Kitanois known as a treasure-hunter’s paradise, Chion-ji is known for contemporary crafts. All of the vendors must have made their wares.

Woodwork, pottery, and cultured pearls comprise just a part of the range of visual treats available to Chion-ji shoppers. There is simply every craft imaginable along with lots of garden vegetables and homemade food, even homemade Japanese bagels.

And of course, there are fiber artists of every persuasion: dyers, weavers, quilters and patch workers. Lots and lots of patchworkers. With so many kimono being turned into doll clothes, western clothes, cell phone cases and mobile fantasies, it’s no wonder that kimono prices are becoming so dear!
Japanese fiberarts, patchwork

Christmas morning comes every month in Kyoto

…because the 25th of each month is the flea market at Kitano Tenmangu.
True, you need to travel a little further than the Christmas tree in the down stairs living room to find those wondrous surprise that await you. But the trip to Kitano shrine is just a 10-minute bicycle ride from my house, and that’s where the fun begins.

flea market boothsIn the gardens and streets surrounding the shrine, vendors of every exotic treasure imaginable display their wares in a myriad of little stalls packed one right after the other.

So, stroll past the porcelain, ceramicsstop to swoon over the Imari, imarisneak past the sweet shops sweets with their elaborate little treats (you can click on the picture, if you want a bigger peek), spend a few moments browsing the antiques. Then keep going till you come to kimono. Kimono on racks, kimonokimono in stacks kimonoand kimono in piles on the floor.flea market kimono

oo-oo-oh! it’s just like Christmas morning!