Kyoto Markets – Ultimate Guide to the Best 2 Flea Markets in Kyoto
Updated: May 24, 2022
Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan is a city that embodies the real essence of Japanese heritage. From temples, shrines and zen parks to an extensive range of stalls and stores that represent contemporary opulence and elegance which cater to materialistic desires. Entwined in the midst of traditional heritage and modern city life are the longstanding traditional flea markets in Kyoto. Kyoto markets are a true haven for travellers to experience scrumptious street food, sample a selection of fresh and dried pickles, buy ornate souvenirs along with adorable kimono or yukata with pretty footwear — inexpensively.
While there are a number of flea markets in Kyoto that are open daily, the temples and shrines in Kyoto tend to host their markets on specific days once a month. These monthly Kyoto markets are places where you can pick up some really good bargains. Almost everything is up at a sale price. Here are two Kyoto markets which make a great stop for visitors.
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6 | Kyoto City Guide
1 | Kobo-san Flea Markets at Toji Temple in Kyoto
One of the popular Kyoto markets which I would recommend is the Kobo-san flea market. Kobo-san market is held within the grounds of one of Kyoto’s most historic temples, the To-ji Temple.
The Kobo-san market at Toji Temple is a rewarding cultural experience and is one of the most intense and unique Japanese shopping events.
To-ji Temple, translated to East Temple is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to a five-storey pagoda which was founded in 796 AD. Due to a lightning strike, the pagoda was rebuilt in the Edo period by Tokugawa Iemitsu. The Toji Pagoda stands at 57 metres high (187 ft).
The market is called ‘Kobo-san’ to honour the Buddhist priest, Kukai, who brought Shingon Buddhism to Japan. He founded the temple in 796. After his death on 21st March 835, he was honoured with “Kobo-Daishi” title.
So, on the 21st of each month, the popular Kobo-san flea market takes place from dawn to dusk.
1.1 | A bustling Kobo-san Kyoto market from dawn to dusk
On this one-day each month, the To-ji 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 | Kimono and Yukata are a Bargain at Kobo-san Flea Market in Kyoto
Kobo-san flea market in Kyoto at To-ji Temple is home to 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. These are of top quality fabric and were well worth the money. I am a proud owner of the beautiful kimonos pictured above which are hanging in my wardrobe at the moment. There were some for even 300 Yen!
NB: The Kobo-san Kyoto Market is one of the very few markets where you can negotiate and bargain over the products.
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There are so many stalls and you just have to keep looking till you find the right stall 😊. If you see something you really like at a good price, grab it. It won’t be there if you return in an hour! On the other hand, if you wait till after 2 or 3 pm, you will find some really good bargains as the crowd begins to dwindle after lunch and vendors begin to pack-up for the day.
Kyoto flea markets
1.3 | Street Food at Kobo-san Kyoto Market
Aside from the bargain-hunting for traditional garments and fantastic souvenirs, the Kobo-san flea market in Kyoto offers a great opportunity to experience the variety of Japanese street food. From yakitori (grilled meat on skewers), or takoyaki to Hiroshima style okonomiyaki.
1.3.1 | Okonomiyaki | Food at flea markets in Kyoto
Try the okonomiyaki if you feel like having something substantial. 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).
Recommended read: Okonomiyaki — Hiroshima’s Soul Food
1.3.2 | Takoyaki
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). Takoyaki is sometimes topped with 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 | Best Tips for Kobo-san Flea Market in Kyoto
1.4.1 | 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.
1.4.2 | Mornings are best for specific items
Mornings are best if you want choices and are looking for specific items such as antiques, traditional ceramics or silk kimonos.
Kobo-san market gets going from about 9:00 A.M. but people start arriving from 8:00 A.M. to grab a good selection of what they need. Also, it is not so crowded first thing in the morning and vendors are eager to sell to their first customers as they unpack to set up stalls.
Vendors usually begin to end their day at about 4:00 P.M but the market stays open for longer in the summer months.
If you are looking for a bargain, after 3 pm would be best as the vendors reduce their prices to at least half so they can get rid of their stock.
I visited the market at about 10:00 and the crowd was already beginning to build up but it was still pleasant. However, by midday, it was really crowded and queues were building up around the food stalls.
1.5 | How to Get to Kobo-san Flea Market in Kyoto
Kobo-san Kyoto market is within the grounds of Toji Temple. Toji Temple is situated in Minami-ku. There are three ways to get to Toji temple.
1.5.1 | Kyoto Station
Kobo-san flea market in Kyoto is easily accessible via the modern Kyoto Station, a 15-minute walk southwest through the Omiya and Kujo Street intersection. However, be warned as this walk is not really that interesting. 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.
1.5.2 | 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.
1.5.3 | By Bus
Buses #202 and #205 pass through Toji Temple. Find out more about taking a bus in Kyoto and whether a flat fare or a day pass is suitable for your needs.
WHERE: Toji Temple,
ADDRESS: 1 Kujocho, Minami Ward, Kyoto, 601-8473, Japan
GPS Co-ordinates for Toji Temple, Kyoto, Japan
WHEN: 21st of each month
FROM: 9:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M
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 | My thoughts on Kobo-san Flea Market at Toji Temple in Kyoto
Though the market can be intense, the temples provide a serene haven to escape to if you need a breather. Despite the crowd, Kobo-san Market is the 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. Even if you do not buy anything, the Kobo-san market at Toji temple is a great event to experience. In addition, there is a great selection of street food for you to taste.
For one day, on every 21st of each month, Kobo-san market in Kyoto comes together to represent the sereneness of the temple, the affluence of Japanese artistic traditions along with a bustling avariciousness.
If you wish to experience an authentic Japanese traditional market, I would recommend that you visit the Kobo-san flea market in Kyoto.
My second of the two Kyoto Markets not to miss is the Tenjin-san Market at the Kitano Tenmangu-Shrine.
2 | Tenjin-san Market at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine Kyoto
Affectionately known as Tenjin-san market by the locals, the monthly market at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in northwestern Kyoto is popular for its amazing bargains, fabric, vintage items and rare finds. Visiting the market makes a great excuse to visit the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine also, a destination that is popular among the locals as well as tourists.
The Tenjin-san market at the Kitano Tenmangu-shrine is one of the largest in Kyoto, held on the 25th of each month. There are well over 1000 stalls, in and around the shrine. Each street overflows with stalls and exploring the market stalls is an experience in itself. There are rare ornaments, silk kimonos and yukatas for a bargain. You shall also find vintage items such as pottery, and antiques along with fine woodworking. Various types of tea and ceramic tea-sets are also available.
2.1 | About 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.
2.1.1 | 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.
2.1.2 | Rituals and Events
Rituals and events are held at various times throughout the year to commemorate the life of Sugawara. The Tenjin-san flea market is held on the 25th of each month to commemorate the anniversary of Sugawara’s passing
The Kitano Tenmangu shrine is popular amongst students during exam time and during school trips.
2.2 | Tenjin-san Flea Market in Kyoto
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.
2.3 | Street Food at Tenjin-san Market at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine Kyoto
No flea market is complete without street food. Tenjin-san is no exception. 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.
Also on offer are freshly grilled corn-on-cob, fried yuba, yakitori, fried chicken along with takoyaki and okonomiyaki.
The market is open from the break of dawn till late, 9 pm, but has early closing hours in the winter.
2.3 | Practical Information about Tenjin-san Market at Kitano Tenmangu Kyoto
2.3.1 How to Get to Tenjin-san Market at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine Kyoto
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.
WHERE: Kitano Tenmangu Shrine
ADDRESS: Bakurocho, Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto, 602-8386, Japan
GPS CO-ORDINATES FOR KITANO TENMANGU SHRINE:
WHEN: On the 25th of each month
FROM: 6:00 A.M to 4:00 P.M | Later in the summer.
2.4 | My thoughts on Tenjin-san Market and Kitano Tenmangu Shrine
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, photography was not allowed.
I enjoyed watching the gracefulness of the female actresses, the beating of the drums that signified the dramatic turns in the story and the upbeat attention grabbing dancing. It was free to watch, so just make your way to the podium when visiting the market.
Tenjin-san market is a market with a difference. It is a place where you will not only experience what a traditional market in Kyoto is and what the market offers but also the inspiring architectural designs, the sereneness of the gardens along with a closer look at Shinto practices.
Recommended read: The 5 Etiquette you need to know before Visiting a Shinto Shrine
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Kyoto Markets — Ultimate Guide to the Best 2 not to miss first published at timelesstravelsteps.com | Regularly edited and updated. Last update May 24, 2022