To-ji Temple Flea Market

The To-ji Temple flea market is one of the biggest flea markets in Kyoto. It’s a great place to find some bargain kimono, obi, and accessories, as well as other weird and wonderful things.

My first time stepping through the temple gate and seeing the size of the compound and the flea market.

My first time stepping through the temple gate and seeing the size of the compound and the flea market.

History of the Temple

I can’t talk about the flea market without talking about the temple too. The two are interconnected, and I’ve always loved visiting temples and shrines.

To-ji means east temple (東寺) and it was originally part of a pair of temples to guard the capital from evil spirits. The other temple was called Sai-ji (west temple 西寺). They stood on either side of the large Rashomon gate that marked the southern entrance to Kyoto. Unfortunately, both Sai-ji and Rashomon no longer exist.

The main temple at To-ji with the flea market in front.

The main temple at To-ji with the flea market in front.

Construction on To-ji began in 796. By the year 823, construction still wasn’t completed, so Emperor Saga asked the influential monk Kukai (空海)to administer the temple and complete the building project, which he eventually did. He included plans for a five-story pagoda that would be the tallest in Japan. This pagoda, unfortunately, doesn’t survive. The pagoda that is currently on the site was built in 1644.

the current pagoda at to-ji.

the current pagoda at to-ji.

Kukai was responsible for several things during his lifetime. He founded a new sect of Buddhism called Shingon Buddhism. To-ji Temple, Kukai’s retreat on Mount Koya, and the 88 temple pilgrimage on Shikoku, are all Shingon Buddhist temples. The 88 temple pilgrimage is a circle of 88 temples around the island of Shikoku. Traditionally it is walked, but it is also perfectly acceptable to drive, bike, or take a tour bus. When I moved to Shikoku in 2009 I started the pilgrimage. Just over a year later, I completed it. It’s an accomplishment that I’m very proud of and I have very fond memories of it. Because of this, Kukai and his temples (including To-ji) have a very special place in my heart.

Me at the beginning of my pilgrimage.  I'm standing next to a signpost guiding henro (pilgrims) to the next temple.

Me at the beginning of my pilgrimage. I’m standing next to a signpost guiding henro (pilgrims) to the next temple.

 

The Flea Market

The To-ji flea market is held on the 21st of the month in order to honour and commemorate the death of Kukai who died on the 21st of the third month in 835. Locally, the market is known as Kobo-san. The name is taken from Kobo Daishi (弘法大師) Kukai’s posthumous name.

The market runs from dawn to dusk, but usually wraps up around 4:30. The biggest market of the year is the one in December, and this year, luckily, the 21st fell on a Sunday so I leapt at the chance to go!

Of course, I was on the lookout for bargain kimono.  Most of the sellers had their wares in a jumbled heap in the middle and it was a free for all.

Of course, I was on the lookout for bargain kimono. Most of the sellers had their wares in a jumbled heap in the middle and it was a free for all.

Other sellers had all their kimono wrapped in tatoshi.  I didn't stay long at these booths because it was really hard to look through everything.

Other sellers had all their kimono wrapped in tatoshi. I didn’t stay long at these booths because it was really hard to look through everything.

This merchant was selling geta and zori.  She also took custom orders.

This merchant was selling geta and zori. She also took custom orders.

I love this one because the fur wrap looks like santa's beard.

I love this one because the fur wrap looks like Santa’s beard.

There were also a ton of weird and wonderful things that were not kimono on sale.  This is a window in the shape of a kimono.  I couldn't quite figure it out.

There were also a ton of weird and wonderful things that were not kimono on sale. This is a window in the shape of a kimono. I couldn’t quite figure it out.

Bonsai on sale.  There was an entire section devoted to plants and gardening.

Bonsai on sale. There was an entire section devoted to plants and gardening.

Lunchtime!  Some yakisoba really hit the spot and charged us up for the rest of the day.

Lunchtime! Some yakisoba really hit the spot and charged us up for the rest of the day.

Maneki neko (waving cats) and calligraphy brushes on sale.

Maneki neko (waving cats) and calligraphy brushes on sale.

dried fish.   The WHOLE fish.

Dried fish.
The WHOLE fish.

Anybody looking for a cannon to furnish their living room?

Anybody looking for a cannon to furnish their living room?

As you can see, we did alright.  We can't agree on who won the flea market because we both love what we bought.

As you can see, we did alright. We can’t agree on who won the flea market because we both love what we bought.

 

Now for the goodies!  Final cost, 5200 yen.

A nagoya obi with lobster and origami cranes.  This was my first purchase of the day and I love it!

A nagoya obi with lobster and origami cranes. This was my first purchase of the day and I love it!

A second nagoya obi.  This one was only 300 yen.

A second nagoya obi. This one was only 300 yen.

A fancy obijime.  When I bought it, the merchant called it "mecha cheap!"

A fancy obijime. When I bought it, the merchant called it “mecha cheap!”

three date eri.  I'm trying to expand my collection.

Three date eri. I’m trying to expand my collection.

haori himo

Haori himo

A collection of old photos with kimono.  They were 100 yen each, but I was only charged 1000 yen for 15 photos.  What a deal!

A collection of old photos with kimono. They were 100 yen each, but I was only charged 1000 yen for 15 photos. What a deal!

My one purchase unrelated to kimono.  This is a small statue of a tanuki.

My one purchase unrelated to kimono. This is a small statue of a tanuki.

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Matsu (松) Pine

002 (3) 009 (6)Name:  Matsu (松) Pine

Seasonal Association: Winter

When To Wear It: all year

Auspicious: yes

 

A Note on Seasonality: Some sources of classical poetry place matsu in the category of a winter motif.  I tend to agree with this assessment as pine has a very strong association in my mind with O-shogatsu (New Years) as well as it’s inclusion in the trio of shochikubai (the three friends of winter).  Others do not agree with this.  However one fact that is indisputable is that matsu is an auspicious motif and therefore can be worn all year round.

History

There are two main kinds of pine trees that grow in japan. Kuromatsu ( 黒松 black pine) grows in coastal areas and akamatsu ( 赤松 red pine) grows on mountains and in fields.

Their long life (sometimes hundreds of years) hardiness, and the fact that they are green all year round make them an auspicious symbol of longevity.

Pine is used in a wide variety of items in Japan. Lumber, windbreaks, fuel, torches, and bonsai all use pine wood. The soot from burning pinewood is used to create ink for calligraphy. In addition, matsutake mushrooms can only be found growing around the base of akamatsu.

Spiritually, pine is heavily linked with the gods of the Japanese pantheon. Noh plays usually feature at least one supernatural character, and the background for all noh stages is a painting of a single pine tree.

During O-shogatsu (お正月Japanese New Year) homes are decorated with a pair of kadomatsu (門松gate pines). These decorations are said to provide homes for the gods during their visit to Earth.

Kadomatsu (gate pine) are traditional New Year decorations. They always feature bamboo and pine.

Kadomatsu (gate pine) are traditional New Year decorations. They always feature bamboo and pine.

For more information on pine, Begin Japanology has created an excellent video on the subject.

Shochikubai on a hanhaba obi.

Shochikubai on a hanhaba obi.

Shochikubai
松竹梅

The kanji that make up shochikubai include matsu (pine) take (bamboo) and ume (plum blossom). The name comes from the Chinese reading of the characters instead of the Japanese reading (sho=pine, chiku=bamboo, and bai=plum blossom). This combination is known as the “Three Friends of Winter.” It’s a very auspicious combination, and although all the motifs are associated with winter, it can be used year round. It is especially popular during the Japanese New Year. Bamboo and pine are always included in decorations called kadomatsu (門松) although it’s still a little early in January for plum blossoms to be blooming.

Identification

Here are the two most common ways of depicting matsu.

Kasamatsu (笠松) Hat of Pine

In this motif, the pine foliage forms a hat while the branches form the ties of the hat, Although personally, I think it looks more like a mushroom than a hat.

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Matsuba chirashi (松葉散らし) Scattered Pine Needles

This motif resembles scattered pine needles on the ground. The needles are always depicted in pairs that are attached at the base of the needles.

003

Take (竹) Bamboo

052Name: Take (竹) Bamboo

Seasonal Association: Trans-seasonal

When To Wear It: All year

Auspicious: yes

A Note on Seasonality: Different parts of bamboo are associated with different seasons in Japan.  For example, the straight stalks of bamboo have a close connection with winter due to their inclusion in O-shogatsu (New Years) decorations and shochikubai (The Three Friends of Winter).  However, bamboo also plays an important part in the celebration of Tanabata, which takes place in the summer.

History

Take is one of the most important plants in Japan.

It has taken on many meanings and associations over its long history in Japan. According to Haruo Shirane in his book Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons, bamboo has come to represent long life, prosperity, immortality, fidelity, and chastity. It is also a member of shochikubai (see below) which is an extremely auspicious combination of bamboo, pine, and plum blossom.

Its importance is shown very well in this video from Begin Japanology.

Bamboo is an integral part of Japanese culture and is used in thousands of products. Here’s a short list illustrating the importance of bamboo in Japan.

Practical applications: baskets, building construction, scaffolding, fencing, inuyarai (犬矢来traditional Kyoto fencing) implements for tea ceremony, traditional umbrellas, toys, cups, ikenbana baskets, fans, flutes, and brooms are examples.

Kadomatsu (gate pine) are traditional New Year decorations. They always feature bamboo and pine.

Kadomatsu (gate pine) are traditional New Year decorations. They always feature bamboo and pine.

Decorative applications: figurines, kadomatsu (門松decorations for the Japanese New Year, O-shogatsu) shishi-odoshi (ししおどし traditional stalks of bamboo that fill up with water, then pour it out while making a noise. They were traditionally used to scare off animals, but are now used only decoratively in gardens.)

Annual Celebrations:

Tanabata ( 七夕): On July 7th, people will tie handmade paper ornaments to a branch of bamboo to celebrate the legend of two lovers that can only cross the milky way and meet one day a year. For more information on Tanabata check here.  http://www.jref.com/culture-society/tanabata/

O-shogatsu(お正月): During O-shogatsu, the Japanese New Year, homes and businesses are decorated with kadomatsu. Pairs of kadomatsu (門松) are placed on either side of the door to welcome and be a temporary home to the visiting gods. Kadomatsu are decorated differently depending on region, but all of them have three pieces of upright bamboo as the centerpiece.

bamboo figurines

bamboo figurines

Legends:

The oldest Japanese story to be found so far is the story of the bamboo cutter, also called Kaguya Hime or Taketori Monogatari. In this story, a bamboo cutter finds a stalk of bamboo that is glowing. When he cuts it open, he discovers a baby girl. When this baby girl grows up, she eventually returns to her home on the moon. It’s a very popular story that all Japanese children know.

Food: Takenoko (竹の子bamboo shoots) are served fresh from March to May and preserved year round (especially in ramen). In addition, the sheaths around the base of mature bamboo can be used as a food wrapper.

Shochikubai on a hanhaba obi.

Shochikubai on a hanhaba obi.

Shochikubai
松竹梅

The kanji that make up shochikubai include matsu (pine) take (bamboo) and ume (plum blossom). The name comes from the Chinese reading of the characters instead of the Japanese reading (sho=pine, chiku=bamboo, and bai=plum blossom). This combination is known as the “Three Friends of Winter.” It’s a very auspicious combination, and although all the motifs are associated with winter, it can be used year round. It is especially popular during the Japanese New Year. Bamboo and pine are always included in decorations called kadomatsu (門松) although it’s still a little early in January for plum blossoms to be blooming.

 

Identification

Bamboo is depicted on kimono in two distinct ways.

Take (竹) bamboo
A long, straight stalk of bamboo with visible joints (fushi) at regular intervals.  Take can be depicted with or without leaves.

058217 097  107

Bamboo in a utilitarian setting.

Bamboo in a utilitarian setting.

Sasanoha (笹の葉) bamboo leaves
A clump of three, four, or five thin pointed leaves. The points of the leaves are always oriented downwards. It is very common for sasanoha to appear without take.

112 092 066

Aizome (藍染) Indigo Dyeing Part Three

Welcome to the third and last post in this series on aizome (indigo dyeing).

For the first post in this series, on the process of creating the dye, check here.

For the second post in this series, on the aizome museum near my home, check here.

The entrance to Ai No Yakata.

The entrance to Ai No Yakata.

When you first enter the museum Ai No Yakata (藍の館), you have the option of buying something to dye. They have a range of products starting from handkerchiefs at 500 yen to scarves at 3000 yen. After that, you enter the museum and find the building that houses the dyeing facilities. If you’re not sure which building it is, just follow your nose. Aizome dye has a distinct, fermented odor that is very, very, strong.

When you go in, you put on an apron and gloves, choose your design, and away you go!

There are eight different designs that you can choose from.  The staff will help you to create your design.  I choose number five.

There are eight different designs that you can choose from. The staff will help you to create your design. I choose number five.

Here's my handkerchief being prepared for the dyeing.  I had to wrap it around a stick and secure it with a rubber band.

Here’s my handkerchief being prepared for the dyeing. I had to wrap it around a stick and secure it with a rubber band.

All ready to go!

All ready to go!

The first dip.  each dip took one minute.

The first dip. each dip took one minute.

My handkerchief just after the first dip.  It looks green right now, but it eventually turns blue when it gets oxidized in the air.  I had to squeeze out all the extra liquid and wait for one minute before dipping it back in.

My handkerchief just after the first dip. It looks green right now, but it will eventually turn blue when it gets oxidized in the air. I had to squeeze out all the extra liquid and wait for one minute before dipping it back in.

This is after the third and final dip in the dye.  It's a lot darker than it started and definitely looks more blue than green.

This is after the third and final dip in the dye. It’s a lot darker than it started and definitely looks more blue than green.

The next step is to rinse the handkerchief under running water to get rid of the extra dye.  When the water runs clear, you know you're finished.

The next step is to rinse the handkerchief under running water to get rid of the extra dye. When the water runs clear, you know you’re finished.

A little modern technology here in the form of a spin dryer to help get all the extra water out.

A little modern technology here in the form of a spin dryer to help get all the extra water out.

While my handkerchief was spinning, I spotted this picture of Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako doing their own aizome.

While my handkerchief was spinning, I spotted this picture of Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako doing their own aizome.

The final step is ironing.

The final step is ironing.

The final product!

The final product!

Textiles that have been dyed with aizome have a lot of characteristics attributed to them. At the moment, I have no idea which ones have been proven scientifically and which ones are just folk knowledge. According to Mark Wisniewski in his book Dyeing To Dance, the benefits of aizome include…

  • Aizome can prevent skin irritations, athlete’s foot, and infertility (I’m pretty sure that last one is an old wives tale).
  • Aizome can protect against insect infestations and the bite of a mamushi (a poisonous snake).
  • Aizome has antiseptic and disinfectant properties that make it good for preventing colds (just the seeds), treating poisoning by blow-fish, or using indigo dyed cloth as a run of the mill bandage. It’s also effective in the treatment of insect bites.
  • Aizome can act as a sedative so it is a popular dye for futon and bedding material.

I’d be really intrigued to see how much truth there is in each of these claims.

 

 

Don’t sweat the small stuff!  But if you’re interested, check out my facebook, twitter, and instagram for the small, spur of the moment ideas, articles, and activities that I find and do related to kimono!

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