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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Now for the goodies! Final cost, 5200 yen.