If you are anything like me, and enjoy looking for treasure, then the monthly flea market at Shitennoji temple is a must.
It`s been a while since I have been to a flea market, and a random meeting and invitation from a friend turned into a spontaneous trip to the grounds of one of Osaka`s oldest temples.
A long-running institution, held on the 21st and 22nd of every month it`s popular with locals and tourists alike. Tents and stalls set up by vendors sell a kaleidoscope of nick knacks, ceramics, traditional statues, toys, vintage items, clothes, shoes, records, jewelery, tools, and the list goes on.
Despite the overcast drizzly day, there was quite a crowd, the majority of which was in its twilight years. As the market is always held on the 21st and 22nd, often falling on a weekday, a good portion of the visitors are post-retirement age. Don`t let the diminutive stature and blue-rinse hair lull you into a false sense of security however, as anyone who has ever tried to buy sale price spinach at the supermarket knows, the older generation in Osaka will hurt you if you try to get between them and a bargain.
My friend had an eye on interior pieces for his home, looking at a lot of ceramics, plates, bowls and vases, some traditional, some modern. I was happy to be out of the office and there was so much fascinating stuff to look at, and an array of colourful Osaka local characters to meet.
We were certainly not the only non-Japanese faces in the crowd, and understandably, as this market is an incredible source of real, authentic Japanese souvenirs, hard-to-find collectables, random “only-in-Japan” items. Things that make great gifts for friends and families back home are collapsible fans (small, light, unique) and Obi, the colourful, intricate brocaded sash worn with kimono.
Wandering back I found my mate with a very cool, carved hardwood panel. Distinctly Indonesian design and the colouring and weight of the wood itself said it was hardwood, and most likely teak. He was sold, the vendor told us a piece like this would sell for 20,000 yen in a store. Let the bargaining begin….
I wandered away again, this time to check out a crowd forming at the stall selling tools. Not old or traditional tools, just spanners, screwdrivers and hammers. Nothing particularly exciting to see, but the boisterous vendor had everyone`s attention and even tried to sell me some hand-made tin snips.
They were nice, but how many pairs of tin snips does one really need?
Returning to find the transaction complete and the newly acquired piece being wrapped and thoughtfully bagged, we proceeded to take a look at some crates of LP`s. Plenty of 1970`s pop, Simon & Garfunkel live in central park – The “From Russia With Love” Original soundtrack. This could have taken up a lot more of my day, but the rain worsened and we decided to be on our way.
The layout of the temple grounds means the stall are somewhat randomly placed and we came across a jumbled collection of randomness near the south gate. One big table was covered with books and while my cultured accomplice found a handsome looking hard back on world architecture, the first book I reached for was an illustrated collection of “spring pictures”. If anyone living in Japan is unfamiliar with these, think back to your childhood when you first saw the colorful pictures in the middle section of your parents` The Joy of Sex when you were seven. Again I was thankful for the cultural tolerance as I giggled at myself for poring over samurai-era porn in full view of the elderly, and some small children. As money changed hands for the architectural tome, the otherwise brash vendor must have sensed some of my amusement and decided to “presento” us a couple of leisure cushions.
With a well needed dose of culture under our belts, we headed off into the rain. I for one will be returning in the new year.