BLOGKyoto travel tips2019.05.13

The early bird catches the worm?! Looking for treasures in my first "Kobo-ichi Market"

ByAika Nishigaki

A flea market held at a temple on the 21st of each month


Flea markets, handmade goods, art markets, and more. I'm sure the lines of stalls here are sure to be an exciting sight for the ladies. Stalls with heaps of personality, a certain intimacy with the owners, and an abundance of artistic goods always makes for a good time.I'm definitely the target audience when it comes to spots like this. And this is a market that I've had my eyes on for a while now, but have never had the chance to visit. It's held at the world heritage site To-ji Temple (Kyogokoku-ji Temple). The historical Kobo-ichi temple market is filled with a deep mysterious atmosphere. As a first-timer, I wonder if I'll be alright...
I've heard rumors of old swords and mysterious figurines. With a pinch of anxiety and excitement, I got up early for my very first Kobo-ichi market experience.

Did it begin in the Heian period?! Well, here's a city with a long history indeed!



One has to wonder, how did a market begin being held at a temple? It started as a form of entertainment for visitors who came for the Buddhist memorial services. To-ji Temple, where the Kobo-ichi market is held, is a Shingon sect esoteric buddhist temple given to Kobo Daishi Kukai by Emperor Saga himself. On April 21st, a Buddhist memorial service of gratitude called "Mieku" is held to thank Kukai, on the day he entered the Buddhist priesthood. It is said that the beginnings of Kobo-ichi market started from merchants, who used to serve tea from simple roadside stalls to visitors to this Buddhist memorial service. From the Edo period, the popularity scale gradually increased, for it to become the present Kobo-ichi market that we've come to know today. The festival continues to be held on the 21st of each month, and is affectionately nicknamed "Kobo-san" by the locals.

To-ji Temple, the place where Kobo-ichi market is held


The historical To-ji Temple, where the Kobo-ichi market is held, was built in the year 796, 2 years after the Nation's Capital was moved to Heian-kyo. It's been worshipped by many as the first Shingon Sect Esoteric Buddhism training hall in Japan. The temple is full of must-sees, such as the three-dimensional mandala displaying the teachings of Esoteric Buddhism, and the five-storied pagoda, which claims to be the tallest wooden structure in Japan. I recommend that you visit the temple on a day when the market is not held, or after spending a day at the market. You'll witness a completely different, tranquil atmosphere.

Let's go to "Kobo-san"!


After learning about its origin and location, I went to Kobo-ichi market right away. It gets pretty crowded, so if you'd like to take your time to take in the sights, it's probably best to go in the morning. I started my visit from the To-ji Temple main entrance, the "Nandaimon Gate", which is considered a nationally designated cultural asset. You'll find more than a thousand stores, lined up from the outside, all the way to the inside of the gate. Visit the temple's main hall, the "Kondo Hall", and the lecture hall, the "Miedo Hall", to begin your treasure hunt!

Pottery, antiques, accessories... various quaint encounters



So what's for sale? Fruit, pottery, dolls, hanging scrolls, handmade accessories, kimono... There's just too much available to categorize! This is something that's sure to appeal to all ages! When I first heard there was a market held at a temple, I was worried it wouldn't necessarily fit my tastes. But the lively atmosphere sure turned me around. This market is popular with both domestic and international travelers.

The wooden products made by an artisan couple caught my eye



As I was wandering around, I was drawn to a stall peddling small wooden products. This stall is called "small work camp". The "Boxed Carp Streamer" was simply stunning and I'd definitely want one for display for Children's Day in May. The carps are attached to the flagpole by magnets. There were also other wooden products like pen cases and chopstick holders. The wife illustrates while her husband makes the wooden boxes. Each and every product produced by the couple carries their warmth and fits snugly in my palm.

I think it's time for me to try leather accessories for a change




I was drawn to the leather products next. "Leather Workshop Idos Blanco" is the kind of store I usually would find difficult to enter, but it's great that you can just pop into this at the market. These authentic leather accessories are painstakingly handmade by the craftsmen at this workshop. The attention paid to the design is apparent, and they even taught the best way to use each item. The best of part of the market will have to be being able to interact intimately with each of the artisans.
Leather Workshop Idos Blanco

I was drawn in by the breezy shirts in this exotic corner of the market



As I continued on my search for treasures, I found a stall with an oriental atmosphere: "VANASPATI khadi haat kaam". This stall is run by an Indian and Japanese couple. They produce hand spun clothing, interior decorations and bric-a-brac that have been selected and processed in India. As it was a scorching day in Kyoto, I was drawn to the breezy looking white shirt.

You'll fall for the retro-chic antiques!



Tasteful pottery



Lovers of pottery will be glad to know that there are many potters who have stalls at this market. At Ichimura Santosha's stall, they offer simple yet tasteful china that made me think, "If I put food on this plate, it might just become more delicious...". It's exactly as the owner has wanted, to make plates that don't get in the way of the cooking. You'll be spoiled for choice looking for your favorites stall here!

When you're tired of walking, grab a bite of something sweet


You'll find the regular favorites such as takoyaki and yakisoba at the Kobo-ichi market. I had the recently trending tapioca milk tea from this stall called "Kyoju". Could not believe I was getting such a trendy drink at a temple market!Sweet and chilled, a perfect treat for my tired feet. I made the mistake of wearing heels this time. You'll be walking a fair bit, so I recommend wearing comfortable footwear. There's also a fair bit of dust, so I recommend wearing clothes that you don't mind getting dirty.

Visiting "Kobo-san"

Kobo-ichi market is the perfect blend of traditional and new elements. This long-established large scale market that has stayed open within a world heritage temple, is filled with friendly merchants and artisans. The uncertainty I felt prior to visiting has certainly disappeared. The lively atmosphere that is completely different from the usual To-ji Temple sure had me hooked. It's one of those satisfying visits that'll have you thanking yourself for waking up early in the morning. So what's stopping you from waking up early on the 21st for a visit to To-ji temple?



■ To-ji Temple (Kyogokoku-ji Temple)
1, Kujo-cho, Minami-ku, Kyoto-shi
15 minutes on foot from Kyoto Station
From 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM (last reception)
■ To-ji Temple branch store management committee

Aika Nishigaki

A writer currently residing in Kyoto. I'm always looking forward to my weekend walks on the pursuit for something delicious. Recently I've really gotten into collecting seal stamps from shrines and temples. A recent favorite is the one I got from Nashinoki Shrine.

Naoki Matsuda

A photographer with a history of 8 years in Kyoto who has been attracted and moved to a city in Kyoto. Photographs regardless of genre, such as cooking, people, and architecture. I like coffee and go to cafes often.