21st October, 2006 - Our first morning in Kyōto... and there's no time like the present to jump feet first into the human jungle. Just the other side of Kyōto Station is Tō-ji. The importance of the this temple is both it’s age (being the oldest religious complex constructed in ancient Kyōto proper), but also the first seat of the Shingon Buddhist sect in Kyōto. More than anything else however, it's well known for it's huge pagoda that sits like a light-house besides the metallic and glass outcrop that is Kyōto Station. Today is not about history however, it's about people. I'll re-visit Tō-ji in a later post.
The 21st of each month is the date of the largest flea market in Kyōto, known as Mieiku or more commonly Kōdō market. The date reflects the death of the founder Kūkai, who supposedly died on the March 21st. Not sure if that's a good reason for a market, but it doesn't seem to hold back the locals.
The market is sprawling - it sets up early and continues on well into the afternoon. In many ways it's a typical flea market. A lot of junk, an abundance of oddities, a vast array of foods, a huge amount of older (and even sometimes antique) traditional goods, and just an amazing assortment of "what the...!" moments. More than anything, there's a lot of people. Seriously - this is a thriving business - and it's hard to believe that this is such a respected temple. Having said that flea-markets in temples are not exclusive to Tō-ji, as there's another famous market in nearby Kitano Tenmangu on the 25th of each month.
Of course it couldn't be a visit to Tō-ji without an obligatory snap of the pagoda. There is little sense of the profound on market day - and indeed the pagoda acts mostly as a guide-post to finding the market from the Station. I would definitely recommend coming here if you're in Kyōto on the 21st... but I'd also suggest that you keep your expectations of finding the perfect buy to a minimum. Let luck guide your feet, and the weight of your wallet guide your purchases.