After To-ji’s Kobo-ichi on the 21st comes the “Tenjin-ichi" on the 25th, held every month at Kitano-Tenmangu Shrine. Tenmangu is dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane, the patron saint of scholarship, and is popular with students. Kobo-ichi and Tenjin-ichi are two of the most historical, large scale and popular flea markets in Kyoto. One only needs to Google and one can find all sorts of information regarding them. After arriving at Kyoto I found information about these two markets online, then checked for the schedules from the official sites. In this information age when free travel information overwhelm the internet, there is nothing as “Japan’s best-kept secret" anymore. Though I myself benefit from this surfeit of information, I cannot help being saddened by this.
Located at Kamigyo-ku, Kitano-Tenmangu is a little far from Higashiyama-ku where I live, and takes at least 45 minutes by bus. Getting off the bus I could already see the crowd about the stone torii at the sando’s entrance, where Food stalls blocked half of the torii. Squeezing myself through the crowd into the compound of Kitano-Tenmangu, I found that the two sides of the usually serene stone-paved sando completely covered by stalls, drowning the stone lanterns along the way.
Passing through local tourists feeding themselves with snacks and fast food, housewives shopping fresh groceries for the day’s dinner, and foreigners savaging among cheap kimonos, I still could not see the end to the lines of stalls. I was almost tempted at a stall selling ice with a small banner printed with the word “ice" against a blue sky and white waves, often seen in anime and manga and which was a common summer sight (I remembered my wallet this time). The stalls turned right in front of the Romon Gate and continued along the walls. While I thought I had come to the end, it was only the beginning — at the wall corner the line split into two, one towards north along the wall, one towards south by the car park. Both seemed endless.
Another brilliantly warm day, I bit my lips and picked the northern path. Strolling and stopping amidst eccentric stalls sometimes showcasing handicrafts, toys and trinkets from the Showa period, antique Noritake porcelain, poorly printed reto wrapping paper and paper bags, strange statues of Aphrodite, metal tools like axes meant for god-knows-who, vintage cameras and phonographs and even kabuto. I was doubting if Kobo-ichi was less fantastical, when I recalled a Jules Verne deep sea helmet I saw there. Walking like this like a curious adventuress for about an hour or so, I finally reached the North Gate and the end of this part of the flea market.
And it was at this moment, that I surprised both myself and she who was at the last stall.
Wearing the same fuchsia haori, the obasan immediately recognised me.
And so I met again the obasan at Kobo-ichi’s kimono stall.
This time obasan had a bigger stall, and with her was a man, who was curious about how we knew each other, but not as curious about my camera. He borrowed it from me and even took a photo of obasan and me with it.
But that was not all. When I retraced my steps, I met again the young man with the hat and glasses. He recognised me at once and tried to sell me some of his new merchandises. As there was nothing very interesting, I left while he was busy with other customers. I was not that bothered about not talking to them now, because I realised that all these stalls were regulars at all these flea markets, and I should not worry about never meeting them again. As I had already met them twice, there must be a third time.
And so I left everything with fate, and continued on among the endless stalls and the noises of people.