quest for kimono in kyoto

quest for kimono in kyoto

JAPANESE TEXTILE FRIENDS SERIES
By guest blogger Nancy McDonough of Kyoto Kimono

ENDICOTT NY  Ohaiyo gozaimasu! Greetings from Upstate New York.

When I lived in Kyoto for three years in the mid-1990s, I fell in love with Japanese textiles. Upon my return to the US, I started selling vintage Japanese garments and fabric, as well as a line of japanique apparel and accessories made from kimono.

About the same time I started Kyoto Kimono, I began leading tours to Kyoto each October. These tours get me back there once a year and refresh my love of Japanese culture as I see it anew through the eyes of my group members. The participants are all textile enthusiasts, and shopping for fabric and kimono is one of the highlights of the tour.

Shopping at Kyoto's Temple Markets

My favorite place to shop for kimono is at either of Kyoto's two big temple flea markets held each month: Toji on the 21st and Kitano on the 25th. Both are held rain or shine, from about 7am to 4pm. There are several hundred vendors at both markets offering antique, vintage and new items.

The temples are open during the markets so you will likely see devotees making incense offerings and praying. It may seem odd to Westerners that commerce and religion are happening simultaneously. Please remember to be respectful of these places despite the hustle and bustle of the markets.

Toji Temple on the 21st

The market at Toji Temple is also called Kobo-San. It is the larger of the two monthly markets. Toji Temple is located about a 15-minute walk to the southwest of the JR Kyoto Station, or a 5-minute walk from the Kintetsu Toji Station.

To get there, I take a taxi to the north gate to avoid crowds and to shop from the many great kimono sellers in this area.

I like to go at 7am – this is what the North Gate looks like at 7am:

This is what the market looks like by 10am:

Yes, it does get crowded on a sunny day at both markets!

Kitano-Tenmangu Temple on the 25th

The market at Kitano Temple is also called Tenjin-San. Although smaller, it could still take most of a day to see everything. Kitano Temple is located in a northwest neighborhood of Kyoto, accessible by bus or taxi (no nearby subway stop). The entrance is on the south side of the temple.

You'll find kimono vendors among the booths that line the pathway and street on the right side of the temple while gardening items, kids’ games, and food vendors are to the left.

Here are some suggestions that apply to either market.

What's for sale? Local Japanese still shop at these markets for everyday items—socks, tea, dried fruit, contemporary fabric—but the focus shifted decades ago to cater to the tourist market. So you'll also find crafters and artisans selling their work, individuals selling a mix of garage-sale-type items, importers offering craft items from Indonesia or Thailand, and so on. Plus there are usually two or three dozen vendors selling traditional Japanese textiles.

A few specialize in indigo or boro (antique patchwork), others in bolts and yardage, but most have hundreds of kimono, haori (kimono jackets), and obi (kimono belts) of every style, color, and season—which is what I go for.

Pricing: Kimono, haori, obi and fabric bolt pricing ranges from 500 yen (usually in a bargain bin out front) to 2000 yen (which are folded or piled high on ground cloths or low tables). You can find some pretty amazing pieces in the 500 yen bin, but many in this range are synthetic, damaged, or both (still good for piecework though).

Kimono that are hung up behind the vendor...

or still wrapped in washi paper...

are likely to be in the 8,000—10,000 yen range and up, and tend to be antique or very unique and usually worth the price.

Take cash: I've never met a vendor who takes credit cards, though it may be coming one day. Don't take more cash than you want to spend unless you are highly resistant to temptation. If you need cash, plan on using your debit card at any 7-11 convenience store or post office ATM before heading to the market – there aren't any nearby either temple.

Quality vs Quantity: While great bargains can be found, be sure to thoroughly examine textiles before you purchase. Low cost vintage textiles are usually blemished in some way—perhaps just a small spot or tear. Most are still wearable or make great display pieces. If you want "pristine", be prepared to pay for it.

Communicating: Most vendors know some English, but having an app like Google Translate on your phone can make things so much easier. I also highly recommend learning numbers in Japanese. When words fail, try using the Japanese hand signals for numbers (https://www.tsunagujapan.com/learn-the-japanese-gestures-for-counting/)

Haggling: Most vendors won't haggle unless you're buying several pieces or asking for a discount on an expensive item. By the same token, if you don't ask for a discount but purchase several things, they are likely to gift you something as a thank you. So if a seller puts an extra piece in your bag, smiles, and says sah-veese (service), you should say "Arigato" and smile back. Maybe even bow a little.

Roll, Don't Carry: Take a wheelie suitcase even if you don't think you're going to buy much. Textiles are heavy. Having a suitcase also shows the vendors you're a serious buyer.

Food: There's fun "festival" food at these markets, but the selection is somewhat limited. If you're not an adventuresome eater, you may have only a few options, such as fried chicken or yakisoba noodles.

If you like to try new things, I recommend okonomiyaki (the omelet-like dish shown below) and taiyaki (a warm, sweet, fish-shaped pancake filled with custard or red beans).

No Public Seating: Most food vendors have seating for customers only and there are no benches along the thoroughfare. You might find a shady ledge or concrete steps on the temple grounds, but there are no designated rest areas.

Bathrooms: Give yourself plenty of time to find the one and only toilet at each market. It's always recommended that you carry tissues and a small hand towel with you, as most Japanese do, especially at markets, festivals, and in non-touristy areas.

Do Visit Kyoto!

What a special place Kyoto is for anyone interested in Japanese culture. It's not just the famous castles and iconic shrines, the warmth and generosity of the people, the amazing clockwork precision of the culture, or the artistically presented food that make it captivating. It's the feeling of being in an almost magical place. It’s still a feeling I marvel at each time I am there.

So yes, go and shop, but don't miss an early morning moment at Ryoanji Zen Garden or a quiet stroll along Philosopher's Path.

Arigato gozaimashita!

To learn more about Nancy and Kyoto Kimono +click here


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10 comments


  • Callie Elliston
    Looks like the 2020 Kyoto trip is full but I would like to add my name to a wait list.

    Thank you,
    Callie


  • Nancy McDonough
    Hi Callie – We’ve started a waiting list for 2020 – you can get your name on that by clicking here:

    https://www.kyotokimono.com/KyotoTour-s/238.htm
    The link for the waiting list is at the bottom of the page.
    Thanks!
    Nancy


  • David Owen Hastings
    What a wonderful virtual trip to Kyoto, thank you, Nancy! I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Japan last October, and would love to return. I submitted my name via your website for the 2020 waitlist. Arigato!

  • Doris Thielepape
    I love all venues fir shopping for fabric. On line shops personal sakes. All of it. Just love fabric

  • Nancy McDonough
    I hope you enjoyed this article and are making plans to visit Kyoto one day. My 2020 tour is already sold out (I only take 11 people) but we do have a waiting list so feel free to sign up for that through the Kyoto Tour link at the end of the article.

  • Nancy McDonough
    Hi Eddi – I’ll be in Kyoto with my tour group from the 13th to the 22nd, so if you’re in Kyoto during that time and would like to meet up send me an email. And when you’re in Okinawa, I hope you’ll get to the museum in Naja to see the beautiful bingata kimono. I was there about ten years ago and was fascinated by the sugar cane dying that was becoming popular again. A gorgeous chartreuse color…! Have a great time. -Nancy

  • Eddi Baird
    I am headed to Okinawa for 2 weeks at the end of October. One of the side trips that we plan is to Kyoto for a few days, hopefully to check out the fabric mart. I just can’t get enough of these magnificent fabrics for my quilts.

  • Nancy
    Hi Aimee. Thanks for the comment. I only have three slots still open for the 2020 tour and they’re likely to fill before the end of the year. Please email me when you’re ready to commit and if it’s sold out I can put you on the waitlist.

    If you decide to go on your own I’d be happy to talk about Kyoto with you.

    Nancy


  • Kathryn C Meyers
    What a special article! I love reading about the 2 markets. OK….just added to my “bucket list”.

  • Aime Augsburg
    Is the only way to express an interest in the 2020 trip to also pay the $500.? I am not prepared to do that yet, but I am seriously interested.

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