By Patricia Belyea
KYOTO JP The Kitano Shrine flea market opens at 6am on the 25th of every month. My team, Michael and our first homestay student Saori, weren’t enthusiastic about busing across town in the darkness of the early dawn. So we made a compromise—up at 7:30am and leave our traditional wooden townhouse at 8:30am.
The day was bright and almost warm when we arrived at the Shrine. Surrounding the Shrine walls and on all the side streets were stands—tidy and messy—filled with treasures.
Right at the entry, Michael and Saori stopped to order up home-roasted coffee from a local man who also promoted his freelance photography skills. I got ahead of them, impatient to rummage around.
I was looking for vintage yukatas or bolts of yukata cotton. Funny thing, there were booth after booth of silk kimonos, silk on bolts, and swatches of silk. I finally found two bolts of yukata cotton—one stained and one acceptable. I snapped up the undamaged one.
The wealth of silk kimonos beguiled me. I could have taken all the kimonos home and filled every room with them. In the end I chose just one—a simple blue on white rayon kimono with minimal staining on the collar—for 1000¥ or approximately $10. (As a stain expert, it will be good as new in no time.)
The most unique vendor was a persimmon farmer who uses the fermented juice of the unripe astringent fruit, kakishibu, to color heavyweight cotton. The cotton was then made into simple utilitarian clothing and shoulder bags. Michael bought a shoulder bag from the farmer whose face seemed dyed to the same color as his clothes.
We wandered through the ancient wooden gates to see the Shrine. One feature was an extensive collection of old stone lanterns. Michael styled the “lantern” in Okan Arts Shop after lanterns just like these.
Plum blossoms, swelling on short trimmed trees, were threatening to burst open one month before the official February 25 Plum Blossom Festival.
About 2000 works of calligraphy were exhibited in the main part of the shrine. They were created at the beginning of the year at an event known as tenmagaki where visitors pray for improved writing skills. I loved the power of the simple black and white graphics.
Once back at our home near the Shirakawa River, we piled our purchases onto the dining table:
-a rayon kimono in blue and white
-one vintage yukata cotton bolt
-five spools -a bamboo flute
-some white silk on a roll
-a persimmon-dyed shoulder bag
In reflecting on my morning, the flea market was exciting with so much to see. Yet, my favorite part of the experience was wandering around the historic Shrine grounds.