Planning a four-day itinerary for Kyoto can be tough. There are just too many places to visit and each market, shrine or temple is unique in their own way. While we finally settled on all the attractions we wanted to go which are a must for first-timers, we were also on the lookout for equally interesting places that are not too hot on the tourist trail.
While doing our research, my wife discovered a local handicraft market held on the 15th of every month at the grounds of a Buddhist temple near Kyoto University.
Since the market coincided with our time in Kyoto, we were at the gates of an already packed Chion-ji Temple Handicraft Market on a crisp and sunny Monday morning on the 15th of May.
An Artisanal Paradise
I’m a huge fan of artisanal handicrafts (hence my affection with Bangkok’s Chatuchak Weekend Market) and at first glimpse, we made the right choice of coming here. There were more than 200 stalls filling every inch of space within the confines of Chion-ji Temple, turning it into one huge maze packed with shoppers and souvenirs.
The stalls here are arranged randomly rather than in sections and that encourages visitors to check out the whole marketplace, which we duly obliged. We snaked our way between the rows of stalls, stopping by to check out any items that piqued our interest.
After one whole loop of the market, it seems that you can find everything under the sun here like children’s t-shirts, hand-made tote bags, freshly-baked pastries, Japanese tea sets and colorful watercolor postcards!
It’s also fun to people-watch and we noticed quite a few characters like the guy who turned himself into a brand, selling key chains, postcards and t-shirts bearing his own caricature and a couple selling filtered coffee where the “barista” is smartly dressed in his tie and vest.
It’s A Small, Small World
One quirk I noticed while perusing the stalls of this pop-up bazaar is many craftsman were selling miniature items. There were a number of stalls showcasing little plush animals which are as big as your finger, presumably as pets for their equally tiny homes.
We also saw a wood carver with a liking to everything ornithological as his display of wooden birds made-to-scale were really life-like and pretty. We can see it is his passion project because instead of lounging around, he was busy sculpting another one of his masterpiece to add to his “aviary.”
Of all the stalls selling miniature stuff, one really captivated me for its sheer intricacy. Rather than plants or animals, this artisan sells mini furniture and vintage suitcases. Again, these handicrafts are no bigger than your palm and the attention to detail is astounding.
You could fully furnish your own dollhouse with the furniture sold here – it has everything from a dinner table set to a study table complete with books. The star of the show has to be the keychain suitcases with its vibrant designs of floral, leather, plaid and polka dots.
We were really glad and fortunate to have stumbled upon this market which added a bit more color to our Kyoto leg of the trip. It gave us the opportunity to see a wide array of impressive handicrafts made by these talented artisans and to be able to be a part of the local community even for a very short time.
As far as coincidences go, this has to be the most fortuitous one I have ever had on my travels.
- Chion-ji Temple Handicraft Market is held on the 15th of every month and is only open from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. It is open to the public and admission is free.
- We used Google Maps’ public transport feature to ride a bus that dropped us off at the intersection of Higashi Oji Dori and Imadegawa Dori, which is only a 2 minute walk to the market.
- All transactions are made using cash. Haggling is not common in Japan but I felt most of the prices are fair, considering the quality of the product.