Chion-ji Temple hosts a fabulous handicraft market on the 15th of every month. It’s a great place to pick up unique, locally made souvenirs during your travels to Kyoto.
The entrance to Chion-ji Temple on Imadegawa Street – image © Florentyna Leow
On most days, Chion-ji Temple in northeastern Kyoto – not to be confused with the more famous Chion-in Temple in Gion – is quiet and peaceful. But on the 15th day of every month, rain or shine, around 150 craftspeople, artisans, and entrepreneurs set up their stalls all over the temple grounds, turning the temple into a vibrant, bustling marketplace. Here, you’ll find stalls selling all manner of handmade arts, crafts and food, including ceramics, jewelry, backpacks, tote bags, linocut postcards, organic soap, honey, skirts, homemade bread, and even musical instruments!
There is another entrance to the temple on Higashioji Street – image © Florentyna Leow
With the increase in visitors to Kyoto during recent years, it’s no surprise that the handicraft market at Chion-ji Temple has become rather popular in the last few years. When I visited recently, it was a Thursday and already feeling like a weekend market. Despite the volume of visitors and maze-like layout of the stalls, the market has a relaxed atmosphere, which makes it a lovely place to spend a few hours wandering around. The best times to visit are in the spring and autumn, when the weather is mild and pleasant. During the summer months, you might find yourself indulging in a few iced drinks from some enterprising stall owners in the marketplace!
Many stalls and visitors on a sunny day in June – image © Florentyna Leow
Artisans and entrepreneurs looking to pitch stalls at the handicraft market must apply in advance each month, and are selected through a lottery system, so there is no guarantee that the same stalls will be there every single month. However, most of the stall owners I spoke to said that they usually manage to be at the market most months. In any case, it’s always fun to have some variety each time.
Part of the fun at Chion-ji Handicraft Market is how easy it is to simply lose yourself in the maze of stalls and discover all kinds of unique crafts and handmade goods. I won’t provide an exhaustive list – that would spoil some of the fun – so here are just a few products which caught my eye on my last visit.
Two handmade fabric figurines of Fujin and Raijin – image © Florentyna Leow
At Sawaguchi Pepe, they make beautifully textured figurines out of scraps of chirimen (dyed kimono fabric). The photo above shows their adorable interpretation of Fujin and Raijin, who are the Wind God and the Thunder-and-Lightning God respectively. I really enjoyed the combinations of color and texture in their figurines, as well as their hanging cloth scrolls, which would make a wonderfully decorative conversation piece in any house. Because the artisans themselves are based in Nara, they’re not always at Chion-ji Temple’s handicraft market, but they do try to make it here every other month.
An eye-catching cat painting makes you pause in your tracks. – image © Florentyna Leow
It’s no secret that Japan loves cats and cat-themed goods, so you’ll see plenty of handmade goods at this market featuring feline motifs. I liked this particular stall for its rather eye-catching, dramatic painting. They sell wooden plaques with cats painted on them for JPY1000 each, any of which would make a charming decoration at the entrance to an apartment.
A variety of handphone charms featuring Japanese crests – image © Florentyna Leow
Here’s a more unusual and uniquely Japanese souvenir to consider – key chains and luggage tags featuring mon. Mon are Japanese emblems used to identify individuals or families. Japanese families usually have their own mon, but these crests are also used by craftspeople, guilds and even corporate companies. Hundreds of mon exist in Japan. Don’t be shy about asking the stall owners about the various designs and what they are! These keychains aren’t just decorative – you’ll be bringing a slice of Japanese history and culture home with you.
Many different breads and pastries on sale at L’ami Du Pain – image © Florentyna Leow
Many bakeries in Kyoto set up stall here at the market. One of the familiar fixtures here each month is L’ami Du Pain, whose main shop is on Kitaoji Street. They bring in bread and pastries to the market in vast quantities, but by mid-afternoon after the lunch rush, they’ve usually sold out of many items and are usually down to just a few trays. Having tried their pastries on several occasions, I can wholeheartedly recommend their baked goods, especially if you’re craving European-style bread rather than the more common soft Japanese-style shokupan (milk bread).
The proprietor at this stall waits for the coffee to brew – image © Florentyna Leow
In between all the shopping and browsing, you might like a caffeine booster to keep you going. There are usually independent coffee stands dotted all around the temple grounds, and it’s great fun watching them brew each cup right in front of you. Plus, during the warmer months, there’s nothing more refreshing than a mid-afternoon iced coffee for that extra burst of energy!
A selection of miniature books hand-crafted by Ozawa Kohei – image © Florentyna Leow
After a while, you’ll find that many stalls tend to sell similar-looking goods, but Ozawa Kohei’s small, solitary desk with a modest collection of tiny items stands out. He’s a hobbyist craftsman who makes miniatures – mainly furniture, tiny books and suitcases. Ozawa-san is rather friendly and easy to talk to, and it turns out that he taught himself the art of miniature crafts after being inspired by a television program some years back. Apparently, it’s a fun way to spend his retirement.
Tiny, hand-painted suitcases for your handphone or backpack – image © Florentyna Leow
I particularly liked his tiny books, which he carves out of pieces of wood before covering them with paper. According to him, they’re popular with dollhouse enthusiasts because the books are just the right size to furnish their dollhouses. Plus, at JPY50 per book, they are adorable and inexpensive. A suitcase-shaped keychain is comparatively pricey at around JPY2400, but it is also a little more labour intensive and would make a beautiful gift for someone.
Elegant clutches repurposed from kimono fabric – image © Florentyna Leow
Another particularly Kyoto-esque souvenir worth considering is a bag or accessory made from kimono fabric. There are many stalls in the handicraft market selling such goods, but I wanted to shine a spotlight on Obikura, run by Kawakami-san. For her various handmade purses and clutches, she uses Nishijin-ori (Nishijin woven textile). Named for the centre of the textile industry in Kyoto, Nishijin-ori is a style of richly-woven, high-quality silk textile often used in obi (kimono sashes). Kawakami-san’s clutches are gorgeous, and would certainly add a touch of glamour to an evening out. They also look like they’d last a lifetime! If you don’t have a use for a purse or clutch, she also sells bookmarks cut from the same Nishijin textiles for JPY300 each.
Sato-san wearing one of her bespoke tailored dresses – image © Florentyna Leow
An overview of Chion-ji Temple’s handicraft market would be remiss without mentioning Sato-san. I first met her in 2016 at this handicraft market, and fell in love with the clothes she makes. While it has become increasingly trendy to repurpose kimono and obi fabric and make them into items of clothing, few do it as stylishly as she does. She has a sharp eye for beautiful fabrics and for pairing different patterned cloths together in a single piece of clothing. An example would be her gorgeous reversible overcoats, which you simply invert to transform into two different pieces altogether! I have even, on a few occasions, asked her to tailor secondhand hakama (trousers traditionally worn over kimono) into one-of-a-kind floor-length skirts.
A customer at Sato-san’s stall tries on a gorgeous golden coat – image © Florentyna Leow
Though she lives in Tokyo, she travels down to Kyoto every month to sell her bespoke tailored clothes at the Chion-ji Temple handicraft market, as well as the flea market at To-ji. If you do see her stall, do stop by and try on some of the coats or dresses – the craft that goes into making them is simply astounding.
Mimi-chan, a fluffy white cat, always has pink goggles and a hat on! – image © Florentyna Leow
When you visit flea markets regularly in Kyoto, you inevitably run into some familiar faces. Mimi-chan, the white cat with the pink goggles, is a fixture at all the markets in Kyoto. She and her owner are inevitably surrounded by people cooing at how adorable she is. I love that they’re such an integral part of the local Kyoto community!
Bicycle parking is available at the west side entrance on Higashioji Street – image © Florentyna Leow
Chion-ji Temple can be reached by bus or a short walk from Demachiyanagi Station, but if you’re cycling, there is bike parking at the main entrance on Imadegawa Street or just inside the side entrance on Higashioji Street.
Chion-ji Temple Handicraft Market
Name in Japanese
103, Tanaka Monzencho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto
8:00-16:00. 15th of every month.
Demachiyanagi Station (Keihan Railway)
About Florentyna Leow
Florentyna Leow is a writer and photographer based in Kyoto, who has written for outlets such as Silverkris, ZenVita and Lucky Peach. Her interests include food, doors, and Thomassons. Read her blog or connect with her on Instagram @furochan_eats.
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