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  In Person

Where to?

Arai Yakushi Shrine Antique Fair
50 dealers. Open sunrise to sunset first Sun of the month (canceled in rain). 5-3-5 Arai, Nakano-ku. Tel: 03-3319-6033. Nearest stn: Seibu Shinjuku line, Arai Yakushi-mae stn.

Great Temple Gokokuji Antiques Fair
Open second Sat. Nearest stn: Yurakucho line, Gokokuji stn.

Hanazono Shrine Market
Open every Sun 8am-4pm. 5-17-3 Shinjuku. Nearest stn: Shinjuku-sanchome stn, 6-7min walk.

Myohoji Flea Market
100 dealers. Open second and third Sun, 9am-4pm (open in rain). Nearest stn: Marunouchi line, Koenji stn, 10min walk.

Nogi Shrine Antique Market
35 dealers. Open second Sun, 7am-3pm (canceled in rain). Tel: 0426-91-3572. Nearest stn: Nogizaka, exit 1.

Oedo Antique Fair
Open third Sun. Tokyo Kokusai Forum Square, 3-5-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku. Nearest stn: Yurakucho.

Togo Shrine Fine Arts Market
150 dealers. Open first, fourth and fifth Sun, 4am-3pm (canceled in rain). Nearest stn: Harajuku, Takeshita exit, 3min walk or Chiyoda line, Meijijingumae stn.

Tomioka Hachimangu Shrine
Open first and second Sun, 6am-5pm. Tel: 0276-38-3417. Nearest stn: Tozai line, Monzen-nakamachi stn, 3min walk.

Yasukuni ShrineAntique Market
100 dealers. Open third Sun, sunrise to sunset (open in rain). 3-1-1 Kudan-Kita, Chiyoda-ku. Tel: 03-3791-0006. Nearest stn: Kudanshita.

Insider Trading

Bargain with the vendors. You can expect a discount around 20 percent off the starting price

Take loose change, not big bank notes

Get a feel for the cost of the item in the market before you buy

Go early to see the best selection of goods and fewer people

Ask if there have been repairs to an item.

Look for damage especially around the lips or shoulders of ceramic pots or new draws and ironwork on Japanese tansu (chests). They will decrease the value of the item

Tap items gently and listen for the sound. Certain sounds may indicate the material or if there has been any damage

Ask the age of the piece. Most Japanese vendors are honest about the age and integrity of antiques. Vendors are generally well informed; approximately half of them have their own shops

Buy Japanese items still in the original box, if there is one

Stay late; prices start to drop at the end of the day

Wear clothes with lots of pockets, and take a backpack

Purchase that ivory carving or stuffed tortoise; you may have to leave it with your customs official

Engage in negotiation if you really don't want an item

Worry if you can't speak the language. Take a pencil or paper; the vendor may even use his/her calculator or mobile phone to show you the price

Leave without collecting a flyer listing dates and times of upcoming markets. Vendors are catering to foreigners, so they're now written in English

Think, "I'll come back later for that beautiful item." It probably will not be there later

Take your dog for a walk. A boisterous dog in a ceramics stall can be a costly experience

Leave the shrine sale desperately thinking about a beautiful object you nearly bought; it's guaranteed you'll still be thinking about it a year from now


Shibuya’s Zenmall (29-4 Udagawacho, Shibuya-ku; 03-3770-1641), known for offering large clothing for men, is holding a two-day Early Bird Pre-Summer Sale. The sale will take place on the mornings of April 12 (Sat) and 13 (Sun) for three hours (9am-noon) each day. During these times, nearly everything will be marked 20-80 percent off. Some of the bargains include suits with a spare pair of pants for \9,800 (sizes 3-8L), and summer casual jackets for \8,000 (3-6L). Imported designer suits by makers like Calvin Klein and Boss are also marked down to \39,000 and \59,000, respectively. Those who spend over \10,000 can take part in the Cash Grabbing Contest, where shoppers can dig into a box full of cash. Spend over \30,000 for two chances to grab, and \50,000 for three. Don't miss this rare opportunity, as it could be one of the few chances for those looking to buy large sizes in Japan, especially at affordable prices.
Ash 03-3770-3755
Clinique TCA
Club Boy Beau
Crunch 03-5459-123-
Dr. Allen Leroy Robinson
Hair Dressers Archecal 03-0449-6106
Hayato New York 03-3498-9113
Japan Electrolysis Clinic (Ginza)
Maiko Make Over Studio Shiki
My Boo Nail Salon 03-5428-1121
Neal's Yard Natural Therapy Center
Roksen Bar Cosmetic 03-5658-7675
Sin Den
Takagi Skin Clinic
Tokyo Skin Clinic
Toni&Guy Japan 03-3797-5790
Watanabe Hair Dressing 03-3405-1188
Who Ga 03-5570-1773

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East meets nest

Trina O'Hara finds that Tokyo's flea markets and shrine sales suit all types of personalities and interests.

Togo shrine sale

When Tokyoites wake to an alarm clock at 4:30 on a Sunday morning, it's not likely that they're commuters or workaholics. This sweet siren signals a date with flea markets and shrine sales around the city. Some call it obsessive, some call it crazy, yet Japanese and foreigners play this addictive game of search and rescue every weekend.

So what drives these ardent pilgrims to goods strewn over shrine steps and concrete parking lots? Look into their faces and you will see expressions like, "There might be something valuable here, something I might need, something no one has noticed yet." It's the thrill of the chase. The innate desire to hold, wear and possess treasure.

Hanako, washi and calligraphy brushes

Apart from the adrenalin rush, people participate in this ritual because it provides useful lessons about Japanese life and society. It's a free open-air museum where they can handle the objects. The absence of plastic and packaging, and the ability to haggle over the price, make it different from Japan's department stores. Besides, where else would you go to buy goods no one else wanted?

Tokyo's flea markets and antique stalls cater to diverse personalities and collecting interests. They play host to the historian, artisan, scientist, explorer, traveler, bargain hunter, decorator and gift giver inside us. Which collector are you?

Explorer/traveler types collect as they travel around the world. Usually they gather everyday objects that tell something about the place or how people live. Kimonos, geta sandals, sake kettles, old coins, maps, ceramics, furniture, kitchen utensils, lacquerware, old mah-jongg sets, wooden abacuses, traditionally woven baskets, musical instruments, wooden boxes, chests and noren curtains fall into this category.

Australian Ambassador John McCarthy is the explorer/traveler type. Over the years, he's collected carpets in Damascus, puppets in Indonesia, betel leaf containers in Myanmar and silver Buddhas from Southeast Asia. "When you go home, they remind you of the country you've lived in. The pieces are a link to the memories," McCarthy says.

Face-to-face with the past

Scientific types are the tinkerers who enjoy pulling things apart and putting them back together. This urge can be satisfied with the clocks, radios and compasses found at shrine sales. If you're into preserving the past and your home looks like a taxidermist's studio, then you can add to your collection of mounted insects, animal pelts, zebra hides, stuffed tortoises or fossil specimens.

Shrine sales offer great history lessons as well as great artifacts. Historians like objects that are beginning to show their age. McCarthy finds that "part of the fun is to figure out how old an item is… As you become more absorbed in history, the pieces become more meaningful."

Elegant finds abound at area shrine sales and flea markets

China-born Lansheng Zhang is an art teacher and an artisan/scholar type. He recently acquired an antique combination lock at a shrine sale. Instead of a number code, this lock consisted of rotating Chinese characters, which, surprisingly, he was able to open. Woodblock prints, calligraphy brushes, ink stones, brush holders, vintage sumi-e brush paintings, scrolls, drawings, hanko signature stamps and wrist rests are also favorites of the artisan/scholar type.

Who can escape the allure of a sale? Bargain hunter types know the joy of finding an object at a good price. Many start out buying what they can afford, and then, when they learn more about their desired object, become more selective and look for the best examples. Take note: in Japan, dishes, cups and bowls typically come in sets of five. Anything sets sold with fewer can be a bargain.

While some are interested in all things utilitarian, there are the obscure and kooky collectors who find their prize in the odd and accidental. This personality usually gets distracted and finds it difficult to keep a specific collection growing. Meanwhile, decorators can be found sorting, selecting, arranging, and admiring fabrics or housewares at shrine sales. They collect things that look good in groups, and have a keen eye for anything to use in their house. Decorators are known to use obi for table runners, kimono stencils on lampshades, and hibachi for flower pots.

Gift-giving types frequent the shrine sales for objects they can give away. In an era of mass production and fashion, a good rummage through the stalls can turn up gifts that are unique, handmade or at the very least different from the latest craze. This is the case of James Murray, a lawyer who works for an American firm. He bought traditional dolls for his nieces for Christmas, while Katherine Riggall, who works for a Japanese architecture firm, bought her brother a sake set.

Shrine sales are perfect for pilgrims seeking cultural and retail renewal. So next time you open your eyes early Sunday morning, identify your hoarding instinct, choose your collecting personality, then reach out for the treasures lying on shrine steps.

Photo credits: Trina O'Hara, Lansheng Zhang