Treasure Hunting at Tokyo’s Best Antique and Flea Markets

By Cheryl White
July 8, 2015

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, goes an old English saying. In Tokyo this truism is alive and well in the numerous flea markets and shrine fairs that pop up mainly on the weekends throughout the city. While the hot and humid weather of Tokyo's summers makes outdoor activities less than desirable, the fairs are still open and the crowds are often not so big, making ideal conditions for you to score that bargain or great buy.

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The variety of markets available is truly amazing. There is a marked difference between a flea market and and shrine fair. The shrine fairs, as the name suggests, are usually situated in the grounds of temples and shrines throughout the city. They offer antique, old and sometimes modern Japanese goods: everything from vintage kimonos, one-off pottery pieces and ceramics of all types to cast iron hibachi and garden tools. Because of their location, these fairs make a great day out, a chance to visit a famous temple and to hang around in the lovely parks and gardens that often surround the temples.

Flea markets, on the other hand, tend to have more secondhand goods that may not fit the “antique” or “vintage” description. It’s not that these goods aren’t available at “the fleas,” but they are outnumbered by the stalls selling secondhand clothing (not all Japanese), European tableware, and cheap Chinese imports like luggage and pots and pans. The great thing about these markets is that the Japanese wares that are on sale are invariably very cheap.

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On a recent flea market adventure I was led by two extremely experienced shoppers who gave me the following pieces of advice:

  1. Start at the beginning and work steadily through the stalls and alleys. This took three hours.
  2. Don’t buy from the first stall holders, their prices are higher and they will be thankful when you come back.
  3. Take a backpack to carry your purchases.
  4. Take a drink, hat and snack, although there are food vendors and drink machines at most of the markets.
  5. Go early, as that’s when the best goods are available, but be aware that antique dealers and buyers are also looking for bargains at this time.
  6. Haggling is fine, but be fair.
  7. The stalls and items are invariably dusty. Hand sanitiser will help.
  8. Small change is essential if you want to strike a bargain, so be sure to have lots of ¥100 coins and only ¥1,000 notes.
  9. Delivery can usually be arranged for larger items.

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Here are my three favorite markets, but seriously, they all have something wonderful to offer.

Yoyogi Oedo Antique Market

Set in the south side of Yoyogi Park, this market is a smaller one, and is therefore a lot more manageable than its parent market, the Oedo Antique Market, which is held at the Tokyo International Forum in Yurakucho. The Yoyogi offshoot has around 50 stalls,  and most of the goods are Japanese, antique, vintage and old. The next market is planned for Sunday, July 26 from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Address: 2-1 Yoyogikamizonocho, Shibuya, Tokyo.

Next market: Sunday, July 26, 2015, 8:30 a.m.–4 p.m.

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Kawagoe Antique Market

Perhaps my favorite fair, this one asks for some dedication, as it is an 80-minute train ride from central Tokyo. But it is so worth it. Downtown Kawagoe’s main street is lined with traditional shop houses and warehouses from the Edo period, which lend a wonderful feel to the proceedings.

The fair itself is about a 15-minute walk from the station. You cannot miss it, as it is a very popular fair and the crowds are huge. There are 110 stalls and simply everything is available, but especially Japanese antiques. The market takes place on the 28th of each month, come rain or shine.

Address: 9-2 Kubo-cho, Kawagoe City, Saitama

Tel: 03-5996-4105 (Japanese only)

Next market: Tuesday, June 28, 2015, 5 a.m.–4 p.m.

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Nogi Shrine Antique Flea Market

Another favorite of mine, this market much closer to home. On the edge of Roppongi, this attractive shrine and historical residence hosts around 50 stalls and the first thing you will notice is that the prices may be a little higher. The goods for sale are also often of better quality, although not always. This is probably due to its location and the fact that the area is home to many expats. But never fear, there is still a lot here to tempt you.

The market is held on the fourth Sunday of every month, but will be cancelled in case of rain.

Address: 8-11-27 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Next market: Sunday, July 27, 2015, 9 a.m.–dusk