Kyoto is one of the most interesting cities in the world, even if my new residence out in the middle of nowhere has made me unused to it. Like most historical big cities, Kyoto is a mixture of varying degrees of old and new, but in the most peaceful way possible. My time here seemed to capture the essence of a beautiful lifestyle: burning high-quality incense, trying on lovely kimono, taking in ancient temples, reading literature in the bath, with all the conveniences and technology of a proper city. After weeks of fighting a war against spiders, trucking around in The Tank, wrasslin’ chestnuts, and blogging about every twist and turn in my country lifestyle, a trip to Kyoto made me feel downright civilized.
Toji Flea Market 東寺のみの市
First of all, the shopping is fabulous. I arrived late Sunday night after catching the train from local festival, and on Monday morning, my friend Erika and I set off to the Toji Flea Market to go kimono-hunting. According to her, there are three kinds of stalls at this flea market, which occurs in the Toji Temple grounds on the 21st of every month. First, there are the stalls with nice used goods, mainly kimono, which you can afford. Second, there are the stalls with antiques you can never afford–samurai helmets, wedding kimono, and the like. Third, there are the craft and art stalls. In addition, there are food sellers with everything from chocolate-filled taiyaki to candied mikan.
Erika and I tried on a number of silk kimono. She’s a bit of an expert on kimono style and fashion, so she helped me pick out a nice used kimono for only 500 yen (about US $4.50). I got a silk kimono, a fancy obi, a (mostly decorative) tie for on top of the obi, and a tie to hold the towels you wear underneath for shaping for a grand total of 5000 yen (about US $45) . I have the under-ties and a shaping-towel from my yukata already, so I just need the proper undergarments and footwear to wear this kimono.
A few warnings, though. I recommend going to kimono flea-markets with a friend who really understands how kimono are meant to look and fit if you want to purchase a used one. I am only 163 cm (about 5’4″), but finding a used women’s kimono to account for my height and the size of my hips proved a bit difficult. Erika knew which were too small for me, and which colors were appropriate for my age. Coming home with a kimono I can actually wear was a great feeling!
Kyoto Monogatari 京渡物語
I didn’t type that in wrong; I think the kanji in the name of this store is a pun about crossing the bridge to get to the store. This store is in Arashiyama next to the Monkey Park. I wandered in there after visiting a garden (more on this in another post) to look for a men’s obi to go with a men’s yukata I had purchased for my partner. I found the perfect one in a bin of used obi, but it was scuffed up and had a hole near the end on the layer with the pattern. I knew that he’d love this obi, so I showed it to the shopkeeper and asked if there were some way I could repair it. She responded, 「ああ！大変！けががある！」–“Oh no! It has a wound!” Since the “wound” was near the end of the obi, she cut that section off and refolded it, then tried it on her son to make sure it still would fit a man. It did.
Afterward, she took me upstairs to try on kimono. The shop has many beautiful women’s kimono for 4000 yen. She dressed me in a beautiful deep purple one with a floral pattern (very similar to the yukata I own) and showed me how to tie it down and put on the obi. Sadly, I was running out of cash at that point, but I promised to return in the spring when I plan to make another trip to Kansai.
As a side note, I have noticed that when I am in kimono or yukata, Japanese women frequently ask if I am French. I think because that wearing something so beautiful can make anyone seem fashionable and おしゃれ, I come off as cosmopolitan, which they read as “French.” At least that’s my theory. They don’t have to know about The Tank.
Lisn and Shoyeido
Erika also took me to one of her favorite incense shops, Lisn. The atmosphere of this place is refreshing. It’s clean and organized, minimal but not sterile, and, of course, it smells amazing. You can buy incense by the box or by the stick, and the scents are organized by type (seasonal, floral, citrus, musk, “oriental”). Lisn is my special incense, and I bought an “everyday” incense called もみじ (autumn maple leaf) at its parent store, Shoyeido / 松榮堂. (Two links here, one to the English site, and one to the Japanese site.)
Usually I’m not really into incense. But in Japan, it fits with this ideal of a “beautiful lifestyle”–and covers up the drain-basket smell. I’m going to be honest here. Because I don’t have a garbage disposal and because I produce a lot of food waste from peeling chestnuts and whatnot, my kitchen can get a little funky on the day before garbage day. Burning creates an overall pleasant atmosphere in my apartment on all counts.
Consider me a convert.